Last season the Utah Jazz had one of the worst seasons in franchise history. In fact, the team almost MADE history by being one loss away from tying a 40 year record for worst season ever. They avoided that humiliation by winning a double overtime game, on the road, against the Minnesota Timberwolves on the last night of the season. That was a bad team, with a bad coach, starting some bad players -- and wins were a) not expected, and b) supposed to be secondary to development. This season, with a new head coach, new system, and some new rookies, the team was supposed to be better.
If you look at wins as the only method of seeing improvement then you are missing out on what this Jazz team is accomplishing. The 2014-15 Jazz may not wow you with their wins, but they are playing better. (This is something I have been tracking for a few months now.) Utah is in more games, they are more competitive, and in addition to playing better against the top teams they are doing something that only a handful of Jazz teams have ever done before. They are playing competitive basketball on the road.
For decades the Jazz had a great home court advantage, and The Shums talks about this a bit in his downbeat today. The home court advantage may wax and wane for a variety of reasons, but this Jazz squad is somehow not giving up the ghost early on those nights. It's new. And like the rest of this system, it is a very pleasant surprise.
But to check this out, let's look at the actual wins and losses of the team over the last few seasons. I plotted every game (regular season and playoffs) the team has played, for each season from 2009-2010 till today. Then I grouped them by the final score margin. And then I grouped them by close games (final margin is 5 or less), and by blowouts (16+ or more final margin).
What did I find?
- Over the time period (2009-20 till today) the Jazz have played 456 games.
- 229 have been on the road, and 227 have been at home.
- Overall, the Jazz are in a close game (final margin is 5 or less) 25.88% of the time, which grows to 27.31% at home, and 23.58% on the road
- Overall, the Jazz are in a blowout game (final margin of 16 or more) 23.46% of the time, 20.70% at home, and 26.20% on the road
- Being involved in many (or few) games of a certain type doesn't mean you are actually good in them (not the same thing as win%), but it shows how competitive you are in some cases (more games under 6 points is better than being in a lot of blowouts, if you lose a lot).
- This year's squad is involved in more close games (game%) than the average, and the 2nd most out of the six years worth of data
- This year's squad is involved in a blow out more than average as well, and with the 2nd highest win% of the six years worth of data
- There is no difference in the frequency of close games at home or on the road, this season -- a very novel concept
- This team is better in close ROAD games than close HOME games, which also bucks most trends
- As of right now, this team is tied for fewest road blowout losses, but there are still plenty of road games yet to play
Okay, words are fine, but you know I have tables to show you. So here they are:
So this year the Jazz are involved in a higher proportion of their games as "close games". They are involved in fewer blowouts than last season as well, but are tied for 2nd most in total number of blowout wins (6). The big bugaboo here is that the Jazz are LOSING close games. This is the worst win% for close games in the six seasons. It's also almost 1/3rd of every game, though. The historical data shows about 20 close games a season. This Jazz squad is on track to play 27+ close games. That's nearly an extra 33%. This team is, as stated earlier, a more competitive Jazz team -- if we look at the final margin, and not the Win / Loss record.
The blowouts are also encouraging. This team is only a -1 in the +/- for giving a blowout / getting blown out. Last season the Jazz are -15 on that scale. And for the entire Tyrone Corbin era the team got slapped around quite a lot. Nothing compares to that Jerry Sloan / less pouty Deron Williams season where they were 20-5 on blowouts. Amazing. This team used to be really good.
The losing home games thing is not fun. This is a force multiplier with the losing close games part. So this teams loses at home. And loses in close games. And thus, loses in close, home games. They are involved in a lot of close games at home though. So, well, the fans are at least seeing the team try hard, it not win all the time.
This squad is winning blowouts at home too, despite also being blowout at home. So here we see that the location of the game does not affect the performance, which is good and bad. Historically the Jazz have been dominant at home, but meek on the road. This squad is being trained to be just as good (or just as bad) in any situation. For a franchise that hasn't seen the home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs for a very long time this isn't a bad thing to teach.
The 2009-2010 Jazz went 14-1 in home blowouts. That's great. Hopefully the team will get there someday. But again, if we look at what this Jazz squad can do, in terms of frequency and not final score, you see that this squad is playing in more close games -- AND more blowouts at home. What about road games?
This, if anything, is the major deviation from the norm. This team is involved in road blowouts, but they're giving them out on the road too. The Corbin era was a lot of "the game is lost by halftime" on the road, and a lot of garbage time (where, stunningly, guys like Richard Jefferson or Mo Williams still got a lot of burn). The win% for the road blowout games was very poor. Last season they actually improved from the #MOLO year. (16.67% > 11.11%) This team is winning the blowout on the road battle once every three road blowout games. That's impressive. Not as impressive as the 2009-2010 team, but few teams are that amazing.
But we like to focus on the close games. And while this team isn't winning a lot of close road games, they are improving, and playing in a lot of them. This seems to be the consistent trend -- this 2014-15 Jazz team is playing in more close games than previous teams have. And it's close at home and on the road. The wins will come later. You have to learn how to win. And a big part of learning to win is learning how to play competitive ball. And in this case the Jazz are on track.
I did not spent the time cross referencing these values against the win% of the teams we played, for each game, for each season. But I think it's fair to say, by the eye-ball test, that this Jazz squad is stepping up for the better teams in a more consistent and positive way than other squads. Outside of routinely getting beat, bad, by the Houston Rockets on their court once a season this team seems to avoid folding a lot on the road. The better teams seem to face a harder time when they host the Jazz this year than in recent memory.
This team is playing more competitive basketball. And doing so especially on the road. This team is blowing the home team out on occasion. And while that's nice, what's nicer is that this team doesn't seem to be too affected by playing at home or on the road. Previous Jazz clubs had that safety blanket of playing at home, and were nearly hopeless outside of the Bee Hive state. This squad is being trained to get it done on the road and at home.
The win / loss record may not look great at the end of the season, but the on court product is much better. The team is fighting every night, in every gym. And we couldn't say that about our Jazz the last few seasons. In a year of teaching, learning, development, and dare I say it "discovery" . . . we are discovering that these young Jazzmen are ready to take this show on the road.
And big wins against the Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, and Chicago Bulls; and just miss losses to the Los Angeles Clippers (-6 and -4 final margins), Atlanta Hawks (-3), Oklahoma City Thunder (-2), and Portland Trail Blazers (-1) -- it's clear that the numbers support this eyeball test.
We saw glimpses of this years ago when the C4 (Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, and Alec Burks) took it to the playoff-era Los Angeles Lakers in their gym, and won a huge game. These players aren't afraid. This system is working. And the franchise is climbing. In a few seasons, with good health, these Jazz could get to that rare "hide yo kids, hide yo wife" level of home invasion.
Before a road win was a happy accident. Right now other teams are beginning to see that it's actually by design. And in a season where wins don't matter, playing more competitive basketball is the true indicator of just how much better this team is than last year.