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Jazz are looking like a historically dangerous team

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As Utah closes the first half of the season, a look at their nightly shooting advantage indicates the Jazz are a very dangerous team

Utah Jazz v LA Clippers
Jordan Clarkson launches a corner 3 against the LA Clippers
Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

The Utah Jazz sit at 24-6 as they prepare to close out the final six games of the first half schedule, starting tonight against the Charlotte Hornets at home. That’s 2.5 games ahead in the loss column of the LA Lakers and 4 games ahead of the LA Clippers (if you count Utah winning the season series).

What a spot to be in! As we look back on season so far, you can’t help but smile at the seemingly improbable run the Jazz have had.

As unlikely as it may seem, the Jazz were seesawing in the early going. Utah showcased a bit of what the team was capable of in solid wins over POR, LAC, and SAS, yet left fans scratching their heads at the losses to MIN and PHX.

Jazz were 3-3 prior to the back-to-back losses in the Big Apple to BKN and NYK. That’s when everything turned around, featuring the 20 wins in 22 games.

Jazz have found success in many facets of the game from shot distribution to lineups. They’ve found the secret sauce and then some.

However, no area of the Jazz performance has been more dominant and validates their ceiling than the shooting advantage they generate over opponents. The Utah Jazz boast a league-leading +6.0% Net eFG.

This calculation is simply how well Utah shoots minus how well their opponents shoot. This +6.0% advantage means the Jazz have shot the ball better than their opponents by such a wide margin it ranks #1 in the league. It’s a credit to their prolific offense and stifling defense.

Take a look at the below graphic for the eFG% advantage ranks since the James Harden trade that flipped the NBA:

eFG% Advantage Ranks since 1/14/2021
eFG% Advantage Ranks since 1/14/2021
Stats via NBA.com; Adam Bushman, SLC Dunk

Not only do the Jazz have the biggest advantage for the season, they still have a massive margin over GSW, BKN, LAC, and PHX who are jostling for 2nd place over the last month.

Of all 4 factors that contribute to winning (eFG%, TOV%, OREB%, and FTArate), by far the most important factor is shooting and shot defense. Utah handily the cream of the crop.

This leads us to wonder, “Just how dominate is a +6.0% eFG advantage historically?”

Let’s take a look at three historical perspectives on eFG advantage:

  1. Utah Jazz history
  2. Select Utah Jazz comparisons
  3. Overall history

Due to data collection and time constraints, we’ve opted for a 25 year sample since the 1996-97 season, a range that will include the best Jazz teams in history for comparison.

Let’s dig in!

Karl Malone #32
The twilight years of the Stockton-Malone era Utah Jazz
Getty Images

Utah Jazz history

The Jazz have had a rollercoaster history since the 1996-97 season when our sample begins.

Utah made their first Finals appearance, following it up the next year with their second. The Jazz remained respectable in the early 2000’s before transitioning to the Williams-Boozer era.

The Jazz had a very successful run featuring multiple playoff series victories and an appearance in the WCF. The Deron Williams trade sent the Jazz into a rebuild, despite the front office’s best efforts.

With a prime Hayward and an emerging Gobert, Utah went to its first playoffs since the Williams-Boozer era in 2016-17 and beat the LA Clippers in the first round. They haven’t missed the playoffs since.

Take a look at the 25 teams the Jazz have debuted since their first Finals appearance, ranked in order of greatest eFG% advantage:

eFG% advantage in Utah Jazz history
eFG% advantage in Utah Jazz history since 1996-97
Stats via NBA.com; Adam Bushman, SLC Dunk

Easily the best season for a shooting advantage was the Jazz appearing in the Finals for the first time...until now. By a fraction of a percent, the 2020-21 Utah Jazz are edging out the GOAT Jazz team in eFG% advantage through half a season.

WOW!

Some other awesome teams of recent history were the Williams-Boozer team that made the WCF in 2006-07 (+0.5% eFG advantage) and the Hayward-Gobert team featuring George Hill that beat the Clippers in 2016-17 (+3.3%).

As fun and successful as those teams were, they aren’t in the same class as this year’s Utah Jazz.

So we have one of the most potent Jazz team’s over the last 25 years. How do we stack up against teams of yesteryear who burst onto the scene?

Oklahoma City Thunder v Golden State Warriors
2014-15 Golden State Warriors beginning their dynasty as overachieving up and comers
Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Select Utah Jazz comparisons

There’s been much ado about who the Jazz most compare to from recent history.

A recent poll by a Jazz faithful proposed several comparisons to the Jazz, just one of many discussions revolving around how to interpret Utah’s season in the context of history.

The 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks are the comparison most coined by league circles, many times meant and interpreted as an insult. Weird how being one of four teams left standing out of thirty is somehow abhorrent.

Even this writer compared Utah’s strategy of the 3P ball to the Golden State Warriors of years past, saying the Jazz were officially handed the “barrage baton” from the Splash Bros.

There are so many possibilities depending on what perspective is used; style of play, roster construction, star comparisons, statistical analysis, etc.

We offer another perspective of the statistical flavor.

Upon collecting a list of the most frequently discussed team comparisons (and adding some others that deemed appropriate), we stacked each up to the this season’s league-leading Utah Jazz in eFG% advantage.

