I think that this season's Utah Jazz team is an excellent experiment. It's not a championship team, heck, right now it's not even a "winning games in December" team, let alone June. But the winning thing will happen over time, eventually, as the experiment continues. As of right now, with a quarter of the season in the books, we can take a quick peek at some of the newer evidence based story lines to follow for the next three quarters. Personally, I felt as though the bench this season would be a good collection of interesting players who could in a pinch, do amazing things. A quarter into the season I still believe that for the most part. It's just that, well, our bench is the non-aligned movement during the Cold War. They are there, but they don't really matter.
Don't get me wrong, this bench isn't a bad bench, it's just not a very aggressive one. Particularly on offense. You know, the scoring thingy. Invariably one of the three (or two of the three, sadly) starters (Trey Burke, Alec Burks, and Gordon Hayward) will have a poor shooting night. Enes Kanter does what he can in half a game, and Derrick Favors rarely gets enough shots. In previous seasons the Jazz benches appeared more capable to go full throttle to help the team. This season we don't have a bench scorer stepping up. That's not just an opinion, that's a historically calculated fact.
I looked at every roster for the Jazz from 2004-05 till today. I collected and added up all of the stats for each bench player for a season, found out the per minute values for each bench, and then saw what they did on the court over a projected 20.00 minutes of action. The bench players were determined by if they were a normal starter or not, not the guy who started the most games because let's be honest, with Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, and Mehmet Okur we had a bunch of guys missing games for injuries during this stretch -- guys who would have normally been starting.
I compared the 2014-15 bench against the previous ten benches individually, and also the 2014-15 bench against the calculated averages (not the average of averages) for the previous decade of Jazz bench play.
- 2004-2005: Raja Bell, Gordan Giricek, Howard Eisley, Keith McLeod, Jarron Collins, Kirk Snyder, Kris Humphries, Curtis Borchardt, Raul Lopez, Ben Handlogten, Randy Livingston, Aleksandar Radojevic -- Bench starter % (BS%) of 37.42%
- 2005-2006: Matt Harpring, Jarron Collins, Devin Brown, Milt Palacio, Keith McLeod, Greg Ostertag, Kris Humphries, Robert Whaley, Andre Owens, C.J. Miles -- BS% 29.16%
- 2006-2007: Matt Harpring, Paul Millsap, Gordan Giricek, Jarron Collins, Ronnie Brewer, Dee Brown, C.J. Miles, Rafael Araujo, Roger Powell, Louis Amundson -- BS% 9.45%
- 2007-2008: Paul Millsap, Matt Harpring, Kyle Korver, Jarron Collins, C.J. Miles, Jason Hart, Ronnie Price, Gordon Giricek, Kyrylo Fesenko, Morris Almond -- BS 5.44%
- 2008-2009: Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Andrei Kirilenko, Brevin Knight, Ronnie Price, Matt Harpring, Kosta Koufos, Morris Almond, Jarron Collins, Kyrylo Fesenko -- BS 15.09%
- 2009-2010: Paul Millsap, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Miles, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Price, Kyrylo Fesenko, Eric Maynor, Sundiata Gaines, Kosta Koufos, Othyus Jeffers -- BS 21.41%
- 2010-2011: C.J. Miles, Earl Watson, Gordon Hayward, Ronnie Price, Francisco Elson, Jeremy Evans, Kyrylo Fesenko, Derrick Favors, Mehmet Okur, Kyle Weaver, Marcus Cousin -- BS 11.67%
- 2011-2012: Derrick Favors, C.J. Miles, Earl Watson, Josh Howard, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, Jamaal Tinsley, DeMarre Carroll, Jeremy Evans, Blake Ahearn -- BS 12.35%
- 2012-2013: Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Jamaal Tinsley, Alec Burks, DeMarre Carroll, Enes Kanter, Earl Watson, Jeremy Evans, Kevin Murphy -- BS 16.44%
- 2013-2014: Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, Jeremy Evans, Diante Garrett, John Lucas III, Rudy Gobert, Brandon Rush, Mike Harris, Ian Clark, Jamaal Tinsley, Malcolm Thomas, Andris Biedrins -- BS 13.22%
- 2014-2015: Trevor Booker, Dante Exum, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood, Steve Novak, Ian Clark, Jeremy Evans -- BS 2.48%
N.B. Players are listed from highest to lowest season minutes. BS% is Bench starters percentage, the percentage of cumulative games started by a bench player as a percentage of all the games played by the bench. A low percentage is indicative of really strong health for the starters, really high stability in the rotation, or a really high disparity between the starters and the bench -- or a combination of those factors. For example in 2007-2008 the bench was quite strong, but there was high stability in the rotation and good health for the starters. This resulted in a BS% in the 5% range. In 2004-2005 there were a ton of injuries to the starters, and little stability to the rotation due to every player being almost equally horrible. And the BS% was above 30% that season.
