The New Orleans / Utah Jazz are 40 years old this season. That's a long time.
(I'm surprised that the Jazz jerseys don't have a patch or something -- but I guess maybe they think the New Orleans years didn't count? Or are lazy? After all we still don't have the Note as our primary logo yet -- but we did do the secret league mandated arena upgrade so we have Sports VU camera capability because the NBA paid millions of dollars for that. But that's another tangent.)
Forty years is a long time. It's long enough to really develop a personality. Have a history. And obviously, it's long enough to get to know someone. Do you know the Jazz? I thought I knew them, but there's always more research you can do. Never be so arrogant that you think you can't still learn. Never be so high on yourself that you can't see the truth of what someone much 'lower' than you says. We all can learn more about the Jazz. And today I did.
I learned that this year's Jazz squad is one of the worst in franchise history. I also learned more about the franchise and how our teams usually perform. Furthermore, some of the mysteries of our offense and defense were revealed. And finally, I tried to figure out if there's any relationship at all between what we do on the court, and how crazy our Jazz fans are.
Two NBA Lockouts, and a season only 42 games in, leaves the Jazz with a grand total of 3,192 regular season games played. The good news is that we're up: 1726 - 1466. That's a winning percentage of 54.1%. If you apply that to an 82 game season that's going 44.3 - 37.7, on average. As a team we average (not 1) sum then, 2) average; but instead 1) average of averages) 102.5 points per game, and give up 101.5, so we're up +1.0 by per game values. If you look at our offensive and defensive ratings we stand at (again, by the same average of averages) 106.2 points per 100.0 possessions, and give up 105.0 points per 100.0 possessions. By these ratings were up +1.2 points per 100.0 possessions!
We're a team that seems to win a lot of close games, if we look at these numbers as a whole.
Through the ups and downs of the league, Utah has remained an average-ish team when it comes to pace of play. The Jazz have an average rank of 15.2. Of course, there's a lot of volatility here. The Jazz have 14 seasons where they were Top 10 in pace. And the Jazz have 16 seasons where they were Bottom 10. It's not an even distribution between the Top, Middle, and Bottom 10. But it averages to just about average. So in reality we're all over the place with pace season to season. No, really. In '78-79 the Jazz were #3 in pace, then spent the next two seasons as #22 and #23, and then spent the next two seasons in the Top 3 again. This kind of things happens all the time, and it's not related purely to coaching changes. Some seasons are really hard to figure out, like the 1984-85 Jazz who were #1 in DEF RTG, #2 in Pace, finished the season 41-41, and had an average home game attendance of 9,069 Jazz fans.
And that's the other thing, fans. The most hard to pin down part of Jazz history are us, the rabid fans.
Do we show up to games more when the team is "fun to watch"? Do we care about supporting only winning teams? Or is there some other factor that influences fan spending?
We have to define our terms here. Fun to watch teams are the teams that play at a higher pace, and score points -- often at the expense of defense and winning. The opposite would be a slow team that favors defense in an attempt to win boring games.
Ignoring league ranks helps here, especially when one year the Jazz had the 9th fastest pace, and it was for a team that had 93.1 possessions per game. The Jazz have had a pace higher than 100 twelve different times in their 40 year history. Only 5 of those 14 teams went .500 or better. To their credit, they scored a lot of points. Points make players happy, they get to run, and jump and dunk, and take threes. More possessions means more players can get their 'numbers'. That helps with free agency and winning awards. The faster you play, theoretically, the happier everyone should be (fans and players and agents alike). Everyone seems to win, except the team: 11 of those 15 'fast' Jazz teams had losing records.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Jazz have had 10 different teams to have a pace of 90.0 possessions per game, or fewer. These teams were slow, and they let the other team score no greater than 97.3 ppg. Sadly, a few of these teams were still bad teams and lost games. Three of the 10 had negative net scores between PPG / Opp. PPG, and OFF RTG - DEF RTG. Those same teams were .500 or worse. Still, the 70% success rate of the "Slow = Defense = Wins" is much higher than the 27% success rate of "Fast =/= Losses".
Of course, there are PLENTY of examples of teams doing well, or poorly, with good defense or good offense, between the 91 - 99 possessions per game paces. These are just the two extremes. Some of the most successful Jazz teams had "average or worse" defenses -- like the '98 finals team that had the best offense in the land, but were in the bottom half in defense. That team still had a margin of victory of +6.6 points, despite having a defensive rating only a few points off of the defensive rating of a team that won 28 games back in '81. And, some of our better teams were really bad on offense, like our 50 win clubs back in '89, '91, and '00.
I am sure this is the same case for all other franchises. We're not just known as an "all offense" or "all defense" team. We're sometimes fast, other times slow. Most of the time we're in the middle -- not good at any one thing, and not bad either. I guess the data points out to this being a somewhat mediocre franchise that wins a lot of close games, especially at home.