See below for how they stacked up with each other:

eFG% advantage for league history comparisons
eFG% advantage for league history comparisons since 1996-97
Stats via NBA.com; Adam Bushman, SLC Dunk

The Jazz rank #2 of 13 teams from league history since 1996-97. Let’s dig into each team:

Golden State Warriors, 2014-15:

Offense Rank: #2 / Defense Rank: #3
Key contributors: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green
Outcome: won Finals

Phoenix Suns, 2004-05:

Offense Rank: #1 / Defense Rank: #16
Key contributors: Joe Johnson, Amar’e Stoudemire, Steve Nash
Outcome: lost WCF

San Antonio Spurs, 2013-14:

Offense Rank: #7 / Defense Rank: #4
Key contributors: Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker
Outcome: won Finals

BASKET - BKN - BKO - NBA FINALS - GAME 3 - SPURS HEAT
Kawhi Leonard of the 2013-14 Spurs defends LeBron James in the Finals
Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

Orlando Magic, 2008-09:

Offense Rank: #8 / Defense Rank: #3
Key contributors: Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu
Outcome: lost Finals

Sacramento Kings, 2002-03:

Offense Rank: #6 / Defense Rank: #2
Key contributors: Peja Stojakovic, Doug Christie, Chris Webber
Outcome: lost WCF semis

Oklahoma City Thunder, 2011-12:

Offense Rank: #2 / Defense Rank: #9
Key contributors: Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook
Outcome: lost Finals

Oklahoma City Thunder v Miami Heat
Kevin Durant drives on Dwayne Wade in the 2011-12 Finals
Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Dallas Mavericks, 2010-11:

Offense Rank: #6 / Defense Rank: #2
Key contributors: Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion
Outcome: won Finals

Atlanta Hawks, 2014-15:

Offense Rank: #5 / Defense Rank: #5
Key contributors: Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague
Outcome: lost ECF

Indiana Pacers, 2013-14:

Offense Rank: #22 / Defense Rank: #1
Key contributors: Paul George, David West, George Hill
Outcome: lost ECF

Houston Rockets, 2017-18:

Offense Rank: #1 / Defense Rank: #6
Key contributors: James Harden, Clint Capela, Chris Paul
Outcome: lost WCF

Western Conference Semifinals - Golden State Warriors v Houston Rockets
Chris Paul and the Rockets miss a historic number of 3PA in Game 7 of WCF against Warriors in 2017-18
Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Detroit Pistons, 2003-04:

Offense Rank: #13 / Defense Rank: #2
Key contributors: Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton
Outcome: won Finals

Minnesota Timberwolves, 2002-03:

Offense Rank: #6 / Defense Rank: #2
Key contributors: Kevin Garnett, Wally Szczerbiak, Rasho Nesterovic
Outcome: lost WC first round

Needless to say, some pretty fantastic teams. The Jazz best all of them except for the 2014-15 Warriors in eFG% advantage. 6 teams went to the Finals and all but 2 teams went to the conference finals.

It’s fairly safe to say the Jazz are definitely one of the elite teams with a good chance at the Finals and an excellent chance at getting to the WCF.

But “historically dangerous” is more than just besting a handful of comparisons. Where do they stack up against every team of the last 25 years?

Overall history

Turns out, very well.

The 2020-21 Utah Jazz rank as the 10th best team in eFG% advantage in the last 25 years. See the below chart for a list of the top 20 teams:

eFG% advantage top 20 teams since 1996-97
eFG% advantage top 20 teams since 1996-97
Stats via NBA.com; Adam Bushman, SLC Dunk

Being a top 10 team at anything over a 25 year span is more than impressive. In fact, this list is dotted with Finals winning teams: the Warriors dynasty, the Garnett Celtics, the LeBron Heat, the Shaq Heat, and the Robinson Spurs.

Utah is in elite company through half the season. The question is, can they keep this up?

Can Jazz keep this up?

Given that only 9 teams over the past 25 years have done this, the most likely answer is they should slow down...meaning they would end the year at a +4.5%, approximately. That’s still REALLY good.

However, we’re nearly halfway through the season and Jazz have played the tougher of the two schedules. Utah has the #3 offense and the #2 defense. They play a lot of teams who sport a negative eFG% advantage (meaning they allow better shooting to opponents; below):

Simply put, the Jazz have A LOT of upcoming matchups against teams that usually allow their opponent to shoot better than them, some by a large margin. This forecasts a bright future for the Jazz in maintaining their eFG% advantage.

eFG% advantage is about generating the right shots on offense and making them at a high rate wile also forcing bad shots on defense and limiting opponent efficiency.

The secret is balance and the Jazz have near perfect balance at #4 in offensive shooting and #2 in defensive shooting.

Utah Jazz v LA Clippers
Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert gear up for a tough West matchup with Clippers
Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

What we’ve learned is that eFG% is absolutely an indicator of success. After all, shooting is the most important factor contributing to wins.

We’ve learned that what the Jazz are doing with shooting this season is unparalleled in Utah’s recent history outside of the Finals Utah Jazz team.

We’ve also discovered that in regards to shooting advantage, the Jazz are in excellent company with historical team comparisons.

Furthermore, we’ve learned that Utah has one of the historically great eFG% advantages in the last 25 years, a remarkable achievement.

Lastly, we’ve learned the Jazz absolutely have an opportunity to sustain some of their incredible offensive and defensive shooting success with the second half of the season.

At this point, there’s no doubt. The 2020-21 Utah Jazz are dangerous, and that’s a promising realization!