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Utah Jazz Roster Turnover: What's normal for point guard shelf life in Salt Lake City?

Taking a look at what's normal from the data set of 1999 till today. Hint: It's not what you think.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The vast majority of fervent Utah Jazz fans today are younger fans. That isn't a dismissive statement, but one which made me recognize that part of my duties to the community shouldn't just be to write about the team today -- but also provide a historical context for what we see. The elders of a community need to pass on knowledge before they pass on, and I'm not going to be blogging online forever, after all. So today we're going to look at season by season roster turn over and try to find out what's normal for the Jazz.

For me there are distinct periods of Jazz history:

  • the New Orleans days;
  • the early Utah days;
  • the time of Stockton and Malone crescendo-ing with the NBA Finals years (aka, the Golden Era);
  • the post-Golden Era Stockton and Malone;
  • the rebuild with Deron Williams / Andrei Kirilenko / Mehmet Okur / Carlos Boozer;
  • the end of the age of innocence (Jerry Sloan retires, Deron Williams traded, Tyrone Corbin era)
  • and now, the great unknown.

You can argue about the period lengths or major flashpoints, but I think that for a fan base where the MAJORITY of new fans have known only the D-Will era it's important to go back. I want to look at the roster stability / roster turn over over the last few years. It goes from the post-Golden Era Jazz till today. It's the last 15 seasons (1999-2000 --> 2013-2014) plus this upcoming one. It's a large enough sample size I think to help identify trends in roster movement within the limits of the last two NBA lockouts (1998-99 and 2011-12). The changes to the CBA have made changes to contracts, which obviously then influence things like the length of contracts and the resultant normative change in roster turn over. (N.B. There have been four lockouts in NBA History, the last two which persisted for six and five months respectively.)

I want today's new fans to have a stronger more robust frame of reference in order to base their ideas and judgements upon. As a result, if you're in your early 20s, then going back the last 15 years provides you with some info that may have gone over your head when it happened in real time. And again, that's not a dismissive statement. I'm an old dude, I've seen more things. I also went into the newspaper archives to investigate the things that I missed too. I know many of you are the same today, regardless of what actual year you started following the team.

So here we are, looking at roster turnover over the last 15 seasons and today. The focus of this post will be on Point Guards. Point Guard was usually a strength for the Jazz with Rickey Green, John Stockton, Deron Williams -- and hopefully it will continue to be one with Trey Burke and Dante Exum. But the actual information presented below may be a little different than what you had expected.


Point Guards

(n = 29, 3.38 players per season, 1.22 seasons per player):

Deron Williams (6); John Stockton (4); Ronnie Price (4); Carlos Arroyo (3); Earl Watson (3); Jamaal Tinsley (3); Devin Harris (2); Mo Williams (2); Howard Eisley (2); Trey Burke (2); Raul Lopez (2); John Crotty (2); Jacque Vaughn (2); Keith McLeod (2); Derek Fisher (1); Diante Garrett (1); Dante Exum (1); Eric Maynor (1); Randy Livingston (1); Dee Brown (1); Sundiata Gaines (1); Brevin Knight (1); Toure' Murry (1); John Lucas III (1); Milt Palacio (1); Rusty LaRue (1); Blake Ahearn (1); Jason Hart (1); Mark Jackson (1).

Legend: Grey cells = one and done player; Green cells = new players for this season; All other colors are there to highlight specific players

N.B. I forgot to mention that these are in individual season order based upon total minutes played that year.

So  since 1999 till today there have been 29 full-time point guards (not combo guards) who have played at least one minute in a season for the Jazz. During this time frame it was Deron Williams who dominated, as it was the tail end of John Stockton's very long and successful career. It may be a surprise to see that Ronnie Price is the next most senior member of this club. This indicates that there must have been a lot of turn over. And the data confirms it as we see that there are a ton of players here who have spent three or fewer seasons with the team, spread out over the 16 data point seasons.

The team has had 3.38 point guards on the roster, on average, every year. And a single player will have spent 1.22 seasons with the team over their playing careers. The longevity of Stockton during the Golden Era colors our ideas here, but in reality, the Jazz have been shuttling in and out point guards every 2-3 years. Mostly these are backups, but the last four seasons (2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14) have had the Jazz START a new point guard each year; Deron Williams, Devin Harris, Mo Williams, and Trey Burke. In fact, this season (2014-15) projects to have the first repeat starting point guard since the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons.