Clearly, not all benches are created equally. While I like some of the players on our bench, they are likable for either a combination of off-the-court reasons or because that they are sometimes useful. Jeremy Evans is a great example. He has played the least this season. But when he has played, he hasn't really been impressive. If you contrast to the 2008-2009 Jazz, a number of guys on that bench would start for this team.
So inherently we know that our current bench doesn't look that great. What do the numbers say?
ONLY ONE MATHs SECTION TODAY GUYS
First the good news -- this year's bench blocks more shots than normal. Also they, like all of our team, has really kept the fouls down. Aannnnddd, that's about it.
I added WIN% there to show any relationship that may exist between having a good bench and winning a lot of games, and I think, well, there is one. It's not a perfect correlation, but it doesn't surprise me that our team is at it's worst right now, when almost everything is going wrong. (Our starters aren't great, but they are fantastic compared to the bench; and the bench is really bad.)
The things that jump out at me (beyond the fact that so far our bench players haven't really been good enough to even think about starting) are:
- PPG and FGA are both down, bigtime.
- The FGA%, 3PT%, and FT% are all down. The FT% of the bench is the worst in the full data set.
- The APG is almost halved from 8+ apg to 5+ apg.
- That's a force multiplier -- the team's APG are down because guys are missing shots, but perhaps also creating less effectively; and the shooting percentages are down because they are not getting as good shots (theoretically -- in reality we know they are missing wide open jumpers) -- and as a result the team isn't scoring.
The thing which is useful is that the PPS value is above average, even WITH the FT% being at 62.8%. What do we learn? This team needs to be more aggressive because they ARE getting to the line. (That's not something every Jazz bench could do, who else remembers all the times Paul Millsap would get abused and not get the call?) Sure, the FT/FGA ratio this season is bad because of the shooting (0.20 vs 0.24 for the ten year period), but you have to start somewhere.
Occasionally the bench looks like they are playing beautiful basketball -- but it's not Ettore Messina ball, it is orchestrated hot potato until someone musters enough courage to finally take a shot. No joke, if you look at the actual per game cumulative average number of FGA for a bench player this season it's only 3.57 FGA. I did play around with the numbers to mask it somewhat by looking at the per 20.00 mpg values for a squad of bench players (5) ... but man. By the same measures the actual per game cumulative average FGA for a single bench player from 2004-2013 was 5.15 FGA.
One candidate who exists who can a) get to the line, and b) should be more aggressive is our rookie Dante Exum. I understand that he is fundamentally sound and a scholar of the game. He is pass first and wants to use his talents to help his team mates. I get it. But right now he can help his team mates the most by calling his own number, and getting to the rim. Yes, Exum is shooting 59.1 FT% right now, but I don't care. Establish early on in your career that you can get to the line and as you progress your legend will grow. Eventually Dante could just get benefit of the doubt calls on drives.
And it all starts with being more aggressive.
It's not all on Dante, I think Rodney Hood could help our team, also he is shooting quite poorly right now in comparison to what we expect (.281 / .278 / .786). But he has the ability to drive and get to the rim as well.
After all, what's the point of having athletes if they play like non-athletes. Use their athleticism as an advantage -- yell at them bout driving and trying shots from there, instead of passing the ball back out to Joe Ingles who is open, but then will drive into the lane and pass the ball with 7 seconds left to Rudy Gobert at 14 feet out.
Our bench guys need to take more risks, and try to be more effective, not reserved. Our bench offense this season is the prevent defense, of the NFL. And the numbers back that up.
Be aggressive, play with more passion. By like that S.W.A.R.M. lineup from years ago, which I now understand was back when Dante Exum was probably watching things like Bananas in Pajamas.
I'm not giving up on this bench. I think they have the ability to be useful -- in conjunction with starters, or primarily on their own. But the fulcrum for it will be Dante Exum and his aggressiveness. (Don't watch that video unless you like loud gym brahs talking about their glory days.) (Also, of note, the speaker in the video isn't fully aware of human physiology or things like, um, the limbic system or anything like that . . . ) (Furthermore, he's a football player who forgot what the Line of Scrimmage is called.)
The bench is under-performing when you go apples to apples of what they do over 20 mpg. A big part of that is on offense, which goes AGAINST the idea that our offense is doing well in terms of overall team Off RTG. This case it's the Jazz starters putting in work while the bench guys are non-aligned. Dante has all the physical talent in the world, and I'd love to see him do more than play like the back-up to the back-up of the Australian National team. He needs to start playing like the future game changing guard that he is.
And I think we all know that he is capable of it.