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Jazz defensive data reveals problems with over rotation

How the Jazz defense has changed over the last two decades, and what problems persist

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

With half the season over in 2014-2015 we can clearly see that the Utah Jazz struggle on defense. The team gives up 98.9 ppg, which is greatly influenced by playing at the 28th slowest pace in the league. According to the harder data the Jazz surrender 10.9.4 points per 100 possessions, which is "good" enough for 27th out of 30 teams in the NBA this year. While Utah does not foul a lot and send teams to the line endlessly it's almost as if they do not need to. Players are out of position in their defensive sets in the half court, and poorer basketball IQ leaves opponents open for good looks.

The Jazz allow other teams to shoot .510 eFG% against them, which is 24th in the league. A significant portion of that is poor three point defense. This year the other team is making .378% of their shots from downtown against Utah. Only two teams get lit up from outside more. However, the poor shot discipline isn't the largest sin. It would appear as those there is a general level of non-hustle out there on the court. Utah doesn't pressure the ball or force turn overs that frequently. Utah only forces 12.3 turn overs a game (29th), and cause one 12.0% of the time (27th). It's not all about taking risks to get steals, but an active defense that harries the other team into bad shots and pressured ball movement is preferable to one that allows open shots and doesn't appear to be physical enough to make it hard on the other team.

Of course, the Jazz have not been great on defense before, this isn't the only year where we've had to worry about that side of the court.

1 1995 1996 95.9 6 90.0 25 106.1 8 48.9% 9 15.1% 9 71.7% 4 29.5% 27
2 1996 1997 94.3 8 90.0 17 104.0 9 48.0% 8 15.5% 5 71.6% 4 29.0% 29
3 1997 1998 94.4 13 89.2 21 105.4 17 47.1% 11 13.5% 22 71.0% 5 27.1% 25
4 1998 1999 86.8 5 87.0 23 98.4 7 44.1% 5 14.4% 17 70.4% 9 24.2% 15
5 1999 2000 92.0 5 89.6 27 102.3 11 47.7% 12 15.0% 9 73.2% 2 25.6% 25
6 2000 2001 92.4 8 89.8 21 102.4 12 47.3% 17 15.3% 3 73.2% 6 30.1% 29
7 2001 2002 95.1 13 90.3 16 104.6 14 48.4% 17 15.9% 1 71.7% 12 28.6% 29
8 2002 2003 92.3 7 89.3 24 102.8 15 46.8% 8 15.2% 4 70.2% 24 25.6% 25
9 2003 2004 89.9 9 86.6 28 103.3 14 46.8% 12 15.4% 7 72.4% 10 31.9% 29
10 2004 2005 97.3 16 88.4 26 109.5 26 49.9% 26 14.2% 10 72.3% 8 34.0% 30
11 2005 2006 95.0 9 87.8 26 107.0 21 49.0% 14 14.0% 10 73.2% 12 30.3% 30
12 2006 2007 98.6 17 91.6 15 107.0 18 49.6% 13 14.4% 14 75.1% 4 31.4% 30
13 2007 2008 99.3 13 93.2 10 106.5 12 50.1% 16 15.0% 3 74.1% 9 29.4% 30
14 2008 2009 100.9 19 93.1 9 107.3 10 50.5% 18 15.0% 2 72.7% 20 26.2% 26
15 2009 2010 98.9 12 93.8 9 105.0 10 49.2% 13 14.2% 5 75.6% 5 26.9% 30
16 2010 2011 101.3 19 91.0 19 110.1 23 50.5% 20 13.8% 8 71.7% 27 27.5% 30
17 2011 2012 99.0 23 91.4 12 106.1 19 49.3% 22 13.8% 16 73.8% 11 24.5% 28
18 2012 2013 98.1 16 90.9 21 106.8 21 50.1% 18 14.0% 12 73.2% 21 22.6% 26
19 2013 2014 102.2 18 81.4 26 111.3 29 51.8% 26 12.1% 29 74.5% 14 22.7% 20
20 2014 2015 98.9 14 90.4 28 109.4 27 51.0% 24 12.0% 27 75.8% 10 19.6% 8
Average 96.1 12.5 89.7 20.2 105.8 16.2 48.8% 15.5 14.4% 10.7 72.9% 10.9 27.3% 26.1

Data from

I cannot stress enough how cool it is to NOT having a foul prone team for once on defense (which allows our best defenders to actually stay out on the court, I see ya Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert!). But that may or may not have influenced how "up in your grill" our defense is. But the general picture hear over the last two decades is that the Utah Jazz defense hasn't been all that, especially not over the Tyrone Corbin era.

But people keep telling me to "Let it go." So let's break down what the Utah Jazz have done this season in Synergy Sports Tech's massive database.


Anyway, according to SST (not to be confused with this) the Utah Jazz are not a good defensive club. On a per possession basis they rank 27th. (N.B. The data I pulled and processed was for the Jazz after 40 games. So there is no influence upon these numbers from the San Antonio Spurs game; though I am sure you would agree that the defense was lacking there too.) At the time of data collection (harvesting?) the Jazz were on defense 4,079 times in 40 games. Teams shot 46.5 fg% against the Jazz, had an aFG% (a SST metric) of 51.2%, punched in 1.22 PPS, and had a PPP of 0.97. Put it all together and the Jazz ranked "poor" against the rest of the NBA.

The other team didn't turn the ball over that much, and while they didn't get to the free throw line much, overall they still managed to put some points on the board 45.3% of the time they had the ball.

That's not so great.

So where are the Jazz getting toasted from?

