How the Jazz will Improve Next Year Part 2: The Offense

Hello Again! Welcome to part 2 of my two part series analyzing how the Jazz will improve next year and how many games I think they’ll win. I wrote part 1 a couple days ago, analyzing their defense, and predicted that the Jazz will finish next year with a defensive rating around 98.5. Offense will be a lot harder and more complicated to do, but I will try to do the same thing and eventually predict a Jazz offensive rating for next year. After that, I’ll calculate a projected net rating and then predict about how many games I think the Jazz will win.

So how good were the Jazz on offense last year? Here are the rankings, based on offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions):

  1. Warriors (112.5)
  2. Thunder (109.9)
  3. Spurs (108.4)
  4. Caveliers (108.1)
  5. Raptors (107.0)
  6. Clippers (106.5)
  7. Trail Blazers (106.1)
  8. Rockets (105.5)
  9. Hornets (105.1)
  10. Mavericks (104.8)
  11. Timberwolves (104.3)
  12. Heat (104.2)
  13. Celtics (103.9)
  14. Pistons (103.3)
  15. Kings (103.3)
  16. Pelicans (103.2)
  17. Jazz!!!!!!!! (103.1)
  18. Hawks (103.0)
  19. Wizards (102.9)
  20. Nuggets (102.7)
  21. Grizzlies (102.6)
  22. Magic (102.6)
  23. Pacers (102.4)
  24. Bucks (102.2)
  25. Bulls (102.1)
  26. Knicks (102.0)
  27. Nets (100.9)
  28. Suns (99.4)
  29. Lakers (98.6)
  30. 76ers (96.6)

Out of all 30 teams, the Jazz ranked 17th. As you look at the numbers more closely, you see that 17 of the other 29 teams have an offensive rating within 2.0 points per 100 possessions of the Jazz. There’s a clear elite tier (Golden State, OKC, San Antonio, Cleveland) and a clear "bad" tier (Brooklyn, Phoenix, LAL, Philadelphia). If the Jazz’ offense was just 1.1 points per 100 possessions worse, it would have ranked 26th, tied with the Knicks, and if it was just 1.7 points per 100 possessions better, it would have been in the top 10. Point is, the 17th ranking isn’t that important. What matters is that the Jazz are squarely in the middle tier, not elite but clearly not miserable.

Just like I did with the defense, let’s divide the season into four parts to see how our offense was in each part:

  1. The Beginning: Oct. 28th-Nov. 30th. The first 16 games of the season, before Gobert sprained his MCL and the team went down with injuries. Closing games with the triple wing lineup.
  2. The Injured Phase: Dec. 3rd-Jan. 22nd. The next 28 games of the season, where either one of Gobert or Favors was out.
  3. Pre-All-Star Break Run: Jan. 25th-Feb. 19th. The next 11 games of the season, 9 before the All-star break and 2 after, the one with the Wizards that got rescheduled and one against the Celtics. Fully healthy, except for Alec Burks, and still Neto, not Mack.
  4. The Mack Phase: Feb. 21st-Apr. 13th. The final 27 games of the season. With Mack playing.

Here are our offensive ratings for each of those parts of the season:

  1. Phase 1 (healthy, triple wing): 100.8
  2. Phase 2 (injuries): 104.3
  3. Phase 3 (Healthy, Neto, not Mack): also 104.3
  4. Phase 4 (Mack): 102.9

So the Jazz offense wasn’t very good for the first 15 games of the season, at about 2.5 points per 100 possessions below our average for the whole year. Remember though, that we were playing harder teams. In our "injuries" phase, when we were playing smaller more often and also against easier teams, our offensive rating jumped up 3.5 points to 104.3, about a point above our season average. When Favors got back, and we had our pre-all-star break run for 11 games against weaker teams, our offensive rating was also 104.3 (although our defensive rating, 105.5 during our injuries phase, improved all the way down to 98.1). In the last phase of our season, when Mack was handling duties at the point guard position, and our schedule fairly tough, our offensive rating was 102.9, pretty close to our 103.1 average for the year.

