The Utah Jazz have begun the season 2-0 but not on the back of their offense, rather their defense. The Jazz locked up the Oklahoma City Thunder and Sacramento Kings to the tune of a 92.6 defensive rating per Cleaning the Glass.
Thus far Utah’s shot making hasn’t accompanied them for the beginning of the season. Last year the Jazz had a league best 0.597 TS%, #1 in the NBA. This year the Jazz are lagging at just 0.549, just #18 in the NBA.
Our natural tendency is to assume better days ahead. After all, the Jazz are about the same team as last year.
However, we can’t undersell the impact Georges Niang made as a +3.0 rTS% (regularized or adjusted to league averages TS), nor can we be too optimistic about new Jazzmen Eric Paschall (career high +0.6 rTS%) and Rudy Gay (late career high of +2.0rTS%).
It’s clear that the Jazz will be one of the more efficient teams in the NBA this year, but is it truly reasonable to assume they are the same team? And when will the efficiency return?
Let’s take a look at a few measures.
First, let’s estimate the probability the Jazz shoot 0.549 TS% through two games if they’re really the same efficient team as last year (for those who care, we’ll use a binomial distribution from statistics). Our result comes to 0.0057, or a little over 1⁄2 of a percent.
From a statistical point of view, that is a low enough probability for us to reject the assumption that the Jazz are the same shooting team.
However, two games and just 198 TSA are small enough samples that we should consult some additional metrics.
Looking at last year’s TS% distribution (how many games the Jazz shot a certain TS%), we can see that sub-0.550 happened 15 times. The Jazz had 9 instances of a two game TS% below 0.550 and 4 instances of a three game TS% below 0.550.
That data certainly indicates that our two game sample isn’t enough to get discouraged about the Jazz shooting not being as efficient.
Utah’s matchup with Denver tonight does present some problems. The Nuggets are currently the 6th best defense this season, 10th best against the shot. Last season they were in the same ranking tiers.
Denver’s allowing the 6th fewest FGA’s at the rim thus far in the season, though the 2nd worst percentage. If the Jazz can’t get to the rim, it’ll be tough to see their TS% improve this next game.
The most likely game for the Jazz shooting to experience positive regression is Thursday in Houston, where they’ll face the Rockets, the 22nd ranked defense against the shot. A young roster with plenty of energy is more likely to be manipulated by the Jazz schemes than a disciplined Nuggets team.
Several Jazzmen are struggling with their shot to start the year:
Donovan Mitchell: -5.9% rTS
Mike Conley: -2.2% rTS
Royce O’Neale: -18.2% rTS
Eric Paschall: -11.7% rTS
Hopefully the Jazz find their stroke and rhythm against the Nuggets and don’t get caught flat-footed after a disappointing Denver loss last and 4 days of rest for Utah.
Jazz have shown early this year that they will defend despite not shooting well, which should give us some comfort if they need an extra game to rev up their offensive engines.