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What to expect from the Jazz in December

The month of December is a time for holiday cheer, and the Utah Jazz have opportunities abounding despite potential hazards ahead

Utah Jazz v Sacramento Kings
Boasting a ##-## record, the Utah Jazz look to spread holiday cheer and end up on the nice-list themselves in an exciting stretch of their schedule in December
Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

November hasn’t quite ended the way Jazz fans had hoped with Utah dropping close games to the Pelicans and Grizzlies having been heavily favored in both.

With an additional game against the Trailblazers tonight, Utah could salvage the month with a win or induce palm-to-forehead across Jazz nation. Last game the team rebounded in dramatic fashion to route the Pelicans in their second game in as many days, amplifying the up-and-down nature of the early season.

As we gear up for December, we can’t help but anticipate the holiday season and hope for some Jazz related cheer. What should we be expecting for the upcoming month?

Schedule Breakdown

The Jazz December schedule features a pretty balanced 14 games, with eight coming at home and six on the road. Utah will have a four game road trip out East and a six game homestand intermixed.

Outside of PHI, the Utah will face every opponent for the first time this season. That brings a host of excitement, opportunity, and risk.

They have two back-to-backs on tap, one home and one away. An interesting note is that four of their opponents will be on back-to-backs: two on the front-end (POR, BOS) and two on the back-end (CHA, PHI).

They have three national tv games scheduled: @PHI on NBATV, vsLAC on ESPN, and vsDAL on ESPN. Their matchup against DAL takes place on Christmas Day and they have an afternoon game slotted against CLE on Sunday.

December Schedule Simulation

Looking ahead to December, what’s on most everyone’s mind is what our record might look like.

According to FiveThirtyEight, the 3 most difficult games for the Jazz upcoming in December are: @PHI at 42%, @POR at 44%, @MIN at 55%.

The 3 most difficult games for the Jazz upcoming in December are: vsSAS 87%, vsCHA at 86%, and 2x vsMIN at 81%.

Using these probabilities, we can run a simulation for how many games the Jazz win will in December. Running 1,000 scenarios, we find the probability density charted below:

Probability of Jazz winning X games in December
Win Probabilities thanks to FiveThirtyEight, visual thanks to Adam Bushman, SLC Dunk

Utah’s expected record (most likely outcome) for the month of December is 10-4 with a probability of 25%. A 90% confidence interval yields 8-12 wins.

Said differently, there’s a 90% likelihood that Utah’s win total will be between 21 and 26 (or a win rate between 0.600 and 0.722). Given the current NBA standings, that likely win rate range should also preserve a top 3 Western Conference seeding.

Season eFG% Advantage

One perspective I enjoy using to evaluate opponents is their net efficiency. The Utah Jazz have the second highest efficiency advantage in the league which is definitely reflected in the 538 win probability numbers.

We can see the Jazz and their December schedule opponent’s displayed below:

Utah Jazz and December scheduled opponents’ season eFG% advantage (through 11/28/21)
Stats thanks to | Visual thanks to Adam Bushman, SLC Dunk

Overall, Utah will have a significant (+3.0% to +8.3%) advantage over their opponent heading into the night.

WAS will be a tough matchup given their ability to hit the midrange shot despite improved offensive and defensive shot strategy. Utah will play them twice. While 538 has Utah favored in both matchups, Utah will be hard-pressed to go 2-0.

MIN will also be a tough matchup with 3 games and a unique style of perimeter shooting at the 5 with plenty of athleticism and size across their rotation.

Jazz should be able to have their way with SAS, CHA, and BOS.

Possession/Points Swing

Another worthwhile perspective to use for evaluating opponents is their ability to generate volume and score off of that volume. The Utah Jazz are in the bottom 5 of both metrics which identifies a clear weakness heading into the matchup.

We can see the Jazz and their December schedule opponent’s displayed below:

Utah Jazz and December schedule opponents’ season Points/Possession Swing
Stats tahnks to | Visual thanks to Adam Bushma, SLC Dunk

SAS and MIN will be very dangerous. On nights when Utah can’t score efficiently, these two teams can put up points and wreak havoc with turnovers and offensive rebounds.

Oddly (compared to last year), LAC and PHI have not been generating much volume and are quite poor at scoring off of them. That helps to level the playing field.

The Jazz have a lot of opportunities ahead of themselves to make statements, “pad their record”, and ramp up for the second half of the schedule.

But there are also a lot of traps. We should feel confident that Utah rises to the occasion but recency gives some cause to pause.

Hopefully the Jazz play the role of St. Nick and avoid their Grinch-like tendencies.