But let’s look deeper into that period with Mack as the point guard. I had a hunch that the offensive rating would be different after that point when Mack turned it around and really started to understand his role better. Remember how right after Mack was moved into the starting position at point guard, we lost 6 of our next 8 games, including a five-game losing streak? And then Mack got it and really started playing better, scoring 27 points in a game against Washington and dishing out 8+ assists in four straight games? Let’s see how the offense was different during those two phases:

I divided my fourth phase of the season, the "Mack phase", into two sections now, one from his first game playing in Portland to a road game against Golden State and one from a home game vs. Washington, when I felt he really started to get it, to the end of the season. Here are the offensive ratings:

  1. Mack phase part 1 (Feb. 21st- Mar. 9th): 98.9 (good for 30th in the league during that span, by the way)
  2. Mack phase part 2 (Mar. 11th- Apr. 13th): 105.3

Wow, what a jump. A 105.3 offensive rating while playing good teams is not bad at all, my friends.

Here are Mack’s individual stats during each period:

Phase 1: 10.2 points per game, 4.2 assists, 2.8 turnovers, 0.396 fg%

Phase 2: 14.1 points per game, 5.9 assists, 2.9 turnovers, 0.466 fg%

And finally, the difference between the starting lineup with Neto and the Starting lineup with Mack:

Favors-Gobert-Hayward-Hood-Neto: 105.7 offensive rating, 98.4 defensive rating, 51.5 assist %, +7.2 net rating, 52.6 efg%, 1.23 Ast/TO ratio, 305 minutes played

Favors-Gobert-Hayward-Hood-Mack: 109.8 offensive rating, 100.4 defensive rating, 59.1 assist%, +9.4 net rating, 55.0 efg%, 1.52 Ast/To ratio, 256 minutes played (while playing against harder teams than with Neto!)

One knock on our offense last year is that we didn’t get enough assists. Our assist% of 52.6% throughout the year put us 27th out of all 30 teams, but if we had held our assist% of 59.1% with Mack in the lineup, we would’ve finished tied for 14th with the Chicago Bulls.

Point being, when Mack took over, our offense really started clicking. His overall higher level of competence than Neto and ability to attack off the pick and roll really elevated our offense.

Just like with our defense I calculated a baseline rating of 99.5 if we would have been healthy the whole season, and then predicted an improvement to 98.5 next year, I’d also like to calculate a baseline offensively if we would have had Mack for the whole season. Let’s say the Mack trade happened in August, right after Exum tore his ACL, and he was our starting point guard for the whole year. How good would our offense have been, without injuries?

I have to assume that our 105.3 offensive rating from March 11th to the end of the season, when Mack started playing well, was unsustainable. Teams would have started scouting Mack more, and adjusted to him. But I think it could’ve been better than our 103.1 rating for the entire season. Mack was a clear upgrade over Neto. I’ll go with 103.5 points scored per 100 possessions as a safe baseline.

Now, just like my post about the defense, let’s dig deeper into the offense to see how it works and where improvement can be projected.

Our offense was very unusual last year. Like many people said, we led the league in passes per game, but were 28th in assists per game. We were one of just a few teams starting two traditional big men together, neither of whom could really space the floor. And we had the 2nd worst point guard play in the league, behind only the Brooklyn Nets. Despite all of that, we still managed to pile together an about-average offense. To help you understand some of these absurdities, here are some videos which should be helpful:

"Utah Jazz, Continuity System", by ProBasketball Analysis on Youtube, 9.5 minutes long

"How the Jazz can make the playoffs", by BBALLBREAKDOWN, 8 minutes long

"2015-2016 Offensive Preview: Utah Jazz", by Half Court Hoops, 11.5 minutes long

All of them kind of say the same thing: "Good plays/sets, not always perfect execution, spacing can be an issue, offense can get stagnant at times, a lot of things done right but still lots of room to improve".

It’s clear that the model they’re following is the Spurs. In fact, we basically stole our entire playbook from the Spurs. Here are quick demonstrations of a few of our plays, one of which is also run by San Antonio.

"Utah Jazz ‘Punch’ Series", by Half Court Hoops, 2.5 minutes long

"San Antonio Spurs/Utah Jazz ‘Carolina Leak Hammer’ ", by Half Court Hoops, 1.5 minutes long

"Utah Jazz Summer League Sets", by Half Court Hoops, 4.5 minutes long

"Utah Jazz ‘Mid Post Hand Off’ ", by Half Court Hoops, 2 minutes long

The fact is, however, although we run most of the same plays as the Spurs, our offense doesn’t look that similar to them. In other words, even though our plays begin the same way, they don’t have the same results. So what’s the reason for that?

Two things: lack of personnel, and lack of execution. We don’t have the same players as the Spurs, and we don’t have the same 15+ years of fine-tuning that they had. So instead, our offense became much more simple than what the Spurs’ offense looks like.

