The Utah Jazz have one of the worst defenses in the history of the game right now. In their last full season under Jerry Sloan the team had the 10th best DEF RTG. This season they are ranked 29th. As a result the team plays at one of the slowest paces in the league (27th) in an attempt to hide that fact. The end result is that the team plays much slower than their offensive players would like, and the team does not score a lot. Fans love scoring, and so do players in contract years. That's just now how the team plays under Tyrone Corbin. And in an attempt to hide the weak defense, he has exposed that we just don't have a first option on this team.
Long gone are Pistol Pete Maravich, Adrian Dantley, and Karl Malone. Even the combination of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer are so many years in the rear-view mirror now. This season Al Jefferson was an All-Star snub once again, but this time for another team. Surprisingly, Paul Millsap was finally rewarded for his hard work. But in Utah - the scoring load has been shared. And 43 times this season the scoring load appears to have not been enough.
If you scan the roster it's not hard to see why. Our most nationally recognizable player, Trey Burke, is a rookie who is stumbling to recover after slamming into the rookie wall. Our best player is a defense first guy, Derrick Favors. The player who is handling the ball the most is in the middle of a shooting slump that's no doubt costing him millions as he's a restricted free agent, Gordon Hayward. And our two best pure scorers come off the bench in Alec Burks and Enes Kanter. Oh, and these guys are all still currently on their rookie contracts.
The veterans are complimentary pieces at best, and salary fodder at worst. Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams have done a fine job hitting the open three this season, but we don't know if they've done enough to justify the free passes they get on defense. But this team is what it is: one not built for offense this season.
Does this team have a first open scorer on it? The answer is an obvious "no". Does this team have a future first option on it? That's the harder thing to look at. In order to do so, though, I did look at each boxscore this season and taken out the top three scorers from each game. (N.B. This value is larger than n=65 x 3, because there are scoring ties for some games.) These top scorers represent the best scoring games this season, in the good times and bad times. In the wins, and in the losses. And sometimes you get goofy things like Gobert making it for scoring 10 points. Usually scoring 10 points doesn't make you a candidate for being an offense threat in a game - but on this year's Utah Jazz team that's a sad truth.
Anyway, If you add up all the qualifying games for these players you find some interesting facts about them.
|Game Leader||Minutes / Points||FG||3PT||FT||Creating|
Gordon Hayward - despite his poor shooting, he has done a lot on offense for this team. In these qualifying games where he has been either the top, second, or third highest scoring Jazz player he has also pitched in 5.1 assists per game. Scoring options are also able to draw the defense to them and find guys to score. Kevin Durant does this. LeBron James does this. Even post guys do this - Wilt Chamberlain led the league in assists one year. I also like that when Gordon is playing this way he's aggressive and gets to the line 5.3 times a game and makes over 80 ft% from there. The threes are respectable, and he's not taking a lot of shots (only 0.40 shots per minute, or SPM). His points per shot (PPS) is still above league average (1.21 for last 25 years), but the main characteristic here seems to be heavy minutes. He plays nearly 40 minutes in these games where he is either the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd highest scorer for the Jazz, but he's also doing more than just shooting the ball.
Alec Burks - he's just a flat out scorer. But we already knew this. In the games where he scores the most (again, this doesn't mean "play this guy x minutes and watch him go") he's doing it without many thoughts of passing. He does pass, and does an "okay" job at it; but his primary focus is at the rim and he gets to the line 6.5 times a game. And he does that in less than 30.0 mpg. (Thanks Ty!) He does leave a lot of points at the free throw stripe, but he does seem to make up the difference by shooting 50.7 fg%. He's just a flat out shot maker. And in these games he's even making threes, his 43.2 3pt% is higher than Gordon's 36.1%. He's also not shooting that much more per minute. He's just MAKING more shots. At the end of the day, I guess that's part of what you look for from a potential primary option.
