This afternoon FiveThirtyEight released a new NBA metric that is replacing CARMELO. FiveThirtyEight claims that it more properly measures a player’s impact in the new modern NBA, “NBA teams highly value floor spacing, defense and shot creation, and they place relatively little value on traditional big-man skills. RAPTOR likewise values these things.” They also made the data open for anyone to download. What’s interesting is it has player data all the way back to 1980 which means ... we can see which Utah Jazz teams were the best constructed for the modern NBA.
In order to figure out the best Utah Jazz squads, I took every roster’s Raptor Total then proportioned it out to how many total minutes they played. For the sake of this exercise, I’m calling it Raptor Impact (RI). For example, last season Grayson Allen had a Total Raptor of -11.3. But he only played 430 minutes last season. He wasn’t great, but he didn’t provide a ton of negative impact. The Jazz over the years may have had teams with terrible RAPTOR score or a great one, but those players didn’t see the floor.
So without further adieu ... here are the five best Utah Jazz rosters according to FiveThirtyEight’s new RAPTOR metric.
5. 2007-2008 Utah Jazz, +41.3
- Deron Williams +10.4
- Andrei Kirilenko +8.3
- Ronnie Brewer +8.6
The best Utah Jazz team without John Stockton, Jeff Hornacek, or Karl Malone was the Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, and Mehmet Okur led Utah Jazz. The 2007-2008 squad upset the Houston Rockets for the second season in a row, but did not make it as far as the prior squad that made it to the Western Conference Finals—thanks, Golden State! They would eventually lose to the Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol Los Angeles Lakers who would go to win the NBA Championship, marking the second year in the row that they lose to the eventual NBA Champions.
[Editor’s Note: A prior version of this article incorrectly stated that the 2007-2008 squad went to the NBA Western Conference. That was the 2006-2007 squad.]
What may come as a shock to no one, RAPTOR does not like Carlos Boozer in the modern era. His RAPTOR score in 2007-2008 was a -1.4. What will shock everyone is seeing Ronnie Brewer who struggled with his outside shot at a +8.6. He was a defensive wing who was made to work like a big at the Shooting Guard position. What allowed him to work was Mehmet Okur who could stretch the floor. The three point shooting big Okur was at a 1.9. Surprisingly, his defense according to the RAPTOR score was never a negative. The other All-Star power forward in Utah’s ranks—Paul Millsap—was a +3.5 that season as well.
first unicorn wild horse—would be a beast in today’s modern NBA. One can only wonder what Utah’s team would have looked like with AK47 at the 4 spot full-time and no Carlos Boozer. Andrei Kirilenko was a 5x5 threat. He could handle the ball, drive, playmake, hit threes, and defend any position on the floor. He was the proto-Giannis. Why Kevin O’Connor decided he needed to displace AK47 is beyond anyone’s explanation. Imagine if Utah was able to use Boozer’s cap space in exchange for more shooters like Kyle Korver who was a +3.5. Imagine.
4. 1994-1995 Utah Jazz +41.6 RI
- Bryon Russell, +18.2
- John Stockton, +14.0
- Karl Malone, +9.1
This was when Russell burst on the scene with Utah. He didn’t get many minutes (only 13.7 a game), but RAPTOR identified him as a key wing for Utah’s future. Coincidentally, Bryon Russell is the prototype for 3 and D defenders in today’s NBA. Measuring at 6’7 and 225 lbs, if he were in his prime today, he may be playing Power Forward for Utah. He can space the floor—shot 37% from three with Utah—and could guard many different positions.
John Stockton—as you will come to find out—is one of the players this system absolutely loves. He was a modern era point guard playing in the rough 80s/90s.
3. 1997-1998 Utah Jazz +41.6 RI
- John Stockton, +13.7
- Karl Malone, +10.6
- Jeff Hornacek, +6.6
This is actually interesting to see. According to RAPTOR we’re seeing the first indicators of John Stockton and Karl Malone’s drop-off. To be clear, Stockton/Malone didn’t drop off a ton, but you’ll soon see he went from being an overlooked MVP candidate to third wheel in Utah’s Big 3 that included Malone and Hornacek.
Jeff Hornacek’s impact in this season almost was the same as Bryon Russell’s who had a RAPTOR of +6.4. Everyone’s favorite Greg Ostertag was a beast defensively with a defensive RAPTOR of +7.8, everyone’s least favorite Greg Ostertag—see what I did there?—had an offensive RAPTOR of -6.0. The ‘Tag giveth and he taketh away.
2. 1995-1996 Utah Jazz +49.7 RI
- John Stockton, +15.4
- Karl Malone, +14.3
- Jeff Hornacek, +9.8
Weird, right? The second best team for RAPTOR was not an NBA Finals year, but the year Utah choked in the conference finals to the Seattle Supersonics in . Utah may have won less games than in their Finals years, but RAPTOR thinks the Jazz should have done better.
John Stockton had a killer year and continues to be a historical player RAPTOR would love to see in the modern era. Karl Malone continues to roll. Karl Malone became lethal in midrange in the post. One has to wonder if he was in the modern era, he probably would have had the work ethic to stretch his game to the three point line. Big what if.
1. 1996-1997 Utah Jazz +56.9 RI
- John Stockton, +15.7
- Karl Malone, +14.9
- Jeff Hornacek, +10.3
While it’s easy to think of 1997-1998 where Utah came the closest to winning the championship, RAPTOR believes the best Utah team was in 1996-1997, the first year Utah went to the NBA Finals. This team was a juggernaut. In addition to Jazz’s top 3 RAPTOR players, Bryon Russell was a +7.6. Greg Ostertag—one of the most polarizing Jazz players at the time—was a +2.9. The Jazz’s entire starting lineup was great in the 90s and RAPTOR says it could have been great in 2019-2020.
In the modern era, John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek would have challenged the Splash Brothers, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, for supremacy. What is incredibly surprising—not if you know how who really is the best point guard in the game—FiveThirtyEight’s Raptor score loves John Stockton. If you think about it, John Stockton would fit perfectly in this modern era. He could hit from long range, he was an amazing defender, and his playmaking ability was second to none. As my pops would say, “The only person who stopped John Stockton from scoring was John Stockton.”
Karl Malone is still up there, but RAPTOR suggests we had the pecking order of importance backwards with John Stockton and The Mailman. Then again they’re impossible to not be linked together, but maybe ... just maybe ... the MVP trophy went to the wrong guy?