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Utah Jazz have an interesting bench, but can they become a bench mob?

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Nylon Calculus' Seth Partnow did the hard work so we can imagine what Quin Snyder will do this season . . . even if it's for just 35% of the time.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Today I was blown away, as seems to be the usual, while reading a Deep Dives article over at Nylon Calculus. Today's number crunching by Seth Partnow looks exhaustive, but for the crazy people out there like me it's pretty invaluable. I suggest everyone read it, as it talks about something we all love -- players starting. Ostensibly you endeavour to start your five best players, and they should play the most. However, Partnow finds the numbers for a long unasked question. "How much do these guys actually play together?" The funny thing is that this is just the first step of his actual post which investigates how much a specific player plays and how he performs against starters or bench players. The searchable, dynamic charts in his post are worth the price of admission. (It's free.) But it's this tangent that I find more interesting, so I'm going to derail that here in a post.

     Nylon Calculus Seth Partnow Starters Teams

Created by Seth Partnow -- CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO READ HIS ARTICLE!

There's so much to unpack. Do the best teams have stronger benches, or do they have dominating starters? Do teams opt for playing without any starters because they are in a blowout (on the good side or the bad side of one), or do injures jack all of this up? You obviously want to lean on your starters because of the understood premise that on any given night they are supposed to be your best players. This isn't some league were everyone is supposed to play equally because not everyone has equal level skills.

I think the Los Angeles Clippers of 2014-15 are a great example of this. But on the flip side, the San Antonio Spurs approach (which has trickled down to the Atlanta Hawks, Utah Jazz, and various other clubs) seems to favor playing starters -- just not all at the same time. It was pretty obvious that the hockey line-change substitution pattern, used so often by unemployed former head coach Tyrone Corbin, had gone the way of the dinosaur. Partnow's evidence supports that theory.

"It's always quite surprising how little team's starting 5's actually play together, but for reference sake, NBA average was just under 14 minutes per night per team. The Clippers clocked in at just under 20 minutes per, while the Spurs were the lowest at just over 10. As the chart below shows, teams generally play about half the game with between 2 and 4 starters on the floor, leaving right around 10 minutes per night for lineups with 1 or no starters. In non-blowouts, the prevalence of full "bench mob" units is probably even lower, but that might require further study."

- Seth Partnow, Nylon Calculus, 2015

All five starters aren't all on the floor at the same time. But what I want to look at is our Utah Jazz. Do they have the potential to have one of those "bench mobs"? Or will circumstance dictate that they have to play their starters a lot instead? So let's check it out.

The Original Data, sorted this time!

I guess because I love busy work, I put in all the data here and sorted it by the percentage of time (from most to least) that at least THREE of the FIVE starters were in the game.

# of Starters in the game (MPG) At least 3 Starters
Team 5 4 3 2 1 0 MPG %
1 MIN 14.32 9.91 10.28 8.01 4.23 1.56 34.51 71.43%
2 CLE 13.33 9.84 10.61 8.91 3.39 2.16 33.78 70.02%
3 LAC 19.78 9.05 4.82 4.40 4.63 5.43 33.65 69.94%
4 ORL 14.57 10.91 8.16 7.07 5.08 2.39 33.64 69.82%
5 POR 16.88 7.45 8.42 8.24 5.47 1.97 32.75 67.62%
6 CHI 15.62 7.70 9.41 9.67 4.13 1.96 32.73 67.50%
7 SAC 14.18 10.23 7.79 7.02 6.44 2.77 32.20 66.49%
8 HOU 13.56 9.36 9.15 9.07 6.01 1.15 32.07 66.40%
9 NOP 14.69 8.51 8.83 7.72 5.06 3.44 32.03 66.38%
10 ATL 15.18 7.01 9.23 10.13 3.74 2.83 31.42 65.30%
11 UTA 12.53 9.87 8.74 9.02 6.36 1.54 31.14 64.79%
12 MEM 15.32 8.99 7.07 6.13 6.62 4.43 31.38 64.62%
13 PHX 13.55 9.43 8.21 8.35 6.70 2.25 31.19 64.32%
14 MIA 11.98 9.32 9.60 9.34 6.55 1.33 30.90 64.21%
15 BKN 11.61 9.44 10.15 8.42 6.60 2.39 31.20 64.18%
16 DAL 13.21 9.58 8.25 8.44 6.66 2.35 31.04 64.01%
17 DET 13.56 8.21 8.96 6.98 8.27 2.39 30.73 63.53%
18 CHA 14.62 8.96 7.25 5.81 7.81 4.10 30.83 63.50%
19 WAS 16.34 7.53 6.80 5.68 5.40 6.92 30.67 63.02%
20 DEN 14.97 8.73 6.81 6.94 6.23 4.81 30.51 62.92%
21 PHI 11.82 9.28 9.11 7.02 6.42 4.65 30.21 62.55%
22 OKC 11.91 9.74 8.56 7.20 6.09 4.86 30.21 62.47%
23 GSW 13.41 8.34 7.66 7.73 7.11 3.87 29.41 61.12%
24 TOR 12.93 7.44 9.08 7.53 8.02 3.42 29.45 60.82%
25 BOS 11.69 8.87 8.65 7.93 8.76 2.59 29.21 60.24%
26 LAL 16.93 6.34 5.43 5.18 7.89 6.84 28.70 59.04%
27 MIL 12.34 8.39 7.89 8.31 7.19 4.50 28.62 58.86%
28 NYK 11.10 8.27 9.05 8.72 8.20 3.08 28.42 58.69%
29 SAS 10.51 9.35 8.68 8.10 7.35 4.68 28.54 58.64%
30 IND 13.64 7.60 6.86 6.86 7.93 5.55 28.10 58.01%
AVG 13.87 8.79 8.32 7.66 6.34 3.41 30.97 64.01%

