The Utah Jazz have solidified themselves as one of the NBA’s juggernauts.
Boasting the NBA’s best record and sporting 3 active All-Stars tends to get people excited, even outside of Utah.
While the race for the #1 seed is heating up and perpetually increasing Jazz fans’ blood pressure with unfortunate losses to the league’s bottom feeders, the Jazz are still heavy favorites to finish with home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
With the highest odds to win the Finals per Basketball Reference and ESPN, the second highest per FiveThirtyEight, and the fourth highest per Bovada Sportsbook (tied with MIL), there’s no question the Jazz are seen as title contenders.
We know this team is good but what exactly is inspiring so much confidence?
The Jazz don’t have an undisputed top 10 player in the league. Utah doesn’t have a wealth of playoff experience. They’re not even from a large market. So what is it?
Certainly having frontrunners for Defensive Player of the Year (Gobert), Sixth Man of the Year (Ingles, Clarkson), and Coach of the Year (Snyder) certainly go a long way to making believers.
But even these fantastic player and coach impacts are rooted in something else, right? There must be a common thread stringing everything together.
I believe the underlying theme relates to the strategy and implementation of shooting the 3, a hallmark of this year’s Jazz team that is setting league records. But it’s more than that as well. It’s also the aligning and synergy between such prolific offense and a smart defense.
Put in layman’s terms, shot making + shot defense = one heck of a team.
The term “shooting advantage” describes more specifically what we mean. From a numbers standpoint, we’ll use “eFG% advantage” since we can quantify (represent with numbers) the size of the shooting advantage.
Back in late February, the Jazz had played 30 games and were boasting a league-best +5.9% eFG advantage. All signs were pointing to them being an extremely dangerous team.
Fast forward two months and 30 more games; not much has changed. The Jazz still sit at #1 in eFG% advantage. Furthermore, they’ve dipped all the way to...+5.8%.
The one constant has been Utah (and, to be fair ORL...still bottom of the league).
What does eFG% advantage say about you? Well, it doesn’t guarantee a championship but it’s fairly clear to see (below) that teams don’t often hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy without a top 5 rank.
2019-20, Lakers, 5th, +2.7%— Adam Bushman (@adam_bushman) April 14, 2021
2018-19, Raptors, 3rd, +3.5%
2017-18, Warriors, 1st, +6.6%
2016-17, Warriors, 1st, +7.9%
2015-16, Cavs, 6th, +2.7%
2014-15, Warriors, 1st, +7.0%
2013-14, Spurs, 1st, +5.5%
2012-13, Heat, 1st, +6.5%
2011-12, Heat, 5th, +2.5%
2010-11, Mavs, 5th, +3.7%
So far, the Jazz eFG% advantage exceeds that of any non-Warriors championship team over the past decade. That’s pretty incredible.
For further validation, let’s filter the results for certain matchups:
vs 0.500 teams: Jazz rank #1 (+4.7%)
vs top 10 point diff teams: Jazz rank #1 (+4.1%)
vs contenders*: Jazz rank #1 (+3.6%)
*UTA, LAC, PHI, BKN, MIL, LAL, PHX
By virtually any perspective possible, the Jazz have been about as dominant as possible shooting and defending the shot.
It’s always possible to fall in a shooting slump or be on the other end of a hot shooting stretch that puts a playoff series in jeopardy.
But with how solid the Jazz are on both ends of the floor, the wide breadth of offensive weapons, and the greatest defensive player in the world, it’s unlikely the struggle for long periods on both ends of the floor.
This is the recipe Utah’s betting on as the playoffs edge closer.
What was a feel-good story and ray of hope 30 games in, the Jazz sustained advantage shooting the ball may now be the biggest reason they’re a legitimate title contender this season.