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Can the Utah Jazz make the playoffs with a bottom five offense?

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We take a look through NBA history to see if Utah can scratch their way into the playoffs.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Utah Jazz Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Utah’s season started off promising with a home win against Denver, a valiant effort against the Timberwolves, and then another home win against the other Northwest Division underachiever, the Oklahoma City Thunder. But since then Utah has been terrible. The questions about their offense look justified. Their defense—while still as strong as ever—is beginning to show signs of wear and tear due to the offense falling apart. This isn’t a playoff team.

In my Utah Jazz season preview I gave this synopsis of the upcoming year.

The Jazz [will] join the 2009-10 Charlotte Bobcats as quality teams with great defenses and atrocious offenses.

I thought that Utah’s offense would struggle but I didn’t anticipate it to become an utter trainwreck, and that’s what it is, a trainwreck. Over the last 4 games the Utah Jazz have the 4th worst Net Rating in the NBA managing only 99.1 Offensive Rating. The Jazz are currently the 5th best defense in the league which under any other circumstances would be amazing. But they are also the league’s 4th worst offense.

My comparison to the 2009-2010 Charlotte Bobcats looks a bit naive. The 2009-2010 Charlotte Bobcats made a living on the defensive end and while they were the 24th best offense in the league that offense managed an offensive rating of 104.4. Compared to the Jazz’s offensive rating for the season so far that is 101.7 (via basketball-refence.com). Last year’s Utah Jazz squad had an Offensive Rating of 107.4. Achieving an offensive rating of 104.4 for Utah this season would be like landing a rocket on the moon for Utah in terms of difficulty.

Which brings us to the question: Can Utah be a playoff team while being a bottom five offense and top five defense? Not at these levels. This is the top 10 teams with an Offensive Rating of 101.7 or worse and a defensive rating of 103.1 or better.

Great Defense/Terrible Offense Teams

Rk Season Tm Lg G W L W/L% MOV SOS SRS Pace ORtg DRtg eFG% TOV% ORB% FT/FGA eFG% TOV% ORB% FT/FGA
Rk Season Tm Lg G W L W/L% MOV SOS SRS Pace ORtg DRtg eFG% TOV% ORB% FT/FGA eFG% TOV% ORB% FT/FGA
1 2004-05 NJN* NBA 82 42 40 0.512 -1.5 -0.32 -1.82 89.1 101.4 103.1 0.463 13.7 25.5 0.242 0.479 15.2 26.8 0.278
2 2003-04 NYK* NBA 82 39 43 0.476 -1.48 -0.49 -1.97 89.5 101.7 103.3 0.474 15.1 28 0.211 0.461 13.2 27.2 0.259
3 2000-01 BOS NBA 82 36 46 0.439 -2.13 -0.26 -2.4 92.6 101.4 103.7 0.473 14.7 25.3 0.25 0.493 16 27.3 0.256
4 2003-04 CLE NBA 82 35 47 0.427 -2.62 -0.44 -3.07 90.8 101.4 104.2 0.451 13.7 31.1 0.226 0.469 12.3 27 0.221
5 2005-06 HOU NBA 82 34 48 0.415 -1.59 0.28 -1.3 88 101.6 103.3 0.471 14.3 25.5 0.24 0.472 13.1 25.4 0.247
6 2014-15 CHO NBA 82 33 49 0.402 -3.17 -0.27 -3.44 93 100.1 103.5 0.456 11.2 22.1 0.202 0.487 12 20.7 0.188
7 1999-00 CLE NBA 82 32 50 0.39 -3.5 -0.14 -3.64 95.7 100.4 104 0.468 15.6 28.1 0.245 0.474 15.1 28.8 0.275
8 1978-79 CHI NBA 82 31 51 0.378 -3.96 0.18 -3.78 102.9 101.3 105.1 0.489 18.3 34 0.23 0.497 15 30.1 0.209
9 2000-01 LAC NBA 82 31 51 0.378 -2.89 0.66 -2.23 89.6 101.3 104.5 0.476 14.9 28.3 0.221 0.466 12 28.9 0.217
10 2000-01 CLE NBA 82 30 52 0.366 -4.24 -0.23 -4.48 91.2 100.3 104.9 0.459 15.4 29.7 0.239 0.477 14.1 28.9 0.248

Only two of those teams made the playoffs. Ironically the best of the bunch was Jason Kidd’s Nets with a record of 42-40. Only one team has ever posted these numbers and had a winning record, and, spoiler alert, the Jazz play in the Western Conference so mercy might not be applied. Only 13 teams had 30 wins or more. And the majority of teams had 29 wins or less. In fact there’s a greater chance of winning 20 games or less than winning 20 or more with this criteria.

So what does this mean for Utah? Utah has to increase their offensive efficiency. To do that, it starts with the starting lineup that is the worst starting lineup in the league by far. Out of lineups that have played 95 minutes or more together the Utah Jazz’s starting lineup of Ricky Rubio, Rodney Hood, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert is dead last with a net rating of -11.2. That has to change if you want to avoid being a lottery team.

[Note: If the Utah Jazz are really on the tanking train for this year, this lineup will stay the same. It’s a perfect stealth tank lineup. It possesses Utah’s perceived “best” players and puts them in a hole to start every game, but Utah isn’t tanking.]

Word from Jazz practice was they had Thabo Sefolosha putting in work at the 4 position which would be a start for the starting lineup. The lineup of Ricky Rubio, Rodney Hood, Joe Ingles, Thabo Sefolosha, and Rudy Gobert has a net rating of 28.4. Wouldn’t be a bad start for Utah.

One thing is certain, if Utah’s offensive woes continue they will be on the outside looking in when the NBA playoffs roll around in April.