Before we get started, congratulations to the Golden State Warriors on winning the NBA championship. Any team that dumps Mark Jackson is already a winner in our book, but you all cemented it with a Larry O'Brien trophy. Kudos to you guys.
Now with that said we are going to look at 5 different aspects the Jazz can become contenders in the Western Conference. As a preface we are going to use the Jazz's March as a benchmark of what the Jazz could possibly become. Why March you ask? That was the Jazz's best month according to performance. They also had traded away Kanter and it was the first month in which their defensive statistics were not skewed by the sieve that is Enes the Menace. What I think most of you will find is the Jazz are pretty close to achieving a special level of performance reserved to the league's elite and the Jazz are just scratching the surface on their potential.
But how does this potential stack up against the now defending world champion Golden State Warriors? That is the bar. The five categories we'll compare with are:
Effective FG %
Blocks Per Game
Total Rebound %
Let's dive in.
This is where the Golden State Warriors rule. Their offensive is like a dry ice bomb. It's not a matter of if it is going to go off, just when. When it does, it usually will startle you. No game is out of reach for the Golden State Warriors because of their offense. Oh, they're 20 down at halftime? No biggie. Someone on their team is going to explode for 17 in the second half and that will open it up for their role players. Their offensive rating in the month of March was 109.9 points per 100 possessions. They averaged 109.8 during the entire season. So while in March there were a handful of teams that did average more than they did, only one averaged more than the Warriors for the course of a season. That was the Los Angeles Clippers (too bad they couldn't stop anybody with their "All NBA Defense" Center).
How did the Utah Jazz do?
They averaged 101.9 points per 100 possessions in March and averaged 102.1 for the entire year. Granted they averaged that offense with almost no production from the point guard position, an endless rotation of D-Leaguers on the wings and as backup bigs, and after a major trade of Enes Kanter. Not bad for a patchwork quilt of a team. But that 101.9 is good for the middle of the pack.
Effective FG %
How did Utah stack up against Golden State in shooting percentages during the month of March? Well, let's break it down.
Less than 5ft: The Jazz are shooting above 60% which is close to the Warriors 62.4% inside 5ft.
5-9 ft: Warriors are better than the Jazz in the 5-9 ft range almost 4 percentile points better.
10-14ft: The Utah Jazz are great at shooting the ball at 10-14 ft. Making 51.6% of all attempts but they only average 5.9 a game.
15-19ft: Warriors are significantly better. Shooting 41.5% to the Jazz's 35.3%.
20-24ft: Now here's where the differentiation begins to take hold and why the Warriors are such an offensive juggernaut. Their percentage from this range is 13 percentage points better than the Utah Jazz shooting 46% at this range. That's a better percentage than what the Jazz shoot 15 feet closer to the basket.
25-29ft: The Warriors make 38.9% of all these shots compare to the Jazz's 32.4%. Warriors are almost shooting 40% from beyond 25ft. That is just ridiculous. It's so ridiculous it's redonkulous.
Now going to the Effective FG% it's easy to see why the Warriors rule this stat. Effective FG% factors 3 pointers 1.5 times more valuable than a 2 point shot. By doing this the Warriors Effective FG% goes to 54.3%!!!!
Compare that to the Utah Jazz's during their best month and it was 48.3%. If you look at the shooting percentages the Jazz were shooting inside the 3 point line at a pretty good clip, but without the long ball the Jazz's efficiency drops.
If the Jazz are to fight fire with fire with offensive juggernauts they will need to improve their 3 point shooting. Luckily the Jazz gain a 38.5% 3 point shooter back from injury next season with Alec Burks. Dante Exum and Trey Burke should improve with a focused offseason. Rodney Hood is looking to improve greatly with his work this offseason and Joe Ingles' 3 point shooting improved from February on and in April was a 50% 3 point shooter. If the Utah Jazz get their wish of a playmaking 4 in this NBA draft (KEVON LOONEY) then the Jazz might have the tools to fend off the Warriors and other offensive juggernauts on their best days. But as of right now the Jazz are ill equipped to fight fire with fire. They have to go to another strength to stay in a game.
Now this is where the Jazz begin to sing and you can see where the Jazz decided last year to differentiate from the league. The Utah Jazz have a defense as strong as mountains that cast shadows on Salt Lake City. During the month of March the Utah Jazz had a league best defensive rating of 95.6 points per 100 possessions. Let me put that in perspective for all of you. The season best Golden State Warriors had a league best of 98.2 per 100 possessions over the course of an entire season..
Yet, after the Utah Jazz traded away Enes Kanter, in other words Post All-Star Break, they had a defensive rating of 94.8 points per 100 possessions. The next closest in that time was the Memphis Grizzlies at 99.4.