Derrick Favors - Favors has an evolving offensive game, but he's not really known for it. He wasn't given the minutes and all the shots in the world like DeMarcus Cousins got as a rookie. Still, Favors has led our team in scoring 4 times this season. In the games where he is a high scorer it's because his shot is on. And if you further break down what's happening it's that he's used as a finisher. Sure, sometimes his post moves or jumper help him get a few extra buckets, but his main mode of scoring is off of the work of another player creating for him. It's hard for me to imagine such a dependant playing being a primary scoring option but there are some games where Favors just dominates on offense. If only we had seen more of him over the previous three seasons . . .
Enes Kanter -- . . . speaking of inconsistent mysteries, Enes has the second highest PPG in this list, and has led the team in scoring 12 times, third most on the team this season. This is a bench guy who isn't even the first big off the bench some nights. Favors is an opportunistic scorer who can occasionally make his own shot. Kanter seems to be able to back people down and have his way on offense more frequently. Favors has scored 20 or more points 5 times this year. Kanter? Only 11. Again, off the bench. Enes' defense has fallen off the face of the earth this last season, but if he keeps working with Karl Malone (and gets some easy baskets running in transition), he could be a real problem for other teams for years to come.
Trey Burke - Trey distributes the ball better than anyone else on the team in these top scoring games. So it's not like he stops doing what he needs to do in order for him to get his points. That's key. Kobe can go for 40 and finish with 1 assist. That's not Trey's game at all. The one quality we see in Trey's big games is that he seems to be doing it from downtown. For the season he's shooting only 33.6 3pt%, but in these high scoring games he's up to 41.3%. He does appear to be a player that needs to take a lot of shots to get his points though, which makes that three point shooting all the more important. If he can consistently hit the open jumper (and he should) then it would be fine. Instead he has to rely on pick and roll jumpers and dribble hand-off pull-ups. I don't know if that's what I want to see him doing, particularly when he's automatic from the free throw line. Drive man! Get to the line! Why can't you be Tony Parker? Well, he could. And then he would be a legit first option. But as a rookie right now he's not, but still good enough to provide balanced Top 3 scoring for 23 games this season.
Richard Jefferson & Marvin Williams - Both of these guys are up there in scoring, but they are reactionary scorers like Favors is. I'm grouping them together here because when they have big games it's almost in the most identical ways. Basically, it's because they go bonkers from three. For example, Marvin shoots 47.8% from downtown in these big games, and RJ shoots 55.6%. Those numbers are ridiculously high, and clearly, they don't happen more than one game in four, at that. When they are on they can change a game. Sadly, Marvin is becoming increasingly one dimensional; while RJ still at least goes to the basket hard and tries to dunk on people. They both aren't natural passers and aren't really doing Johnson things out there on the floor, creating for others. The other problem is that while when they are on they are on, they're not always on. I don't think either is a threat to be a primary scorer anytime in their futures.
Jeremy Evans - he's on the list because he can chip in here or there. He seems like one of the top candidates for a lot of improvement if the team played at a higher pace, but we're not getting there this year. And, well, he's not really going to be a first, second, or third option in his career. Love that when he is scoring well (6 games this year) it's because he's maintaining his efficiency. That's a hallmark of who he is as a player, and something to be proud of. (Though his PPS isn't that great... strange)
Everyone Else - None of these guys even have a chance at being a legit scorer in this league, except maybe Ian Clark. He could be like a Kendall Gill scorer on a team that has much better players on it, but only if he plays. I'm basing this on him scoring 10 points in 4 minutes once. I know. It's the best, most accurate of sample sizes.
There are two players who are pure scorers who don't really pass well (Burks, Kanter); and two players who aren't scoring at a great rate, but play a lot and make some passes (Burke, Hayward). I don't know if any of them are a risk to the record books. I do know that our offense stinks, and so does our defense. Playing faster isn't going to make our defense worse, and it honestly, really can't get worse. At least we may have more scoring, and more data to go off of in an attempt to answer this question.
It would have been fun to see Burke and Burks cutting up other teams all season long. But it would have also been fun to see a cat wearing a business suit be our head coach too. I guess the sad trombone moment is recognizing how un-fun this season as been. I'm sure all the empty green seats at home games feel me on this.