With less than 20 games remaining in the regular season, the Utah Jazz continue to boast an NBA best 40-13 record. Ho hum.
As of Monday morning, FiveThirtyEight projects them at a 55-17 record (76% win rate), 5 games ahead of the 2nd place Phoenix Suns in the loss column. They’re the only team projected to finish with a 0.700+ record.
Short of the literal meaning (never losing), the Jazz have had a perfect, Cinderella story season thus far.
While most recognize the strength of the Jazz is in the team, many associate such a strategy with roster parity and no star talent. The 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks are often cited as a comparison for the 2020-21 Utah Jazz in many respects (and for good reason), but star players is one of the few areas these teams differ.
The mid-decade Hawks’ leading scorer was Paul Millsap at 16.7 PPG. While he, Teague, Horford, and Korver all received All-Star honors that season, none received even one MVP vote.
For the Utah Jazz, that’s a very different story. The Jazz secured 3 All-Stars by being the best team, though did so in vastly different fashion than the ’14-’15 Hawks.
Rudy Gobert, the best defensive player in the NBA, turning out of of his better offensive seasons, was selected for his 2nd All-Star honor. Advanced metrics put him in the thick of Jokic, LeBron, and Giannis for his impact.
Donovan Mitchell, scoring 26+ points, grabbing 4+ boards, and dishing 5+ assists on above average TS efficiency (0.568) is neck and neck with the top offensive players in terms of volume.
Mike Conley, averaging as many points as the leading scorer for the ’14-’15 Hawks (16.6), is doing so on nearly career best efficiency and top 10 impact league-wide.
While the Jazz success is clearly a function of the team, they are by no means devoid of star players leading the charge.
Which begs the question, why don’t the Jazz have a larger presence in the races for Most Valuable Player and Coach of the Year?
According to NBA.com, Yahoo, HoopsHype, and NBC (who’ve publicly shared their MVP ladders), Donovan and Rudy go unranked in 3 of the 4 ladders.
According to oddsmakers (Sports Betting Dime and Vegas Insider), only Donovan ranks in the Top 10 and for only one of the ladders.
Furthermore, Quin Snyder faces steep competition for Coach of the Year, with Monty Williams of the Suns and Tom Thibodeau of the New York Knicks vying for the award.
Given their talent and incredible resumes/numbers, how is that possible?
If one of our guys doesn’t win MVP, then Snyder should for sure win COY. Cant possibly pick anyone else. Especially if you can’t even out one of Don or Rudy into the top 10 for MVP.— Mark (@MarkW_E01) April 11, 2021
Jazz fan stalwart, Mark, pointed out that very fact. Either the Jazz have a bonafide MVP candidate or Quin Snyder is having one of the greatest coaching seasons of all time.
While true in logic and theory, I took to the data for validation, as my regular readers may have guessed.
Past 10 Years of 0.700 Teams
Over the past decade, just 25 teams have won 70%+ of their games.
Most proceeded to their respective Conference Finals, others to a Championship Series, and a several winning the title.
In review of these 25 teams, I paid special attention to where their player(s) and coach ranked in the MVP and COY voting respectively. See the below list:
Outside of the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks and the 2017-18 Golden State Warriors, every 0.700 team received a minimum of 1 MVP and 1 COY vote. While that may seem like a pretty low bar, in the context of the 2020-21 Utah Jazz, it definitely highlights how absurd it would be not to receive votes in both categories.
Furthermore, the amount of teams with substantial voting in either or both awards is fascinating:
100% of teams had a Top 10 MVP candidate OR a Top 5 COY candidate
80% of teams had a Top 5 MVP candidate OR a Top 5 COY candidate
76% of teams had a Top 5 MVP candidate OR a Top 3 COY candidate
64% of teams had a Top 5 MVP candidate OR a COY winner
56% of teams had a Top 3 MVP candidate OR a COY winner
48% of teams had an MVP winner OR a COY winner
Think about that for a second. 3 out of every 4 teams had a Top 5 MVP or a Top 3 COY candidate. Half the teams with a 0.700 record or better had an MVP winner or COY winner. To Mark’s point, you just don’t win that many games without one or the other.
What about both?
80% of teams had a Top 10 MVP candidate AND a Top 10 COY candidate
60% of teams had a Top 10 MVP candidate AND a Top 5 COY candidate
36% of teams had a Top 5 MVP candidate AND a Top 5 COY candidate
28% of teams had a Top 5 MVP candidate AND a Top 3 COY winner
12% of teams had an MVP winner AND a COY winner
Obviously it takes a special pairing to be a serious ranking in both awards. However, nearly 2 out of every 3 teams had a Top 10 MVP and a Top 5 COY candidate.
Historically speaking, a team who wins 70% of their games can’t be absent from the MVP and COY races.
Many will argue that, while incredible players, neither Mitchell nor Gobert are Top 5 NBA players this season and are worthy of true consideration. While certainly not deserving of the most MVP votes, the voting process yields more worthy candidates than the 2-3 REAL challengers.
In 2017-18, Kevin Durant finished 7th while teammate Stephen Curry finished 10th.
In 2013-14, Tony Parker finished 6th while teammate Tim Duncan finished 7th.
In 2011-12, Tony Parker finished 5th while teammate Tim Duncan finished 14th.
In 2010-11, Manu Ginobili finished 7th while teammate Tony Parker finished 12th.
Were any of these REAL challengers for MVP? No.
But they were certainly respected for the incredible personal and team success each season. And outside of the 2017-18 Warriors, each team above finished with a Top 4 COY.
As nonsensical as it is to not consider Gobert or Mitchell a Top 10 MVP candidate, such an argument MUST naturally mean Quin Snyder is the undisputed favorite for COY.
Remember, 64% of teams over the past decade who have won 70%+ of their games has either had a Top 10 MVP or a COY.
I repeat—historically speaking, a team who wins 70% of their games can’t be absent from the MVP and COY races.
Ultimately, the Jazz will have the DPOY and 6MOY frontrunners. No matter what happens with the MVP and COY awards, they’ve had a tremendously successful and historically great team with a host of accolades as confirmation.
Many are struggling to understand and explain Utah’s success. The reason why its inexplicable to most is they fail to believe the Jazz have a Top 10 MVP Candidate or the undisputed COY.
Don’t fight it. It’s time to come to terms for why the Jazz have the league’s best record.