As you can see here, the Jazz at 64.79% played their starters above the league average of 64.01%. Furthermore, the Jazz placed 11th out of 30 NBA teams at this. The obvious thing we have to look at the 2014-15 Jazz has to be roster turn over during the season. There were 22 different Jazzmen last season, and 12 different starters. A big move was made to trade away Steve Novak (and Enes Kanter), and that opened up a lot of space inside. Assumed starter Alec Burks was one of them for 27 games, but then was lost to a season ending shoulder injury. Trey Burke started in 43 games for the Jazz at point guard, but was supplanted by rookie Dante Exum, who started 41 (probably two at shooting guard). This season Alec is back, but Dante is not. And depending on what Quin Snyder does, he may just start Raul Neto and Rodney Hood at this point. One thing is for certain, the frontcourt rotation of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert seems to be rightfully set in stone. But how will the Jazz play in 2015-16?

If Dante was around, would the Jazz have had a 'bench mob'?

This is an interesting 'what if' for Jazz fans for sure. We're going to assume that Dante Exum, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert would be four of the five starters. The other one would end up being one of: Trey Burke (moving Dante to 2 guard), Alec Burks, or Rodney Hood. Would that have left enough 'mob' to go around?

Perhaps. A likely mob unit could be:

  • Raul Neto at point guard (or Trey Burke),
  • Alec Hood/Rodney Burks at one wing spot,
  • Joe Ingles at the other wing spot,
  • Trevor Booker as an energy power forward,
  • with Jeff Withey protecting the paint as the center

There's probably enough 'remainder mob' as well, with whomever loses out between Neto and Burke, plus Elijah Millsap, Trey Lyles, and Tibor Pleiss. Of course, there's just no way that Quin Snyder was regularly going to go fourteen deep if Dante was healthy. However, the concept exists that some of these players could contribute in a mobbish way. (IS that a word? Shums?)

The bottom line is that the Jazz could have had the overwhelming quality and depth to be mob-like off the bench if Dante was healthy. But adjustments and expectations would have to be tempered by the fact that -- face it -- our starters should be playing a lot.

In a non-Dante season:

A non-Dante season means that there's one fewer person to give regular minutes to. Dante would have averaged AT LEAST 26 MPG this year. (He averaged 22.2 mpg last season in 82 games of action.) Players have to fill that in now, but I think the Jazz will be mainly doing that through point guard play. It's not going to magically mean more minutes for wings and bigs. So Raul and Trey will eat up at least 45 minutes at point guard each game, maybe leaving three for Alec. Alec's versatility may better suit him to be our primary guy leading the bench mob. (Smarter people have convinced me that Hood's shooting ability and passivity is better served as a 3rd / 4th / 5th option with the starting unit.)

But a mob isn't based upon the strength of one member, it's a freaking mob. The benefit is numbers. Behind Alec the Jazz will have Joe and Eli (and maybe Chris Johnson) being the 4th, 5th (and 6th if needed) wings. But the real mob appears to be the legion of bigmen from Trevor Booker, Trey Lyles, Jeff Withey, and Tibor Pleiss. Of course, how much time are they even going to have? Derrick and Rudy will both play 30 minutes at least this upcoming season. There are only 96 minutes available inside (48 x2, one each of PF and C). That means there are 36 minutes available for those four players. Fewer if Gordon or Joe steal some "running four" minutes when teams go small.

Booker is in a contract year and for his career has always hovered around 20 mpg. That means there's 16 left for Lyles, Withey, Pleiss (and Hayward / Ingles).

It doesn't appear like there is just enough mob time, even if our roster looks like they have the talent to support one.

Spurs-ian influence:

Of course, there will be if the starters have their minutes reduced. That, coupled with the Spurs penchant for staggering the play of their best players for minimum overlap, could make a mob happen. Previous eras of Jazz basketball were cursed with a huge talent disparity from the starters to the bench. When the starters were in they were unstoppable, when the bench was in you were constantly worried. Of course, everything was upside down in the Tyrone Corbin era where the team was usually behind after one quarter because the starters were outclassed by the opponent, only for the C4 bench guys to claw the team back into the game.