Utah has had 1.53 (+/- 0.52) point guards return each year, but that is counter balanced by the fact that 1.87 (+/- 0.83) point guards leave from one season to the next. This was the case during those last four Stockton years (one of his running mates would join him the next season, but not be there for the one after that), as well as the middle part of the Deron Williams years as well.

So, the fact that there has been high level roster turn over at point guard TODAY isn't abnormal. It happened with Deron and John too. The last few years of point guard turn over were not specifically a greater hardship that Jerry Sloan didn't also have to face. Heck, Jerry Sloan had to play 5 point guards in a season once, because of injuries. Only two had been there the season before, and only one remained for the season after. But hey, he didn't complain about it. And the media didn't make that an excuse for him either.

If you look at the simple difference from season to season from 1999-2000 till 2014-2015 you see that there is an average change at point guard of 3.73 +/- 1.16 players. (Simple difference = [players leaving] + [players added]; it disregards returning players, which we know is only 1.53 players per season anyway.) From last season to this season this change is [5], and the season before was [5] as well. If you know math you see that 3.73 + 1.16 = 4.89, and this, smaller than 5.00. But as it's between +1 and +2 standard deviations you know that's not significant at all. It's only slightly above average when you factor in the standard deviation from season to season -- and you should if you know how statistics work. But let's not forget that this second year in a row of a [5] player difference at point guard is Quin Snyder's problem. Tyrone Corbin had a rough time with a [4], [3], [5] change at point guard year to year to year. That's rough, but each time he did have 2 point guards returning (which isn't factored into this equation). Jerry Sloan had a three year period where he only had 1 returning point guard a season, and a change from season to season to season of [6], [4], [4] -- which is worse. (Also, sorry, I don't think that it's taboo to compare coaches against one another. We spend hours comparing players against the people they most recently replaced, right?)

If you wanted to make an argument that the last few years were specifically tough (you know, going from an All-NBA player to a former All-Star, to another former All-Star, to a guy who won all the NCAA awards for player of the year, etc), then you may want to point out the high level of immediate turn over. But if you look at the actual reality of it, there were three "one and dones" at point guard over four years, which is 0.75 one and done point guards per season, on average. The larger data set from 1999-2015 had 0.87 "one and done" point guards on the team, on average. So for point guards the last few years -- which haven't been that stable (four different starters in four different years) -- it's been filled with people who do have that continuation within the franchise (non-"one and done" Jazz players). That is important as well, I find. One and dones don't bring much to your franchise year to year because they are there only for one year. And the point guard spot recently was not completely indicative of that.

Yes, the Jazz are losing two "one and done" PGs from last year in Diante Garrett and John Lucas III -- but ultimately it will not be the end of the program. After all, a) this isn't a problem for Tyrone Corbin, so I have confidence that if it even was a problem, it would still get fixed, and b) I feel like the point guard situation this year will be preferable to many other years in recent history.

Of course, looking at just the point guard spot is just the first step. In the following posts we'll look at the wings, and the bigs, and then bring it all together. But for what it is worth, that's NORMAL in Utah Jazz land is a new bunch of point guards on the team every two to three years, a high rate of turn over, and a normative change season to season of 3.38 players. Ty didn't have it easy, but compared to some of the other years he didn't have it hard either when it came to point guards.



For this investigation I limited myself to tracking the turn over for players who actually played for the Jazz. This omits a number of players over the year who were on the roster, but just did not get into any games. I am specifically talking about the Travis Leslie / Erik Murphy / Jerel McNeal types. Love those guys, Jazzmen through and through. But as they didn't play in the games I did not feel the need to add them to the yearly turn over.

The other interesting thing to track is that with the changes to the cap and the changes to the roster size (including the active roster size change) meant that more GMs went beyond just having 12 guys on the team. Case in point, the first year (1999-2000) had 12 players on the team until the Jazz signed unsigned free agent Armen Gilliam midseason. Then the flood gates opened up. Using more roster spots obviously meant that there was going to be inherent roster turnover-creep. I guess that's meta analysis.

Also, I am not really counting on Dee Bost, Kevin Murphy (2nd time), Brock Motum, or Jack Cooley here. I did include Dahntay Jones in this, but that's just because his "H" has always bothered me. Oh well.