Here’s how our offense would usually go:

  1. Run a motion-heavy set at the beginning, like Motion Strong or Motion Weak, where a lot of our players run all over the court and set a lot of screens for each other
  2. After that, pass it to Hayward or Hood, one of whom has usually just come off of a screen or dribble hand off
  3. By this point, there has been enough motion to throw the opposing defense off balance, and either Hayward or Hood has the ball just coming off a pick and roll or dribble hand off. Hayward and Hood then survey the defense, and decide to either drive, pull up, or pass to someone open behind the three point line. The person will then either shoot, or fake and drive in, further throwing the defense off balance. From there, it’s just about reading and making the right play.
  4. If none of that works, then just go to a Hayward or Hood iso or PnR and hope for the best (I think Hood was actually in like the 95th percentile for isolation possessions, so this wasn’t actually that bad of an option)

That’s basically what we did for the entire year, and it was good enough to get us to the 17th ranked offense. Add in occasional Favors post-ups, Mack doing a bit more PnR attacking towards the end of the year, Alec doing a bit more at the beginning of the year, and Trey Burke’s relatively efficient scoring off the bench, and that’s our offense. Just like the videos said, complicated plays, but relatively simple offense overall.

Now compare that to how the Spurs run the same plays. They have multiple guys that can make plays, not just Hayward and Hood, have a lot better spacing due to their vast array of shooters, and also have big men with better touch than Gobert and Favors, who they can throw it to when they have have good positioning and expect them to score. Not to mention, all of the practice they’ve had with running it.

"The Spurs Offense is an Absolute Threat", by Coach Daniel, 9 minutes long

So how can the Jazz’ offense improve and get a little bit closer to the Spurs? Let me cover a few areas where I think the Jazz offense can/will improve next year:

  1. Improved Point Guard Play

Point guard is the most important position on offense. Whenever a team gets a better point guard, they improve. For example, last year, after the Philadelphia 76ers traded for Ish Smith, they improved greatly, even though Ish Smith isn’t that great of a point guard, and it’s the 76ers. He’s just better than what they had before. And I already showed before how adding Mack really jumpstarted our offense.

I would argue that going from Mack to Hill is a bigger upgrade than going from Neto to Mack. Even going from Mack to Exum is an upgrade, in my eyes. In my mind, there’s no question that having both Hill and Exum manning the point will improve our offense.

Now that we’re talking about point guards, let’s talk about the role of the point guard in Quin Snyder’s offense. Slcdunk members have been talking about this for a while, and it’s not an easy question to answer. In my humble opinion, it seems to me that a shooting point guard does not work well in our offense. Trey Burke was effective off the bench last season, but I don’t think he would have fit in well with the starting lineup. Neither would guards like Damian Lillard, Derrick Rose, or CJ McCollum, in my opinion. I dunno about Westbrook. He’s kind of his own species. But I think our offense is best fit for a more facilitating type point guard. Not really a Ricky Rubio, or John Wall ball dominant facilitating guard, but more of a Tony Parker type player, one who makes plays off the pick and roll. That is really all the Jazz need from their point guard. And hopefully they can be as good on defense as possible.

So how do the current Jazz point guards fit into this role? I think pretty well. This is basically what Mack did last year, making simple PnR plays, and while Hill has been criticized for not having great court vision and point guard skills, I still think he’ll be able to run a PnR pretty well (he still averaged 3.5 assists per game last year, not great for a point guard but still fairly decent). Neto wasn’t as great as this type of role; he just didn’t have enough he could do off the pick and roll and turned the ball over too frequently. While Mack had his inside-the-paint floater which he was good at, Neto couldn’t pull up or finish near the basket, and would just dribble it around and often give the ball to the other team. Actually, Mack would be the perfect point guard for our team if only he could stretch the floor a little bit.

What about Exum? I think he fits this role perfectly. Read this article by SaltCityHoops:

"Dante Exum and the Third Defender", by Dan Clayton.

It breaks down Dante’s performance against the Nuggets last year, the game where he had 12 assists. It was by far his best game of the season, as the author points out: "None of these are crazy advanced plays, and most of them have the common denominator of being against a defense that made completely inexplicable choices at times. But Exum’s mental quickness seemed to take a leap forward, and the results were confused defenders all over the floor."

I think if Exum can reach this level of competency running the offense, our team will be very good. His speed just throws everything off. Watch his highlights video from last year, and notice how good he was at driving in and throwing passes or lobs to Gobert. If he can do that consistently, watch out.

