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Utah Jazz backcourt of Trey Burke and Alec Burks are better than you think they are

TB + AB are better than their numbers show, and their numbers show that they are pretty good


Earlier today @KJ_NBA tweeted some statistics for this season. It was a breakdown of the Top Backcourts in the NBA this season, by Offensive Rating. The rub here is that these two players had to have played at least 300 minutes together this season. The duos that fit the bill were for 22 different pairings, and obviously the Dubs Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were tops. They were followed by the Clippers guards Chris Paul and J.J. Redick. The Utah Jazz backcourt of Trey Burke and Alec Burks were . . . well . . .better than you would expect.

They ranked 12th out of 22, which is about halfway. That's not bad. It's bad, by average, but it's solidly in the thick of things.

And yes, Offensive rating is only one piece of the puzzle for offense. And yes, offense is only one part of the greater game of basketball. So I get how small a slice of solace (a quantum, even) this is for those who support the idea of the Burkseses as a possible starting back court. But this got me thinking . . . if the general perception is that these guys are having an awful season -- but in reality on offense they aren't as bad as some people say . . . then what else are we missing about this group?

So what I did was take a core sample of the New Orleans / Utah Jazz franchise and looked at their starting back courts. The team is nearly 1/4th through the 41st season in franchise history, so I picked 10 backcourts. Some are more representative of the post-Stockton years, because I think that those groups are more alike. Still, it's not the most fair comparison because four of the ten backcourts include at least one Hall of Famer.

Each of their pairings were important. You have the first and most recent starting back courts. You have a team of 'nobodies' that went 42-40, and you have the revolving door of the last few seasons as well. It's an interesting group. The results will also surprise you.

What I did was collect their game stats for that season, and found their cumulative production averages. This isn't just looking at the advanced stat of OFF RTG, it's just a simple collection of normal stats. It does paint and interesting picture, when you also factor in sample size (how many games they played together, the G* value) vs. their entire season numbers (where the data comes from) . . . and compare that to the ages of these guys.

Right now Trey Burke and Alec Burks have played just 18 games this season -- and they'll get better as the season goes on. This is their first year starting together, and Trey's second year in the league. Randy and Mo had played together previously on the Clippers. John and Jeff had gone through some playoffs games before I took the '94-95 year, and so forth. If anything we're looking at the worst of Trey and Alec as a pair, and using that as a frame of reference against a great sample of Jazz back courts.

So what do you get?

Breaking down the Simple Stats:

I'm not going to lie. Pace is a big deal here, and previous Jazz teams played with it. Today's Jazz do not. Furthermore, I didn't devolve this into the hide and seek to get per x minute values, I do boil everything down to the component BARPS (cumulative sum of Bpg, Apg, Rpg, Ppg, and Spg), and how many of them a tandem gets per minutes.

2014 2015 TBAB Back Court -- Table 1

The oldest three backcourts were not gun shy. Barnett and Maravich shot the ball once every two minutes. Sheesh. Some people today don't like all the shots Trey and Alec take (myself included), but they are much more reserved in terms of how frequently they shoot the ball. Obviously the Stockton and Hornacek backcourt was an orchestra of efficiency. But it's no surprise to me that the best groups had one HOFer on the court.

Still, TB+AB isn't = Teh Worst. They have a greater PPG, APG, RPG than the following pairings: Arroyo and Bell, Harris and Hayward, and Williams and Foye. If they ever start learning how to make shots consistently it's going to be even more pronounced.

Moving from a table to a graph:

When you distill it to just the pairings and BARPS (pure production on the court, baby. uncut.) this is what you get.

2014 2015 TBAB Back Court -- Graph 1

So our current guys appear to be better than three, but worse than 6 groups. So it's not unlike the data for OFF RTG this year, we're below average, but closer to the middle than you would have believed otherwise. The purple columns are the ones with Pete Maravich or John Stockton in them, truly, once in a league types of players. The huge outlier here has to be Deron Williams and Ronnie Brewer, they were so good in 2008-09. They had a great coach in Jerry Sloan who had a great system where there were great players all over the court, meaning that a guy like Ronnie could cut and get the ball in scoring position. I feel like if he wasn't on a team with Andrei Kirilenko (great passer), Carlos Boozer (solid passer, who used to get double teams), and Mehmet Okur (who drew the other center out of the paint) he wouldn't have been so efficient. Verily, just look at his career post-Utah for the answer to that. It was the perfect storm for those teams, and I wish they had somehow stayed healthier during their time together.

Removing the HOFers:

Okay, but what if we try to keep things apples to apples a little more, and remove the HOFers from this discussion -- bringing the n value from 10 down to 6.

