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Jazz Improvement, a look at the numbers

We like this guy and his buddies. But it's worth looking at how much praise they actually deserve.

John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

So I was dinking around on Twitter, and Casy Greer mentioned that the Jazz defensive rating is up to 18th best in the NBA now.

Considering that it started out really bad those first few games, and considering how bad the team's defense was last year, this is pretty significant. It also made me wonder how many things may have improved since last year. So I decided to investigate at Basketball-Reference, and what I discovered blew away even my most optimistic hunches.

The Stats I Examined

I first looked at four key indicators of a team's quality:

  • Point Differential
  • Simple Rating System (SRS)
  • Offensive rating (ORtg)
  • Defensive rating (DRtg)

For those who aren't familiar with the stats, here's what they mean and measure:

  • Point Differential - the difference between a team's average points scored and points allowed. This has proven over and over to be highly predictive of future success ... more than a team's record.
  • SRS - This is much like point differential, however it has been adjusted according to a team's strength of schedule. Since the Jazz play in the West and have had a tough early schedule compared to even other WC teams, this has an impact. The actual number is points above/below average, where average is 0. I like to think of it as simply adjusted point differential.
  • ORtg - How many points a team scores in 100 possessions.
  • DRtg - How many points a team allows in 100 possessions.
Then I looked at the "Four Key Factors". These were first identified by Dean Oliver as the most important stats to investigate why a team's offense and defense are good or bad.

  • eFG% - FG% adjusted for higher point value of 3-pointers
  • TO% - percentage of possessions that end with a turnover
  • ORbd% - Percentage of their own missed shots a team rebounds
  • FT Rate - How many FT's a team shoots in comparison to FG's

The defensive Four Factors are basically the same, being eFG% allowed, TO% forced, Defensive Rebound Rate, and FT Rate allowed.

2015 Report, with a month to go

Right now here's where the team's performance compares to last year's:

  • Point differential has improved from -7.2 to -1.
  • SRS has improved from -6.26 to -0.14
  • ORtg has improved from 103.5 to 105.3
  • DRtg has improved from 111.3 to 106.4
  • eFG% has improved from 48.4% to 49.4%
  • TO% has regressed from 13.9% to 14.7%
  • ORbd% has improved from 25.5% to 29%
  • FT Rate has improved from .202 to .213
  • eFG allowed has improved from 51.8% to 49.4%
  • TO% forced has improved from 12.1% to 12.2%
  • DRbd% has improved from 74.5% to 75.6%
  • FT Rate allowed has improved from .227 to .196

If you look at the exact same numbers, but look at league rankings here's what you see:

  • Point Differential has improved from 28th to 18th
  • SRS has improved from 28th to 17th
  • ORtg has improved from 25th to 15th
  • DRtg has improved from 29th to 18th
  • eFG% has improved from 22nd to 16th
  • TO% has regressed from 17th to 26th
  • ORbd% has improved from 16th to 1st
  • FT Rate has improved from 18th to 9th
  • eFG% allowed has improved from 26th to 13th
  • TO% forced has improved from 29th to 25th
  • DRbd% has improved from 14th to 9th
  • FT Rate allowed has improved from 20th to 10th


Well done, Utah Jazz.

Some of the defensive improvement comes from who is playing, of course. Rudy Gobert, Elijah Millsap, Joe Ingles, and Dante Exum are all factors here.

But some of it is simply focus ... I love the defensive improvement even though the team's getting offensive rebounds more than before. And credit to the focus and schemes and communication have to be shared with Quin Snyder and the coaching staff.

As for the offense, here's where the coaches deserve a cake or something. I can attribute the improved offense to three players: Hayward rebounding from career low shooting and Favors continuing to expand his game, and Booker is more efficient than Marvdawg was.

But aside from those three ... this team is so limited offensively. Burks is out for the year. Rudy can't score more than five feet away from the basket, Trey's shooting has been ugh, Dante's scared to shoot, Jingles doesn't shoot either. Nor can Millsap. The team's giving ongoing tryouts to pretty much anyone who can bounce a ball and throw it in the air.

Kanter helped the team offensively when he was here, but he wasn't really more efficient than last year (same FG%, getting to the line slightly more).

Seriously, that this team's offensive rating is average is a freaking miracle. And I don't know how to do anything but say Quin and his coaching staff are using the Force or something.

But even this praise is looking at trees while missing the forest.

The team has improved in every single factor except its own turnovers. Think about that. Every aspect of its defense and offense have improved.

And with the turnovers, not all of them are bad (even if it would be fantastic if Hayward could hold on to the ball a little better). I'm thinking of the fantastic pass Favors made to Gobert last night. Rudy, of course, muffed it and let it bounce off his knee because he wasn't ready for it. But you want a young team making those passes ... turnovers be damned. You want it because pretty soon Rudy will be expecting it, and he'll eat freaking with humans again.

Edit: Some Later Discovered Bit of Stats

These are from ESPN's Hollinger's Rankings. These rankings, compiled automatically, are based on two major areas: 1) the team's point differential and strength of schedule over the entire year and 2) the same for the last 25% of the games.

Over the past 25% of the games (so about 15 games), the Jazz have had the 5th best point differential in the entire NBA (+4.06 ppg). Only the Warriors, Cavs, Thunder, and Pacers have had a better point differential.

At the same time, the Jazz have had the 8th toughest schedule over the past 25% of the games. And not one of those teams with a better differential have had as tough a schedule over that time.

No matter how you look at it, the team has made huge improvements since last year. And most exciting of all, is it's all still trending in the right direction right now.

* * *

In the end, what an amazing season this has been so far. And I'm just giddy to see what the numbers might look like at the end of the year.

No, the playoffs aren't happening this year. But good things are. And it's thrilling to think of what this team can become in a year or two.

Well done, players. And a standing ovation to Quin Snyder and his coaching staff.

What an exciting time to be a Jazz fan.