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The New World Western Conference Order: The Downbeat #1774

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The weird, wild West. Trey Burke's new efficiency. Gordon Hayward's new computer. Correct Downbeat numbers. It's Tuesday and life is good.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Allow me to get our Downbeat numbers back on track. Seventeen seventy-four. Not sure what happened there.

(Also: man, that's a heck of a lot of Downbeats, huh? Can you believe Kris/BBJ/@5kl used to do this all by himself? Madness.)

Anyway, I didn't get to see as much of the Jazz's recent road trip as I would have liked. (Perhaps that was for the best.) But we've got plenty of other things to talk about. COMMENCE TO START.

It's unfortunate that the Jazz's difficult road trip meant they couldn't gain much ground in the Western Conference, as a few expected playoff contenders have faltered and other upstarts have taken advantage. Eleven of the West's 15 teams are within three games of each other in the standings, and nine teams are at .500 or better, including the Jazz.

Perhaps his calculation would change after some of the Jazz's recent results, but last week ESPN's Kevin Pelton said the stats heavily favor Utah to grab a coveted playoff spot:

No team has benefited more from the Grizzlies and Pelicans struggling than Utah, which has gone from favorite for the eighth seed to near-certain playoff team with a chance to move up in the standings. In fact, BPI now projects the Jazz most likely to finish either fifth or sixth in the West. Utah has already banked a 1.5-game lead in the standings over Memphis (including a head-to-head win) and a three-game edge over New Orleans.

As I said, recent results have erased that advantage over the Grizzlies, but those were difficult road games without Rudy Gobert. At full strength, and even with inconsistent play at times, it seems this Jazz team is pretty clearly playoff-bound. A lot can happen between now and then, but we've got good reason to hope.

Speaking of which: quick ESPN Power Rankings check-in:

From the Not Exactly A Coincidence Files: In the three road games Rudy Gobert couldn't finish or didn't even dress for, Utah went 0-3 before ekeing out a W in Atlanta in Rudy's return. Something else to track as storms sweeping the West ensnare the Jazz, too: Gordon Hayward is shooting .394 from the floor and just 27 percent from deep.

I neglected to feature any FANPOSTS! last week, so I want to make sure to mention a few here. The Shums-Tron fights for the Users.

Quinter is Coming examines Trey Burke's early-season success:

I think what is being seen out of Trey is a very real improvement and not just a hot streak to start another inconsistent year. He's making decisions that reflect what Quin wants from everyone in the system. They don't look like the ones he's been making. He's making quicker, more confident decisions. He is reading the defense faster and continuing to improve the effectiveness of his patented PnR/probing game. He's become a better ball mover and he hasn't seemed to be nearly the square peg in a round hole that he felt like last year in this system.

its_computers examines trends in last year's SLC Dunk game threads:

besides the beginning of the season, where excitement probably drives more comments than game play warrants, the overall trends of the two graphs are pretty similar: we tend to comment more in games the Jazz are winning. i also suspect that both wins and close games fuel extra post-game comments on the game thread.

And jazzyman examines Derrick Favors'...hair?

More on Trey Burke, this time from CBS' Zach Harper:

Burke, who has embraced the move to the bench, has been a major beneficiary of these lineup alterations. No longer the starting point guard charged with having to run the team and make split-second decisions, his role has become very clear: score. Burks, Hood and Hayward are now the de facto playmakers when Burke is on the floor, turning him into an undersized but dynamic scoring guard who is asked to follow a simple script that tells him when to shoot, and even where to shoot from. The result? The head of a young player is no longer clouded.

I don't know that I have any particularly unique analysis for Trey's improvement. (This Harper piece and the FanPost mentioned above are both good reads on the subject.) The biggest thing that stands out to me when I look at his stats is increased efficiency. Trey averaged 12.8 points per game in each of his first two seasons. But it took 12.8 and 13.2 field-goal attempts per game, respectively, to score those points. By contrast, this season Burke is scoring 12.6 points per game...but he's doing it on 10.2 shots, in seven fewer minutes per game. Same points on fewer shots in fewer minutes equals greater efficiency.

Part of that increase is down to Trey's blistering 48% three-point shooting so far this season, which is almost certain to regress. But it's clear that he's taking more intelligent shots, ones he has a higher chance of making (especially if he doesn't have to worry about shouldering the playmaking load).

I recently bought a new PC. It's nowhere near as cool as Gordon Hayward's.