I think the Jazz’ developmental path they follow with Exum should go step by step: first, develop him into a "3 and D" player, like they did his rookie year. Next, develop him into a competent pick and roll player. After that, let him run free and see how much farther he can go. The quickness of his first step makes his potential endless, and seeing Exum grow is the part of the season I’m looking forward to most next year.

Now, for a second area of improvement:

2) Better Spacing

Spacing is always good on offense. There is a huge benefit to the floor being opened up. The reason the Warriors had the best offense last year was because when you leave Curry just an inch of room to get his shot off, he can still hit at a high %. So the entire defense has to focus on making sure Curry never has any room to shoot, and follow him as he runs around screens all over the floor. At the same time, they also have to monitor Klay Thompson, one of the best shooters in the game who does much of the same things as Curry and is also sprinting all over the floor, while simultaneously respecting the shooting of Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes. It’s a very difficult task.

The Jazz’ spacing last year wasn’t great. I mean, that’s what happens when you start Gobert and Favors together (not that I think we should blow up the Favors/Gobert pairing, I think we need both of them for our defense to be where we want it to be), and a point guard whose shot is not respected by any defense. Neto and Mack shooting higher than expected from behind the 3-point line is great, but it’s important to recognize that this only happened because they were left completely alone.

Teams will likely not leave George Hill, an excellent shooter, wide open. He’ll make defenders stick to him and open up the floor a bit more. I dunno about Exum; he proved he was okay at a spot up shooter role his rookie year (although 31% is far from good), but the reports are that he’s been working on his shooting the past year, and if he can hit at least league average from 3 this year, that will be fine.

Besides the addition of Hill, where will other improved spacing come from? One is definitely from Joe Johnson. At the very least, he’s a huge upgrade from Chris Johnson. Another is from the removal of Trevor Booker. He did a lot of good things for us last year, but providing spacing was not one of them. Lyles was extremely effective in the Channing Frye role last year. He will help a lot with the spacing as well, especially if he is used to stagger Gobert and Favors’ minutes. Finally, improved spacing can come from Gobert and Favors themselves. Favors’ free throw line jumper was money last year, especially before he got injured, and if he can continue to solidify his shot, then that’s great. Also, like everyone else, I’m a bit skeptical about Gobert’s video of him hitting 10 open jump shots in a row, but it at least shows it’s something he’s been working on, and it’s a definite improvement from last year. So I think the combinations of Hill, Joe Johnson, increased role of Lyles, and hopeful improvement from Gobert and Favors will help improve our team’s spacing and, by doing so, boost the offense.

3) Better Bench Play

Remember earlier in this post when I showed that the lineup of Mack, Hood, Hayward, Favors, and Gobert had an offensive rating of 109.8? Well, then why the hell was our offensive rating for the rest of that period only 102.9? Hmmm, seems like our bench must have been pretty ineffective to drag it all the way down that far.

Last year, there were some times when the offense of our bench looked okay. For the first part of the season, when both Alec Burks and Trey Burke were coming off the bench, we at least had some bench scoring. But later, when our bench unit was basically Neto-CJ-Ingles-Booker-Withey, it really sputtered. Not very much scoring there. I think it will be better this year. A bench of Hill-Alec-Joe Johnson-Lyles-Diaw doesn’t look bad at all. Like I said with my post about the defense and how our bench defense needs to improve, it will be up to Quin to find lineups off the bench that work this year. But he’ll have a lot to work with. I feel confident that on offense, the play of our bench should improve.

4) Improved Backcutting

The backcut is one of the most dangerous elements of the Spurs offense, and one they have become very adept at using. Unfortunately, the Jazz are not nearly as good at using it. This is one area where I would really like to see improvement next year. It seems that last year, on our many dribble-hand-offs and passes, the defense would always pressure up, forcing Hayward or Hood to sometimes catch it all the way five feet behind the three point line. My question is why don’t they just backcut more? One reason why may be that our team isn’t very good at throwing backcut passes, and whenever we tried to do it last year, it often resulted in a turnover. Another problem is that sometimes players would cut nicely and receive a pass going to the basket, but then for no reason just stop and pull out or pick up their dribble. In general, our team just wasn’t very good at doing this.

I think both personnel changes, and coaching in this area could help with this. Improved spacing will open up the floor more to cut. Exum and Hill are both sneaky good cutters. Diaw seems good at throwing passes to cutters. And hopefully this will be an something the coaches talk to the players about.

