If you have been following the New Orleans / Utah Jazz franchise since the beginning then you know that they have not exactly made a name for themselves as road warriors. After some lean years the Utah Jazz did build a reputation for being a very good, formidable even, home team. The best teams are able to win at home and on the road, and this is a hallmark of team with real championship aspirations. Our current Utah squad is not, obviously; but they did something that only two other Jazz teams have done over the last fifteen seasons – they went out on the road and came back with a .500 record after a six game sojourn. This last road trip was remarkable, so I had to go back in the time machine and figure things out. And frankly, Quin Snyder, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and the whole crew, are turning this franchise around. And like a fundamentally strong team with equal parts discipline, focus, and some good luck, it’s happening on the road.
I felt like a 3-3 road trip was out of character for the Jazz. Some will claim fluke, but I actually see progress and improvement with this team as the players (and rookie coach) develop. In order to establish if this was a fluke I went and looked at every road trip the Jazz took from the 2000-2001 season till today, and I isolated the games from road trips of four or more games. By my count over the last 15 seasons (this one counted as a full season even if it’s just December) there have been 50 road trips of 4+ games. And within those 50 trips of 4, 5, and 6+ games the team has gone 98-133, which is only good enough for a 42.42 winning %.
The time-frame of the last 15 seasons goes from the last days of John Stockton and Karl Malone, to "that one great 42-40 season" where Jerry Sloan should have won Coach of the Year, to the rise of Deron Williams / Carlos Boozer / Mehmet Okur / Andrei Kirilenko, to the downfall, the doldrums, and today. We’ve gone from Jerry Sloan, through Tyrone Corbin, to Quin Snyder. Or Scott Layden to Kevin O’Connor, to Dennis Lindsey. Or any way you slice it, you get a lot of data points. You have some great teams, some bad teams, and a whole lot of ‘in-between’.
So what did we get?
The Whole Shebang:
Understandably, the most frequent road trip out of those used for this analysis is the four game road trip. More than half of the trips taken were four game trips. The Jazz win only 43.52% of these games, and break even (or better) more than half the time. (No that doesn’t conflict with winning only 43% of the total games!) Another way to look at it is that the Jazz have gone for BETTER than .500 only 6 times in 27 trips, over the last 15 seasons. That’s not so hot. It gets worse for five game trips, much worse.
The Jazz are dead meat on these trips, as they are usually scheduled within 7 days from start to finish. Utah is 34-56 in these games, winning only 37.78% of their outings. Only 4 of 18 times have the Jazz gone on a five game trip and come back feeling happy about themselves. Seriously, they’re almost down -400 points in +/-. That’s not so hot.
Remarkably, the Jazz pull it together on these 6 game trips, and yes, I understand that this last Jazz trip heavily influences the numbers because these trips are so infrequent. In the last 15 seasons the Jazz have gone out on a 6 game trip and won once, three times, and four times – not including this last trip. They play well, winning nearly 46% of their games, and their point differential is less than -3 points per game. Not bad on the road. For what it’s worth the team does play long enough on the road to get used to it. The times when the Jazz have gone for 3+ wins on a 6 game road trip have been 2000-2001, 2003-2004, and this season. The Jazz had a six game road trip last season with largely the same team, and went 1-5. Yikes.
Speaking of yikes, the Jazz went on a nine game road trip back in 2001,2002 which is just insane. And that team went 6-3. Man. They don’t build tough teams like that anymore.
Overall, though, the Utah Jazz win 3 times on a road trip just 28% of the time, OVER THE LAST 15 SEASONS! YES, I KNOW THAT I AM YELLING! Even on six game trips the Jazz have gone 11-13, which is a 45.83 winning %. This team is doing good things. Let me explain.
And sorry for yelling!
Season by season:
I was originally going to do "Road trip by Road Trip here", but this is more important and I don’t want to lose the audience. But this season’s team isn’t crashing and burning during these long road trips. They’ve faced two already, a 2-3 five game set that should have had one or two more wins there; and then this last 3-3 series. That’s going 5-6 overall on the long road trips, dialing it up to a 45.45 winning %. The total cumulative winning percentage for the franchise over the last 15 seasons is only 42.42%. The cumulative margin of defeat is over 3.00 PPG, but for this season it’s exactly 3.0 PPG. And moreso, well, this group of cats are only of the best (by the numbers) road teams in the last 15 seasons. And the last 15 seasons had a few NBA Finals contenders amongst them. And the turn around on defense looks even more impressive when you compare it to the previous three season (full Tyrone Corbin seasons) – where Utah went only 8-24 (25.00%) on long road trips. (Good luck Sacramento Kings!)
This year’s squad is even keeping the home team under 100.0 points per game right now, which hasn’t happened since 2009-2010. Thank you based Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert!
So four of the last 15 years had a Jazz team go over .500 on the long road trips. If the Atlanta Hawks game went a little better (or the Indiana Pacers game) then this team would be the fifth to join them (while this season is still only two months old). I’m impressed with what’s happening here. And feel like the team is getting better and better as the weeks go on.
Road Trip by Road Trip:
This is less important now, so I’m just going to post the images with little commentary.
N.B. The six game road trip table does not include the 9 game road trip that happened in 2001-2002, where the Utah Jazz won 6 games. For those aching for the info but unable to scroll upwards, they won the points battle 852-835. I think most teams today would roll on the floor and cry for their mothers if they approached 10 games on the road.
What does it all mean:
It means that, right now, it looks like we have a young team with a young coach running a new system and developing good players – who know how to play on the road. Which means that with enough seasoning, chemistry building, and health, we have a future where the team looks to be able to win enough at home *and* on the road to make sure they have Home court in the first round of the playoffs. That’s something that didn’t really happen much in the last 15 seasons, and is super important towards future success. What has long held previous good Jazz teams back (beyond injuries) was the ability to win games on the road. We all fondly remember the Jazz beating the Houston Rockets in Game 7 on their home court. The old people (like ME!) remember the Jazz beating the Los Angeles Lakers on their home court in Game 2 of the 1987-1988 NBA playoffs. We remember these road wins so vividly because a) they were important to the franchise, and b) are so rare.
Being able to win outside of your own gym separates the men from the boys. And this squad is maturing before our eyes. There’s one more 4+ game road trip this season; @ Grizzlies, @ Celtics, @ 76ers, @ Nets that takes place in early March. It is possible for the team to go 3-1 there, and finish the season 8-7 on these long trips. If that happens that’s pretty much all the proof I need to know that Dennis and Quin and the players are on the right track. This team has the capability to be great. The last few seasons the Jazz only had the capability to be good, and rarely were. I’m glad the high priest of Vetzzalcoatl is no longer here. Glad the "I’m sitting on my butt till retirement" GM isn’t in control either.
A young team that can win on the road is something special and something to be very happy about. As they get older, smarter, better, and understand one another more – just look out. In short order our little group could be taking their Jazz show on the road, swinging from state to state putting other teams in their place.
Thank you to Basketball-Reference.com for having the data I need available to me. And thank you to all the readers of this site. You have a choice with what you do with your free time, and you have chosen to read this site. By doing so you accept that you will get thrown a lot of numbers that help explain what we see on the court, and where this season places within the greater ebb and flow of the franchise. At the end of the day if you visit SLC Dunk you should be getting a lot of content you don’t get anywhere else. No other Utah Jazz site routinely goes this far back into Jazz history for a post on a feel-good 3-3 road trip. No other Jazz site thinks their readers are worth the effort.