It cannot be understated how much the Utah Jazz roster has changed this offseason. The Jazz lost a whole list of Derrick Favors, Ricky Rubio, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, Raul Neto, Grayson Allen, Thabo Sefolosha, Ekpe Udoh, and two way contracts Tyler Cavanaugh and Naz Mitrou-Long. On the flip side, the Jazz have gotten arguably the best or second best player of two other teams (Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic, from the Grizzlies and Pacers), rounded out the squad with multiple high level role players (Jeff Green, Ed Davis, Emmanuel Mudiay), and added more young talent through the draft. So, with all of these changes, where are the weaknesses in the new team?
In effect, at risk of oversimplification, we’ve replaced Ricky with Mike Conley, replaced Derrick Favors and Jae Crowder with a combination Jeff Green and Ed Davis, and brought in Bojan to take Joe’s place as he moves towards the bench to replace Kyle’s production. Looking at per-game average sums for the four guys coming in for Derrick, Ricky, Jae, and Kyle, we see some interesting trends:
Most of the counting stats are strikingly very similar. We should keep in mind that Kyle was traded for about a third of the way into the season, so the games played / minutes distribution aren’t perfectly comparable, but a big concern will be all of our players’ roles reducing and dealing with that fallout. Bojan, Mike, Donovan, and Joe will definitely need to learn to put in more work off ball, and be more effective in lower minutes. Joe will need to adjust to a new role to coming off of the bench after starting all but one game the Jazz have played over the last three seasons. Jeff Green may end up starting around the 44 games he did last year but Mudiay absolutely will not start 42; neither will play anywhere close to the 27 minutes they did last year. Mudiay in particular might chafe at the lack of opportunity, especially with Dante in theory returning for real and Royce’s role expanding.
Another thing that stands out in this analysis is the relative decrease in three-point attempt rate. Kyle and Jae took upwards of 2⁄3 of all of their shots from three point land, whereas Mike and Bojan were in the high 30s and Jeff Green was at about 45 percent. Like how Chris Bosh and Kevin Love had their roles heavily reduced playing in Lebron-led Big Threes, their attempt rates will inevitably increase significantly, but role changes may lead to friction between teammates, especially if the team shoots 20% (6 for 29) from three like in the preseason loss to the Bucks.
Pick and Roll Threats
Another thing that is noticeable was how the offense will change with the departure of Derrick Favors, the other main pick and roll threat. While his departure may allow for a faster second unit that feasts more in transition and more on screen setting, taking a look at how each of the players that might replace his production (and comparing to the league-leading Gobert), we see some interesting trends:
We immediately note that Bojan almost certainly will not be participating much in pick roll as the roll man, which makes sense given his position as ball-handling “4”. However, given that Faves played mostly as the main backup five and the main roll threat, he averaged more than double the pick and roll possessions in similar minutes compared to Jeff Green or Ed Davis. Jeff Green, despite being an effective pick and roll player (actually higher percentile than Faves), will also be acting as a floor spacer a significant amount of the time. Ed Davis, while finishing at a high rate, has a relatively low points per possession value, turns over the ball nearly one sixth of the time, and didn’t have the volume to make him an above-average pick and roll threat. This means that the Jazz offense may need to change significantly in order to remain effective when Gobert is out.
Defensive Rim Protection
None of these replacements are particularly strong on the defensive end, either. Already (with the caveat of the preseason), the Jazz haven’t been up to their usual defensive stinginess, giving up 133, 128, and 128 points against actual NBA competition. Though Ed Davis has a reputation as a strong defender, he allowed an around league average 61.8% within six feet of the rim - just about the same amount as Jeff Green (61.6%), who is generally not recognized as a rim protector. He’s had pretty good numbers in the past (49.9% in 2015-16, 52.9% in 2016-17, 55.8% in 2017-18), but the numbers are clearly trending in the wrong direction. This is in stark contrast to Derrick Favors and even Ekpe Udoh whose insane ~49% and 52% in opponent field goal percentage over the last two seasons, respectively, make a huge difference over of the course of a game, not to mention an entire season. While we can structure a defense that funnels attackers towards the rim assuming 48 minutes of pure rim protection, the Jazz may not have that in spades like years previous. All of this puts more pressure on Rudy Gobert to perform. As the main pick and roll threat and the cornerstone of the Jazz defense, if Rudy misses any time or misses a step, the Jazz’s identity might crumble. This was definitely apparent in the game against the Kings, when players like DeAaron Fox and Marvin Bagley were able to use their speed advantage to carve up and collapse the defense often, and Rudy was beat in actions he normally smothers.
Of course, it’s really hard to read too much into the preseason. A lot of these problems will be smoothed out by much more effective shooting, a more modern offense, and another leap taken by the Jazz stars. Succeed enough during the season with the new offensive weapons, and the Jazz will absolutely make the leap come the playoffs.