To put that in perspective there have only been 11, count it, ELEVEN TEAMS in NBA history that have had a Defensive Rating of 95 or less. The most recent was the San Antonio Spurs of 2003-2004. A team that I would daresay the Jazz should try to emulate.
Blocks Per Game
BUT THIS IS A BORING STAT. No, it's an indicator. Last March the Utah Jazz averaged 6.1 blocks per game. 6.1. That's not even adjusted for the pace the Utah Jazz played which was the slowest in the league during that month. If it is adjusted for pace the Jazz averaged 6.7 blocks per 100 possessions which was second only two Anthony Davis and the Pelicans.
What did the Golden State Warriors average?
6.5 blocks per game.
So what, 6.5 blocks. Those are game changers. Not only that they are indicators as a pointed out. But of what?
This is how often opponents challenged the Jazz at the rim.
What's interesting is you'd think that with a player such as Anthony Davis teams would be scared to attack the rim with him patrolling the paint but during the month of March no team had their paint challenged as often as the New Orleans Pelicans. But the Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz only had teams challenge their paint 26.7 and 25.4 times a game on average. In other words their interior defense forced teams to become perimeter teams. That is how you live and die from the three.
Golden State and Utah turn teams one dimensional. The difference between Utah and Golden State is Utah actually does it better on defense. But Golden State has the weapons on offense to take advantage of it. So while Utah can make a team bleed on offense, Golden State can go for the kill.
Total Rebound %
The Utah Jazz were second in the league during the month of March in total rebounding percentage. Funny enough the only team better was the Oklahoma City Thunder. But while the Thunder were getting trampled on the defensive end the Utah Jazz were the better team. The Utah Jazz grabbed a total of 54.1% of all rebounds. That means that in a game with the Utah Jazz there are no 50-50 balls, only 54-46 balls. (UDQM)
Compare that with the Golden State Warriors and they have a 50.8% total rebound %. Which when you look at the size they trot out night after night is quite impressive.
Last March the Jazz would grab 29.6% of all total Offensive Rebounds. 29.6%! Defensively they grabbed 77.5% of all total rebounds. Which is spectacular. The Jazz's twin tower model of Favors and Gobert is really their differentiator on defense. Add in the length opponents faced with Exum, Hood, and Hayward on the wings and it was a recipe for success for Utah.
The Utah Jazz's defense if it continues its trend since All-Star break could be the best defense in the NBA next year. Even better, that defense could be one of the All-Time greatest defenses in NBA History. That's not an exaggeration. For February, March, and April the Utah Jazz trended at all-time greatness with a hodgepodge team of D-Leaguers, rookies, and youth. Imagine what they are capable of with another year under Quin Snyder. With one additional year of development and better health the Jazz could be on a collision path with the defending champions.
In the draft and free agency the Jazz cannot compromise their defensive strength for an "offense only" player. If anything that player must lean heavily toward the defensive side of the ball and have potential to improve on the other side of the ball. To draft someone who doesn't fit the Jazz's defensive identity would greatly detract from their potential success next year. The Jazz's success depends not on their potential to be an offensive juggernaut by a playmaking 4. It depends on their commitment to the defensive side of the ball.
The Jazz are and never will be constructed like the Golden State Warriors. That's a good thing. To beat the Warriors at their own game of 3 point and defensive efficiency is a cruel death. Instead the Utah Jazz are better built to be patterned after the 2003-2004 San Antonio Spurs that had a defensive rating of 94.1 and an offensive rating of 102.2. The Jazz don't need the offensive firepower. They already are averaging an offensive rating near that of the 2003-2004 San Antonio Spurs. And post All-Star break they averaged a defensive rating of 94.7. And look how the Jazz are built. It's like they are a better version of that Spurs team.
|Dante Exum||PG||Tony Parker|
|Alec Burks||SG||Bruce Bowen|
|Gordon Hayward||SF||Manu Ginobili|
|Derrick Favors||PF||Tim Duncan|
|Rudy Gobert||C||Rasho Nesterovic|
|Rodney Hood||BE||Hedo Turkoglu|
|Trevor Booker||BE||Robert Horry|
|Trey Burke||BE||Malik Rose|
The Utah Jazz are built to be Spurs-ian. Not like the Warriors. Even better the Jazz have the twin tower model but with highly athletic towers. They have craft wing players that can hit the open three and defend with their length. Those Spurs teams were great because of their guard play and because they played as a team. Not one on one. The Jazz have already begun to accept this and thrive in it. So next year when the Utah Jazz start to challenge the cream of the crop in the West it won't be because they imitated the Golden State Warriors. It will be because they took the DNA of the San Antonio Spurs. So as the Spurs begin to age and go the way of the dinosaur the Jazz will be the genetic hybrid that should be feared as they begin to learn who they are.