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5 observations from Utah Jazz lineup duos

Exploring the results of Utah Jazz lineup duos to date, we discuss 5 observations and work to derive any insights therefrom.

Utah Jazz v Los Angeles Clippers
Kessler and George celebrate a good stretch against the LA Clippers
Photo by Jay Metzger/NBAE via Getty Images

The Utah Jazz host the Miami Heat tonight which marks the final game before the new year. Such turning of the page prompts reflection about the season thus far.

The Jazz are at 13-19 on the season with nearly 40% of games “in the books”. At his point, we may also derive some fair insights from the data as most popular lineups will have played hundreds of possessions.

Per Cleaning The Glass, the Jazz boast the league’s 26th worst point differential (-6.4 per 100 possessions). This figure comprises many lineup combinations. Were we to disentangle the individual threads, we may discover specific trends worthy of further investigation.

5-player lineup combinations yield some of the most interpretable insights. Very few, however, have logged sufficient minutes to be noteworthy. Single player point differential naturally lacks the presence of teammates; not our interest.

Two- and three-player lineups are the best choice to balance these and other considerations. For simplicity of visualization, a two-dimension visual is best. Exploring the results using this lineup heatmap (screenshot below) will expedite insights from observations.

Heat map tool
Utah Jazz two-player lineup combos interactive tool
Designed by Adam Bushman

For the purposes of this investigation, we’ll restrict lineup combos to 300 possessions or more through last night’s action.

THT and...a handful of players

The Utah Jazz are outscoring opponents this year when Talen takes the floor in lineups with one of Ochai Agaji, Walker Kessler, Lauri Markkanen, or Kelly Olynyk. Contrary to some popular beliefs, Talen has contributed to winning minutes with such players.

But that may speak more to the competent players surrounding him than strictly Talen’s on court contributions. Talen successfully commands competent units. This may point to why Will Hardy (who’s been unapologetic in his intentions to win every game) has regularly found opportunities for THT.

Keyonte and Walker

Ideally speaking, Keyonte would be commanding the team well in competent lineups...but that’s not the case, yet.

Take George and Kessler. In 389 possessions (191 minutes) the Jazz are being outscored by 21.8 points per 100 possessions. That is abysmal from a duo we’d like to see as anchors of the back- and frontcourt respectively.

And the bad news doesn’t end there. Keyonte has performed very poor with just about every two-player lineup combo possible, with the exception of Lauri Markkanen (still -3.69 in 609 possessions). He’s got to do his part, however, starting with efficient scoring.

Utah Jazz v Dallas Mavericks
Walker Kessler and John Collins work to defend in tandem against the Dallas Mavericks
Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

John and Walker

When the Jazz traded for John Collins, they did so first and foremost because the price was right. Rudy Gay and a protected 2nd for Collins’ long term deal was a good price for a Jazz team seemingly without any significant aspirations in free agency.

But part of the bet was John Collins getting his shot back and competently spacing offensively. Well the former has been true but not the latter. When Collins and Kessler share the floor, the Jazz are being outscored by 16.1 points per 100 in 441 possessions.

Certainly part of that was a poor starting stretch from Walker to begin the year as he dealt with a hyperextended elbow. However, much of that is in John’s inability to create gravity on offense and play a cohesive defensive role.

Lauri and Kris

It’s not all doom and gloom, I promise. The best duo is Markkanen and Dunn, interestingly. In 339 possessions, Utah is outscoring opponents by 9.14 per 100.

It’s not readily understood why this is. Many other duos struggle with Markkanen and Dunn’s only other pairing worth noting is with Ochai Agbaji. More investigation is needed into what is contributing to its success (could just be shooting luck or opponent strength).

At minimum there’s some good yin-yang between defensive positioning, activity, passing, shooting, initiative, etc.

Utah Jazz v Detroit Pistons
Collin Sexton is all smiles against the Detroit Pistons
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Collin and anyone but Kris

Sexton has been really improving of late after a start to the season that had many, including myself, really disappointed after what appeared to be a great offseason of training and getting healthy.

Outside of time shared on the court with Kris, Collin is near even with everyone he plays with. It almost mirrors his time with the Jazz. Some high peaks and low valleys across many situations all translate to being even.

Perhaps that is about what you want from a primary bench player.

There’s plenty more investigation to be done for each of these two-player lineup combos to fully evaluate why they are successful when the team is not (at least in the aggregate). We’ve discussed some hypotheses that may be the basis for future pieces here at SLC Dunk.

At minimum we have a tool that facilitates quick identification of functioning two-player combinations to then direct the next analysis. Consider return to the lineup heatmap at your leisure to check-in on combinations going forward.

In the meantime, however, take mental note when George and Kessler share the floor, or THT and Olynyk, etc. Translate what you see into additional hypotheses for why things are or are not working. Such insights could indicate where Utah may steer the team as the trade deadline approaches.