If Snyder wants to limit strain on his guys, and throw away the player's individual aspirations for big minutes and big numbers, then he'll manage the minutes wisely. After all, last season 13 different players averaged at least 10.0 mpg, and 9 played at least 20 mpg (Booker was at 19.8 mpg, and Millsap at 19.7 mpg). It would be silly to expect Snyder to somehow become miserly with the minutes when his offense relies on using the talented players GM Dennis Lindsey has given him to use.

Still, it's impossible to go 14 deep (max active is 13). And I think Snyder is going to recognize his best players need to play more than Gregg Popovich does. I don't think you will see six wing players play in the same game on the regular. Nor will you see all the bigmen get a chance every night. If a mob is going to happen it will have to be an effective group in a short stint.

Is last year an indication?

Going back to the data from Seth's original post, the Jazz played at least three starters about 65% of the time last season. That means that the bench-as-a-majority units were only on the floor 35% of the time. Over a game that's still 16.92 mpg. And over a season that's 1,387 minutes. I don't think that the Jazz will have so many trial-and-error players this year, if everyone remains largely healthy. But I do think we'll see some fluidity to the starting lineup as the PG and SG spots are far from set in stone.

I do not put a lot of stock into who played last year, as an indication of who will play this year -- save for Hayward, Favors, and Gobert.

But with this increased fluidity you will get a better chance to mix and match units that work. Eventually you will find something that DOES work when the unit construction is "player+player+player+starter+starter". But is that a mob?

S.W.A.R.M.

Back in the day of hockey subs we had S.W.A.R.M. And S.W.A.R.M. was awesome. The S.W.A.R.M. units were a collection of misfits like Earl Watson and Ronnie Price at the same time, while backing them up with very fundamentally simple bigmen. The one we all seemed to gravitate to was the #15 most used unit from the 2010-2011 Jazz season. That bench mob was Earl, Ronnie, along with C.J. Miles, Francisco Elson, and Kyrylo Fesenko. And that unit was an overall +20 in +/- over the season, and absolutely did it with defense.

The thing about S.W.A.R.M. besides being a unit of no starters was that they had an identity. They also had a unified purpose. They came in for short stints, they played very hard, and they really disrupted the other team. And by doing what they did, they also captured our hearts.

National observers didn't give a damn because that team wasn't flashy and was pitiful on offense. Bench mobs, as we know them, comprise a bunch of guys who can come off the bench, hustle a little bit, but also score. In that regard a bench mob of Burke, Burks, Ingles, Booker, and Withey may actually be what most people consider a bench mob. But I do not know if they will have the unity of purpose, or cohesion, of the S.W.A.R.M.

N.B. The S.W.A.R.M. bench units were not that singular one listed, but sometimes included Andrei Kirilenko off the bench, and that's kind of unfair as he is one of the five most talented all-around players in franchise history.

So... bench mob?

I think the Jazz have the quality of players who can be effective at digging a team out of a jam. Elijah could be a bench mob HOFer with his defensive grit, ability to drive and get to the line, and occasional three point ability. Joe is a classic bench mob guy, like a likable Jon Barry who plays defense. Alec has spent his entire career getting Corb'd for both minutes and role with the team, I'm not keen on him coming off the bench. But if Manu Ginobili can do it for most of his career, and this is a Spurs-like system, then it is easier to swallow. Those three guys in some wing rotation are a strong foundation.

Booker, Withey, Lyles, and Pleiss are goofy enough to carry the Francisco/Fesenko torch. Also, they appear to be able to also play basketball. So that's a plus.

But the most visible engine for any bench mob is their point guard. If it's going to be Trey Burke trying to earn the right to start, it'll be tough. If it's Trey Burke being the best back-up point guard in the league, it'll work out. If it's Raul Neto doing his thing, setting guys up, making other players better, that's also awesome. I'm not biased about this. Both guys could be great or awful off the bench. We've seen them both succeed and fail this preseason.

But for all the chemistry issues, and court production, the bottom line is that a mob has to have an attitude. I don't know if our team as a whole has one. But the bench guys should, at the very least. They could just be a handful of disjointed almost-starters, or they can work together to become something the other team has to worry about.

In that egalitarian Spurs system we've seen egos take a back seat to butt kicking. A huge part of that has been their trust and use of their bench players. This is a new Jazz era with an evolving system and the potential to have a strong bench. While the trend is to move away from full-on bench units, you know it will be fun in game threads to "Release the B.L.I.M.P.!" (Burks / Lyles / Ingles / Millsap / Pleiss)

Okay, we can work on the name of the potential mob as the season progresses. But man, this is just going to be another fun thing to watch for over the next 82 games.