5) Transition Play

Another thing I’d like to see our team do more is push the ball in transition. We didn’t do this last year very much, and it kind of hurt the efficiency of our offense. One problem is that Hayward is really the only person on our team who can competently run a fast break, and it wasn’t something we looked to do very much in the first place. Once again, I see potential for improvement here, as Hill seems capable at running fast breaks, and transition could be a huge strength for Exum. I hope this is another thing the coaches work with the players on.

6) Better Touch/Reduced Turnovers from our bigs:

One of the biggest problems for our offense last year was turnovers coming from our big men, especially Gobert. It was only partly his fault; Neto wasn’t very good at throwing passes to him, and he was clearly fatigued from summer play. However, I think holding on to the ball more and improving his touch around the rim is very important for him. I also think Exum will help a little bit. If you watch his highlight video, it’s clear that he was good at making passes, especially lobs, to Gobert (I’m disappointed in the lack of lobs I saw thrown last season). Watch the video "The Spurs Offense is an Absolute Threat" again. See how such a big part of their offense is being able to throw the ball to Duncan or Splitter when they’re in good position and having them finish. Last year, sadly, whenever we tried to that with Favors and Gobert, I would expect a miss or a turnover. I would argue that being able to seal effectively and then finish is an even more important part of Favors and Gobert’s games than improving their shooting.

Favors and Gobert could also benefit from being more physical on the offensive end. Watch the video "Utah Jazz ‘Mid Post Hand-Off’ " again. Notice how whenever Favors or Gobert are waiting to hand the ball off to Hayward on the elbow, they keep getting pushed out of their position towards the three-point line by the defender guarding them. I’d like to see them be able to hold their ground better. It’s kind of the same thing with when I talked about Hood or Hayward coming out to get the ball, then getting pushed back behind the three-point line instead of holding their position or just backcutting. Just another thing I’d like to see improve.

One more thing about Favors. I think he should also work on improving his post game. It’s already pretty good, but it’s not quite as killer as I’d like it to be. Think about it, by this time, half the league is starting guys like Ryan Anderson at the four. I’d love to see Favors get to the point where he can punish skinnier players in the post and score nearly every time; that would be a huge tactical advantage for us.

7) Experience

This will be by far the biggest thing. I think overall last year, the offense was fine, but our players just weren’t quite good enough to run it precisely. I think the word that the coaching staff should drill into our players’ heads this year is "precision". If we can execute our offense deliberately, hold on to the ball, and play unselfishly, I think we should be fine. In my opinion, I actually think it will be 2017-2018, not this year, when the Jazz’ offense really breaks out. It just needs another year of practice to get to a high level. But I do think the Jazz’ offense will improve next year.

By how much? Well that’s very hard to say. It’s a lot harder than trying to predict how good our defense will be. Much of how good our offense is will depend on improvement from within. How much will Hayward and Hood improve their shooting? Since the offense is run so much through them, even marginal improvements will have a huge effect. Consider that Atlanta’s offense dropped from 6th in 2014-2015 to 17th this year, and it was largely attributable to Korver’s regression in 3-point shooting. And some things just come out of nowhere, like Booker’s jump shot completely abandoning him last year after he became good at it the year before.

But I think it can be better than last year, for sure. Going off of our 103.5 points scored per 100 possessions baseline established earlier in this post, and predicting improvement coming from better point guard play, an improved bench, and hopefully tighter execution, I think we can move up to 104.5 points scored per 100 possessions throughout next season. Where this will put us in the rankings, I have no idea, but I think we can push for a top-10 offense.

Using my predicted 98.5 defensive rating for next year, and this 104.5 offensive rating, that would give us a net rating of +6.0, about the same as the Clippers and Cavaliers this past year. Looking historically over the past five seasons to see about how many games a team with a +6.0 net rating has won, it looks like usually about 55-60 games. Take a few games off for injuries, and likely some continued struggles with winning close games, and it looks like 53-58 wins is pretty realistic for us. I’d like to think we might be able to do better, but it’s very important to not set our expectations too high, so as not to have them crushed, like last year.

So that’s about it for this post. Hopefully this helped you understand that Jazz offense more, I feel like a lot of people think it’s just disorganized pass/pass/pass, wait until 5 second left on the shot clock, and then go to a Hayward PnR, which isn’t completely true. A lot said in these 4,500 words, so make sure to list your thoughts in the comment section. Oh, and also don’t forget to answer my poll asking how good you think our offense will be next year. Thanks!

All comments are the opinion of the commenter and not necessarily that of SLC Dunk or SB Nation.