If you were a Utah Jazz fan that during the 'Golden Age' of John Stockton, Karl Malone, Jeff Hornacek, Jerry Sloan, and Larry H. Miller you may remember national commentators referring to the teams as 'old'. While I knew that some of our most important players were no longer in their physical peaks during the NBA Finals runs I did not understand until today just how old those clubs were. That said, the idea that veteran teams win more than young teams is a concept we all hold onto. The proof was in the pudding with the Jazz teams, right? Well, looking at every Jazz team from 1989-1990 till today I found some interesting things. Let's check it out.
The 2014-2015 Utah Jazz
The main reason for this article was this Venn diagram that was sent to me, and it proliferated on Imgur and/or Reddit (I assume, I do not frequent Reddit and didn't look for it there). The image suggests that it is "o.c." of RealGM. So give them the props.
The good news is that our squad is young, and this, has potential to improve. The bad news is that the team is neither Top 10 in offense or defense. That could mislead someone into thinking that the team was #11 in both, or #30 in both. There just isn't enough information on each team here, beyond the general groupings of the "best" teams this season. That said, the Jazz find familiar faces with some of their other lotto brothers as being young, and nothing else.
According to the good people over at Basketball-Reference.com the Jazz are actually #14th in Offensive Rating this season, and #26 in Defensive Rating. A 26 means you are in the Bottom 5 in the league, and that's really bad. A #14 in offense, though, suggests that the Jazz are in the Top half on offense. Looking at the "only young" cohort we find that:
|"Only Young" Teams||ORTG NBA Rank||DRTG NBA Rank||Total|
Yeah, the Jazz are actually skewed towards something good, while also skewed towards something bad. They need to fix things up, but most lotto teams need to as well. Few of these teams are about equal in rank for offense and defense, at their own individual tiers of success: Detroit, Denver, Minny. So it's not out of the ordinary for a young team to favor one side of the ball. The Jazz' offensive proficiency is something we should expect though. After all, Utah has historically been one of the better offensive teams in the league. (Thank U Based Dick Motta offensive playbook)
The 1989-2014 Utah Jazz
This period of time has the team gelling after the drafts of Stockton and Malone, and rising as a West power; to the Finals years; the post-Finals years; the rebuild with Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, and Mehmet Okur; the Deron Williams ascension; the Jazz-pocalypse era; and today. Discounting this season the team won, on average, 60.1% of the games they played in. Utah was Top 10 in Offensive Rating 19 out of 25 years, and Top 10 in Defensive Rating 10 times to boot. And in reality, age was not the primary factor that predicted or prevented success.
You can build a good old team or a crappy old team. You can build a crappy young team, and, duh, a good young team as well. I think the real factor here is coaching, and the quality of the players you have on the team -- and who is playing. Additionally, the age difference between the full roster and just the "Ten Deep" roster is another variable if we want to fully look at age. In the olden days the Jazz may have had younger guys on the team, but Jacque Vaughn would sit and sit and sit, and never get to crack the rotation of an NBA Championship contender. During another era of Jazz basketball you'd have very young players like Deron Williams, Ronnie Brewer, and Paul Millsap all be significant contributors. (N.B. The "Ten Deep" roster age is based upon the top ten players that season for total regular season minutes with the team.)
There are three times where the normative rotation was much older than the full roster -- in '94, '95, and '01. Those were the years the Jazz were trying to beat the Houston Rockets, and really didn't have the athleticism (usually a gift of youth) or the three point shooting to get by them. The '01 season the team really doubled down on trying to keep their window of opportunity open, and failed.
Similarly, there are three times where the normative rotation was significantly younger than the full roster -- in '04, '12, and this season, '15. In '04 it was the first year after Stockton and Malone, and Andrei Kirilenko, Raja Bell, Carlos Arroyo and about a million people you even forgot about made it to 42 wins. They were young. They had a 19th ranked offense in the NBA. And they still won 42 games and barely missed the playoffs. In '12 the Jazz had all of the C4 on the roster after just drafting Enes Kanter and Alec Burks that June. All four, particularly Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors who both played over 20+ mpg, were contributors to that team. Of course, the next season the front office would go nuts for vets, and hand the team over to Mo Williams, Randy Foye, and others -- who all would depart within a calendar year.
