Remarkably the Utah Jazz are 4th in the Western Conference right now. That’s a team with one new starter (George Hill), and two new rotation guys (Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw) who were added in the off-season to help bolster the emerging stars Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert. In the off-season lots of people were quick to point out that this team could be good. But the reality today is that now that they are healthy and playing well . . . well . . . this team could be great.
One thing is true, their play of late has made lots of people #TakeNote
The other thing that’s true is that the national media that pays attention to analytics and watches all 30 teams play (too many smart people to name) has been warning the rest of the NBA about the Utah Jazz for months now. Lots of people (mostly casual fans) didn’t listen.
Don’t take my word for here, here’s Alex Kennedy talking about our team:
My dark horse in this year's NBA playoffs is... pic.twitter.com/to0079ZQLG— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) March 9, 2017
But I get it. As a casual fan and/or big market team fan you don’t have to listen to people who watch all 30 games play. Frankly, it’s easy to have discounted the Jazz. They don’t have any stars, even people at The Ringer were kind of upset they got one into the All-Star Game. They don’t play fast, and as a result, no one gets big stats. They are in a funky time-zone. And they always seemed to lose games to teams that actually matter. But the smart people who straddle the line between reporter and facts-based blogger who write about the NBA saw this monster emerging — even if at the start of the season the team didn’t look formidable at all.
It’s one thing if the team was playing poorly and under expectations. It’s a completely different animal when the team doesn’t even have a chance to play poorly because there weren’t enough warm bodies around. Utah has lost a lot of games this year just because they weren’t enough guys to play. And really, being 4th in the West right now is a testament to just how deep this team has been.
But you really need to take a look at all the injuries this year. It’s remarkable this team is even in the spot they are right now. Here are the games missed by the players on the team so far this year. (Does not include DNP-CDs, does include games where the player was injured but not with the team, and thus on the inactive list.)
- PG: George Hill - 27 games (Sprained right thumb, sprained left big toe, lip laceration, concussion-like symptoms, left big toe soreness, rest)
- SG: Rodney Hood - 19 games (Illness, right hamstring strain, flu-like symptoms, right knee hyper-extension, right knee bone contusion, right knee LCL sprain, right knee soreness)
- SF: Gordon Hayward - 7 games (left hand pinkie finger fracture)
- PF: Derrick Favors - 19 games (left knee bone contusion, left knee bone bruise, IT band syndrome, rehabilitation protocol, right knee soreness, rest)
- C: Rudy Gobert - 0 games
- PG: Dante Exum - 7 games (left patellar tendinitis)
- SG: Alec Burks - 42 games (left ankle rehabilitation, left ankle debridement, rehabilitation)
- SF: Joe Ingles - 0 games
- PF: Joe Johnson - 4 games (left groin soreness, mild left groin strain, rest)
- C: Boris Diaw - 8 games (right leg bone contusion)
- PG: Raul Neto - 0 games
- SG: Shelvin Mack - 3 games (left ankle sprain)
- SF: Trey Lyles - 0 games
- PF: Joel Bolomboy - 21 games (NBA D-League assignment)
- C: Jeff Withey - 0 games
By my count that’s 157 games missed. (Also that’s Excel’s count in my spreadsheet.) If you divide that by 65 games played that’s missing 2.42 guys a night. If you just look at the Top 10 Rotation, that’s still 133 games missed, at an average of 2.05 of the top 10 guys out EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. The starters are at a smaller value, 72 starter games missed in 65 games played. So that’s still missing 1.11 starters per game on average.
The way this works out on average is do-able. The way it worked out in practice is that Utah was missing 3-4 rotation players (including up to 3 starters for some games) for much of the early part of the season. It’s no surprise then that the team started off their first 15 games with a 7-8 record. That 46.67 win % translates to 38.27 wins over 82 games. That wasn’t a great start.
Since then the Jazz are 34-16, a 68.00 win% which is at the rate of 55.76 wins over 82 games.
The Jazz were rolling during the 2nd 15 games section of the schedule (Game 16 to 30), and during the 3rd 15 games section of the schedule (Game 31 to 45) - where the guys went on a pair of 11-4 runs. That’s a 73.33 win%, that would put the team at 60.13 wins if they could keep that up all season long.
Part of it was the schedule, part of it was getting healthier. But the big part of it was the team playing better and together. It takes a while to integrate new pieces, like George Hill, Joe Johnson, and Boris Diaw. But things are working great now - even if the team is still battling injuries. Right now during this 5th 15 game section (Game 61 to 75) the team is winning 80.00% of their games, which is a 65.60 / 82 game win record.
Gordon Hayward is playing like a leader determined to take his team to the next level. Rudy Gobert is working on the best season ever in franchise history for a center. Guys have been stepping up all year long as well. And with a stretch run before the Jazz they are really turning it up.
They are playing better. They are healthy. And they pretty much control their destiny - which is the opposite of last season when they finished the 82 game schedule playing poorly, without key rotation players, and needed the Houston Rockets to lose on the last day to even have a chance to play for the playoffs. There’s no greater evidence of this as the teeth kicking the Rockets received from the Jazz just two nights ago.
Now there are only 17 more games left on the 82 game schedule. And there are some tough squads that Utah will tangle with: @ Oklahoma City Thunder, vs Los Angeles Clippers, @ Cleveland Cavaliers, @ Los Angeles Clippers, vs. Washington Wizards, @ San Antonio Spurs, @ Golden State Warriors, and vs San Antonio Spurs. Those eight games looked like eight losses if it was the early season Jazz, injured and out of sync.
They don’t look like eight losses right now.
The current may be strong, but this is vessel built to withstand the harshest of situations. And playing games with three to four rotation guys out for half of the season was really crappy. But that’s not the case anymore.
If this was a boat, it took on a lot of water but never sank. That, my friends, is a submarine.
And those are boats you don’t see until they want you to, and they have enough firepower to destroy a whole pretty navy. (Wait, what are the Clippers again?) And that’s what the Utah Jazz are right now.