The Utah Jazz’s rise back into the playoff race has been special. It has been propelled by a league best defense, a special rookie doing things not seen since Michael Jordan, a pass first point guard turned scoring guard, a traditional big man turned modern big man, and a center looking like a clear Defensive Player of the Year. The Jazz’s turnaround on the surface feels special. It should. The Jazz are not just doing something special. They are on the verge of a turnaround that has never been done before. It’s historic. How historic?
I’ve tracked the best turnarounds by teams that have occurred in the past 43 seasons. My criteria was the team had to be 8 games or worse under .500 on January 22nd of any season. In December Kevin Helin of NBCSports had an article where most of the playoff teams are set by December 26th. His conclusions was 87% of the playoff teams were set by December 26th. He only went with the past decade. I wanted to go further. I went all the way to 1975. Has there been a team in the modern era (past 43 years) that has done what Utah has done this season?
So I charted every team that was 8 games or more under .500 on January 22nd, and whoever improved dramatically or ended up making the playoffs, I added them to this list. This is the list of teams that have pulled off MASSIVE turnarounds.
Instantly, you’ll see that last year one of the greatest turnarounds of all time happened with the Miami Heat. The Miami Heat on January 22nd were 14-30, 16 games under .500, and they went 27-11 the rest of the way for the season to finish 41-41. They barely missed the playoffs. Honestly, Erik Spoelstra should have won coach of the year for that.
The greatest turnaround of all time, however, belongs to the 1982-1983 New York Knicks. They went 30-12 the rest of the way. If you look at New York, they were the only team to finish the season more than 1 game ABOVE .500. Most other teams fell short of returning to .500. The New York Knicks finished 6 games above .500.
Big note, look at how terrible Michael Jordan’s Bulls were that made the playoffs his rookie year. Seriously. That team actually was allowed in the playoffs. I suddenly feel a lot better about comparing Donovan Mitchell’s rookie season to Michael Jordan’s rookie season.
So where does Utah land on this? Utah is projected to finish the season 47-35. A whopping 12 games over .500. So where would they land on the list? Here is the list with Utah added with their projected finish.
This is why what Utah is doing is so dang special. It’s also why nobody in their right mind could have predicted this. Utah’s team in January, especially after the Atlanta Hawks loss, looked cooked. That loss seemed to be the nail in the coffin. They were a bad road team, struggling with offense, and it didn’t appear even the return of Rudy Gobert could save them. If anyone says they saw this coming, they’re lying. They would have been predicting that Utah would do something that had NEVER been done before. There is no Monday Morning Quarterbacking this turnaround. You’d be hard pressed to find the Jazz’s own front office saying they saw this coming. They probably thought they were better than 9 games under .500, but this? Nah.
If Utah finishes at 47-35, not only would they have a chance at the 4th seed in the playoffs, they will have executed the greatest playoff push of All-Time or at least in the modern era of basketball. They will have finished the season 28-7, winning an insane 80% of their remaining schedule. This is the type of finish that gets people Executive of the Year, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and Defensive Player of the Year awards. This is special. This is historic. Enjoy it.