So what about fans? Jazz fans have come to watch the team play more in Utah than in Louisiana. Part of the reason the franchise moved was because of fan support. The fans really didn't show up out East, I don't even have accurate data for it. What I did learn is that the Loyola University Fieldhouse and Lousiana Superdome are less than optimal basketball venues. When the team first started out here they played at the Salt Palace. (They did try to play home games in some other cities too, like Las Vegas) The Salt Palace changed a lot over the time period it was used as the home to the Jazz. Some seasons it has a maximum capacity of 12.2k, other seasons between renovations it could house nearly 12.7k. Regardless of that Jazz fans loved their team so much one season they actually ended up with 100.7% average maximum capacity! (An average run off of an extra 80 fans per game. Don't tell the fire marshall, or he'll build a time machine and go back to 1987.) (And really Amar, have some kids or something -- you took the time to dig up attendance values for the team and cross reference it with the historically accurate number of seats an arena had on any given year depending on upgrades and renovations. We're worried about you.)
The fans have been so great that the team reported attendance figures of 90% of maximum capacity (or greater) for 28 of the 40 years the team has been around. (More like 28 of 34 years because of the gaps in the New Orleans attendance records, which is even crazier) The fans are there when the winning % is .780, and when the winning % is .317. They are there when the team is fast and offensive minded, and there when the team is slow and has a small margin of victory.
The early Salt Palace numbers are low -- and they coincide with some of the fastest Jazz teams ever. Some factors to consider for this were the novelty of the team, and how bad they were. They were fast and bad, and new -- this was Generation 0 of Jazz fans. If the team was fast and good I'm sure more people would come; the main problem was that the team was new. A few generations of Jazz fans later the team had a huge hold on the region, and people used to drive hours to watch the team play. Right now teens who are into the Jazz had parents who were into the Jazz, and grandparents who were into the Jazz. This wasn't the case back in the early Salt Palace days back when they had trouble filling three quarters of a 12.7k arena. Just like everything else in this investigation, the Jazz fans were filled to the brim during some lean years that were slow paced. The team was winning ugly, and people loved their team. Sometimes the team was playing ugly but not winning, and people still came. Again, generations of loving the team and going to Jazz games be part of the culture helps. Building and maintaining a fanbase is important. And the Jazz, for decades the only game in town, have done just that.
So is it the exciting game vs. the winning game that matters more for Jazz fans? Well, in both cases the attendance has very poor correlations between either factor. I felt like with this 'new' team, this Tyrone Corbin era, that if we played faster more fans would show up. Last season the average home game attendance was only 18,680.9 people. And that's the reported attendance, we all saw a lot of empty seats. This season it's down to 17,787.2 people being reported. The last time the numbers were this bad was . . . . back before the Delta Center opened. And that season the team was at 99.5% capacity. This season we're at 89.3%.
That's still a very high number. Don't get me wrong. But that's the reported number. We remember when the Delta Center was the loudest arena in the world. It's not the case anymore. And unlike the rest of the generations and generations of Jazz fans who showed up regardless of how the team was playing, these last two seasons are like the perfect storm.
There are no stars on the team. The team is playing really really slowly. Ty's teams have played 91.0 possessions, 91.4 possessions, 90.9 possessions, and this season 91.7 possessions per game. They are all over 90.0, otherwise they would have wrecked that 70% success rate for the slowest teams. These are the 12th, 13th, 14th, and 16th slowest Jazz teams ever. And sadly, they've been 23rd, 19th, 21st, and 29th in DEF RTG at the same time. There is no margin of victory, it's a real margin of loss. The team is slow. The team is not good on offense. The team is losing games. And the fans aren't coming.
My hypothesis that "fans would come for a fun team" exists because we're shown precisely the opposite and fans are not coming. A team that headlines Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, and even Ian Clark seem more fun to *me* than seeing John Lucas III (great guy) and Josh Howard types. But that's just me. Winning ugly satisfies some Jazz fans because that's what they saw and that's what's normal to them.
Looking at the entire history of the team, though, we're more than just a grit and grind team. We're a team where the one real, enduring quality is that we're a team that's had a lot of fans show up season to season. Some years we're fast. Some years we're slow. Some years we win. Some years we don't. But every year our arena is filled. Except these last few years.
Back when Jerry Sloan went 42-40 with Andrei Kirilenko being our best player the team averaged 19,154.4 fans per game. The next season when Jerry Sloan went 26-56 the Delta Center was still filling up with 18,756.4 happy fans cheering for the team. The Alfense / #MOLO year last year had less than the team that started Aleksandar Radojevic and Randy Livingston.
And that concerns me because, as stated earlier, the one single characteristic of the Jazz franchise since moving to Utah has been absolutely dominating attendance and support from the fans. The economy is bad, and the team is bad. But the fans aren't there. The team tries these ticket deals (Guy's night out), etc. Little seems to be working.
I think the team does have some budding stars now, hopefully they will be a draw. I also wouldn't mind playing a little faster. We're starting a small ball lineup as it is with Marvin Williams at the 4. Why limit the effectiveness of the advantage small ball gives you with speed and quickness by playing with the 25th slowest pace in the NBA this year? Why not take advantage -- wait for it now -- of the advantage? Why not play a little faster? It's not like we have much to lose. The team is #29 in DEF RTG this year and #23 in OFF RTG. We're also #27 in PPG. Going faster can't hurt, can it? Nothing can hurt our performance right now. Even if we're winning a little bit more these last few weeks.
Maybe it can help even? Again, I'm not a head coach, so I can't possibly know. I'm just a concerned fan who learned a lot about his favorite franchise today. There's no rule to fan behavior. And forty years isn't long enough to see the greater relationship between fan behavior and quality of team. It's just that this season we're bad at everything, and no fans are showing up.
Maybe it's not so hard to figure out, after all.