Time spent on defense:

2014 2015 40 Games Synergy Utah Jazz Defense - Time Pie

So the gameplan (or the other team exerts their control) calls for the team playing a lot of defense against Spot ups, the pick and roll (ball handler), transition plays, post ups, and isolation. So that's 8 or more possessions of each type per game, from 7.9 isolations all the way up to 19.1 spot up attempts against Utah on any given night.

2014 2015 40 Games Synergy Utah Jazz Defense - Time Table

Miscellaneous plays are broken plays, like someone saves the ball and it goes to his team, or there is a deflection somewhere and no one knows what's happening. I'm not worried about the team there, so I will mostly disregard it (despite the fact that the Jazz are actually the 11th best team at defending these plays).

Personally, I think with the bigs the Jazz have teams have been de-incentivized from trying to score in the paint on drives or pick and rolls. Letting teams do their thing from outside of the mollestive influence of our rim protectors, probably not so good.

Are they good at defending what they see the most?

Well, let's go over it step by step:

Type Time Rating PPG PPS PPP NBA RK
1 Spot Up 18.7% Poor 20.2 1.13 1.05 27
2 P&R Ball 16.2% Average 13.3 1.02 0.81 21
3 Transition 12.2% Poor 14.6 1.53 1.17 26
4 Post Up 9.4% Poor 9.2 1.19 0.96 29
5 Isolation 7.7% Poor 7.5 1.20 0.95 29
6 Cut 7.4% Below Average 9.4 1.50 1.25 24
7 P&R Screener 7.1% Very Good 6.6 1.05 0.90 8
8 Off Screen 5.8% Poor 5.7 1.13 0.97 27
9 Put Backs 5.0% Average 5.6 1.24 1.10 17
10 Hand Off 4.2% Average 3.9 1.11 0.91 20

Okay, so the things the Jazz face the most on defense this season are all pretty much the things they are really poor at. So do you re-train the defense to a) get better at the things you are bad at, b) install a defense that forces the other team into doing the things you are good at defending, c) both, or d) recognize that there is a push and pull on defense, and being extra careful about one thing can leave gaps in other parts of the floor?

One thing people may be upset about -- that can be fixed -- is the post up defense. It's poor. Even with Rudy Gobert on the floor I've seen players bump him with their greater upper body strength, get him out of position, and then benefit from making this space by taking a short fall away. No one challenges him like how a Shaquille O'Neal would challenge a Dikembe Mutombo. They go at him by getting him off balance, and then finessing their way around him. The isolation defense isn't going to get better until our players are allowed to foul guys on defense -- and that comes with refs respecting you. (Like how Chris Paul is allowed to be super hands-y on defense and foul a lot before the player tries a shot.)

System issues will always persist. A player scores on a cut when there is a defensive breakdown. We do it. They do it. Most of the time it's a good shot, or at least the guy gets to the line. The Jazz give up at least one point on 62.5% of these plays.The alternative is to commit to the guy cutting sooner, leaving someone ELSE open. If you are at a situation where you can be defeated by a cut on a play the chances are that someone else on the offensive side of the ball can ALSO cut to somewhere else and get open too.

But the main problem appears to be spot ups:

Yes, the Jazz defense right now tries to protect the paint -- and right now the main problem is dribble penetration. Dribble penetration means that other defenders have to help and commit to the ball handler. (Either from an Iso, pick, or something else). When the defense collapses this leaves guys open on the outside. This is how Dion Waiters got so open on that Kevin Durant pass a few games ago. And this is how the Jazz get wrecked by the Spurs almost every time they play.

They give up the open jumper because they HAVE to protect the paint. Today you can't leave guys open (the skill set is much different than it was in the 70s and 80s), and the best defensive teams are the ones that can keep playing five on five, man on man, as much as possible.

The Jazz offense is built around the same thing, moving the defense around and getting guys open shots. Which is why it is upsetting that this is something they know so well on offense, but don't know how to counter it on defense.

At the end of the day you need strong perimeter defense if you are going to allow players to stay 'home' on outside shooters. In the vacuum of the Spot Up defense vs. Pick and Roll ball handler defense we see that the Jazz are average on the ball handler because they commit to him. Letting that guy go one on one more (our iso defense is horrible) could result in more scores, or worse, fouls on our bigmen in the paint off of drives.

The % play then is to let guys shoot from outside, and hope for a miss, vs. giving up the sure thing.

It is going to be interesting to see how Quin Snyder and crew combat this over the second half of the season. Elijah Millsap and Dante Exum project to be better defenders with their length, ability, and hustle. But can you run an offense with those guys out there right now?

Perhaps the Jazz need to be a little more strategic in how they play defense? If they can influence the ball handler to pass the ball to the screen setter instead of finding an open man spotting up the team would be in perfect position to defend the play. But that is specifically what teams today avoid doing. The Spurs are a perfect example of this, instead of going to Tim Duncan or Boris Diaw at the top of the key they penetrate and find a guy like Danny Green open outside. It's how they beat us in the playoffs last time we were there. And it's pretty much how they beat us every time we play them.

For the Jazz to move from being a poor defensive team to an average defensive team will require an adjustment to the strategy and performance of our players and coaches both. But at the end of the day, better defense comes from within. Needing to help less will mean less players are open. And in year one of the Snyder House Rules, we see that most of our players need to play better defense. Or knock some people on their butts. That's what Jerry Sloan would advise.


Thank you to SB Nation for giving me the opportunity to add so much to the Utah Jazz community. I love having access to the full database of Synergy Sports Tech, and love using it in conjunction with the available data and media I get through the NBA Media Central page. (If you aren't actual media you don't get in, and the NBA decides if you are or are not.) There are great resources out there like , , , ,, , and others. And having earned the right to give our readers the best info from the best sources is forcing me to be my best as well.

And Jazz fans deserve nothing but the best.

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