2014 2015 TBAB Back Court -- Table 2

Okay, so this is easier to digest. Our current crop of guards REALLY can't shoot compared to this group. That said . . . they REALLY aren't that bad when you compare them to the Tyrone Corbin express (Mo and Randy), save for the outside shooting. After all the talk about how great shooters Mo and Randy were . . . they shot only 84.3 FT%, our guys who "can't shoot" are shooting 83.2%, and get to the line nearly twice as much. The law of averages will come into play and the fact that our players Alec and Trey *can* make FTs gives me hope that their other shooting percentages will trend upwards as the season continues.

But out of these six pairings, the data looks favorably upon Alec and Trey. They are producing in the time that they have, even if their shooting is pulling their efficiency down. The question is "Do you think they'll shoot this poorly ALL YEAR LONG" or not? I don't think it's statistically probable that they continue being sub .400 as a group.

And really, D-Will and Ronnie B were beasts.

Does Age Matter?

On first blush I say yes. Because it factors in actual job experience. The fact that D-Will and Ronnie B were giving teams the business under the age of 25 would give some evidence to "no", but they're still closer to 25 than 20. That's not the case with our current guys. Also the 08-09 year wasn't the first year starting for D-Will and Ronnie B. It was their second, and their 3rd and 4th season in the league. AB and TB are in their 4th and 2nd seasons, and Alec has NEVER started before. So yes, age matters.

Who are the youngest in this group?

2014 2015 TBAB Back Court -- Graph 2


I think that as a player gets older they have more opportunities to be a better, more productive player in the NBA. But after a while there's a point of no return. The Stockton / Hornacek (Hornacke (?)) pairing was pretty close to their peak production years. Williams and Foye, you could argue, was post-peak. I think that Trey and Alec are definitely pre-peak with how young they are and how little experience they have in their NBA careers.

Production over Age

So I got the average age of the back courts (easy, sum of # of days old by Nov 1st of the season, divided by 365, then divided by 2) . . . and compared it to the average BARPS earned by that pair. Then I just plotted it on an x / y chart.

2014 2015 TBAB Back Court -- Chart 1

The idea that Alec and Trey are pre-Peak right now looks real as they are on the wrong side of that line. (Also, the DW/RB group is the FARTHEST above the line, which goes with what we've been saying as well.) Beyond Trey and Alec there are three other groups well under the line, Harris / Hayward, Arroyo / Bell, and Williams / Foye. There's one that's just BELOW, and that's Stockton / Hornacek back in the mid 90s. So you could argue that they played their peaks without one another, even though they kept it together to play for nearly half a decade together in their twilight years.

So what happens when you remove the four HOF years?

2014 2015 TBAB Back Court -- Chart 2

This happens. The line changes, and we see that there's actually a trend that the pairs get worse with age. The Rickey Green / Darrell Griffith pair looks to be the best here (and really, this stat isn't pace adjusted, so I think you know why). D-Will and Ronnie B are still amazing with how ahead of the curve they are. And Trey and Alec are still better (even if not implicitly at their peak) than the rest of the PG / SG pairs tested.

So what do I think?

I think and Trey and Alec are very young, and with good health and a serious attitude they can become long-term NBA players in this league for our team, or any other they may end up with. They are both pre-peak in terms of their on court production, and as a result, their numbers have some warts to them (FG% and 3PT% right now). Beyond on court production the major fears are on defense, but a huge part of that is scheme. (Just ask Charlotte Hornets Al Jefferson to explain that to Utah Jazz Al Jefferson)

But by the numbers Burke and Burks aren't bad. They're somewhere in the middle right now. And I feel like with more experience a) in general, and b) together, they'll get better. And even if this is as bad as their shooting will ever be, they are still competitive against some of the more recent back courts in Jazz history with their scoring, rebounding, and assists per game.

However, the main take away is this.

2014 2015 TBAB Back Court -- Chart 3

So if you are keeping score at home, you can add apophenia and pareidolia as things you will be asked to deal with when you load up SLC Dunk.

My "eyeball test" of the Burkseses is that they show flashes of being legit NBA players, perhaps long term starters in the NBA. However, flashes aren't enough if we are expecting them to play at the level of a playoff bound backcourt. When you look at the whole NBA you see that offensively they are "right there" in the middle (OFF RTG analysis at the top). Defense is a mystery to about 13 players on our team right now, so I'm not going to single them out. But when you look at the Jazz history you also see that while Burke and Burks aren't stellar, they are indeed better than some groups you wouldn't have thought.

And that's them in a nutshell. A #9 draft pick who just turned 22, and a #12 draft pick who just turned 23 a few months ago are better than you think. And because they are so young -- they are going to get better and better and better as they continue to play in this league.

They may never make it to the Hall of Fame, but in the grand history of the New Orleans / Utah Jazz franchise they can become a back court to remember. Comparatively, the numbers suggest that they already are.


To props to Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.