The most impressive time where the major rotation were so much younger than the actual team, to me, is this season. The team is already the youngest Jazz team in 25+ seasons. The Ten Deep rotation is even younger, tipping the scales at 23.10 years old. Yes, they're not a Top 10 team in offense or defense. And they're not going to win 40+ games like the '04 team did. But they are special in their own way.
The 2014-2015 Utah Jazz, again
Each season the NBA ebbs and flows with being defensively challenged, or offensively superior, and so forth. The rules change. The playbooks change. The refs change what they call and don't call. When competing against the rest of the NBA the Jazz average the 8.6th best offense between 1989-1990 and 2013-2014. The defense isn't as amazing, but is still on average ranked 13.7th best. Some years giving up 107 points per 100 possession ranks you 13th in the NBA on defense, other years that slots you in the 20s somewhere in overall NBA Rank.
Removing NBA Rank data, if you just compare the 2014-2015 Data against the previous 25 seasons you see something to be less upset about than a team that ranks only in being "young", and nothing else. This season the Jazz have an offensive rating of 106.0. In a vacuum that means little, so what if they score 106 points in 100 tries? The Jazz average from 1989-2014 is 108.6. So the team is off by 2.6 points per 100 offensive attempts. Yeah, 2.6 points off of a data set where over half of it was bumped up by John Stockton and Karl Malone running things. (The NBA's All-Time leader in assists, and 2nd All-Time leader in points, in case you forgot.) The vast majority of this time was under the guidance of Jerry Sloan, a Hall of Fame coach. Yes, there was some Tyrone Corbin pollution of the data here, but in the big picture not that much.
All that said, 106.0 ORTG isn't horrible, back in 1998-1999 (the lockout season, a season after the Jazz went to the NBA Finals two years in a row) the Stockon/Hornacek/Malone/Sloan Jazz had an ORTG of 105.8. So far this season this team is, in an apples to apples way, scoring more efficiently. Of the 26 years detailed, this 2014-2015 Quin Snyder lead team has the 19th best ORTG. Yes, 19 out of 26 isn't great. But on a team without a John Stockton, Karl Malone, Deron Williams, Al Jefferson -- it's not bad at all. Those late John and Karl teams were at their Basketball IQ peak. This team doesn't even yet know when to take an open jumper or when to not pass on a fast break yet. And the rotation regulars have an average age of 23.10 years on this planet.
The offense isn't horrible. The defense is, though. Sure, the 2014-2015 Jazz give up 3.1 more points per 100 possessions than the average team from the previous 25 years. Sure, their 108.7 DRTG is one of the highest in the data set (4th highest). Sure, their Net RTG is -2.7, when the normal average is +3.1. (So effectively a 6.0 swing in the wrong direction). But the team is getting better on defense. You almost have to when going from John Lucas III, Gordon Hayward, Richard Jefferson, Marvin Williams, and Derrick Favors to Dante Exum, Joe Ingles, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert. (Mind you, the defensive improvement is more than just a product of playing the right players, though.) Against the rest of Jazz recent (25+ season) history, the defense by this metric is a mess. But hey, at least it's better than the defenses the 2004-2005, 2010-2011, and 2013-2014 teams had.
Being better on defense than 2 of the 5 last years rosters is a positive thing. Being "about as good" as the best Alfense years isn't bad either. These two points look up when you see that this team has so much rebuilding left to do.
Being young doesn't mean you have to be bad, the 2006 to 2010 Jazz proved that. By the end of this season the 2014-2015 Jazz team will be evidence of that as well. Not in win/loss record, but surely be on court performance. And in year one in this wound-back development clock, that's not a bad thing at all.