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Jazz bigs Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors herald the return of Swat Lake City

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Utah is blocking a lot of shots this year, but let's look at the last decade to see how amazing a job they are doing this season!

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

When I first saw Rudy Gobert at the NBA Draft combine years ago I felt like he could be a serious shot blocker. With how he ran and his skinny arms were he could have also been the next Keith Closs as well. Thankfully for the Utah Jazz, and the rest of the world, he did not. He is a dominant shot blocking force. And paired up with Derrick Favors and the underused Jeremy Evans the Jazz have a terminal point on defense. If you try to go hard in the paint, it is likely that you will fall on your butts hard after your shot gets blocked.

Utah has been a shot blocking team before, it's hard not to when you have a history of guys like Mark Eaton, and Greg Ostertag planted in the paint while guys like Thurl Bailey and Andrei Kirilenko play help defense. During those log-jam-y times of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Favors, Enes Kanter, Evans, and others the team blocked so many shots that it became apparent that when road teams came to play, they were playing in Swat Lake City. (As opposed to the Swat district of Pakistan, also a populated area in a valley)

More than just the bigmen, I think we've all been impressed with the overall athleticism, length, and defensive instincts of this team. As someone who pours over every box score nights where Dante Exum and Trey Burke also get blocks stick out in my mind. Everyone is blocking shots from wings like Gordon Hayward and Elijah Millsap, to the point guards, and especially the bigs.

What this normal, or out of character? I had to find out. And it involved a lot of math that I am going to spare you from.

Blocks per 48 minutes from 2004-2005 till 2014-2015:

This took a lot of time, adding up every block and every minute played by every Jazz player for each roster for over a decade. I grouped the data by point guards, wings (shooting guards and small forwards), and bigmen (power forwards and centers). Just for fun I also included the actual team's blocks per game value as a simple "check" to see how well the analytic data fits reality.

Swat Lake City - Table 1

Essentially, Swat Lake City has returned. But returned in a different way than we've had before during those "Andrei Kirilenko is nuts" days, or the "Log Jam" days.

  • The blocks are being led by our bigs, who are blocking shots at a higher rate than in the previous ten seasons
  • While we no longer have the shot blocking ability of defensive point guards like Earl Watson and Jamaal Tinsley (compared to most PGs they somehow managed to get a lot of blocks for the minutes they actually played), our squad is getting a lot more PG blocks this year than the actual 11 season average. (0.36 > 0.34)
  • In fact, the Swat Lake City era seemed to be because of the bigs by the eyeball test, but it really was helped by the point guards stepping up as well.
  • Andrei Kirilenko was a beast, because these are the average number of blocks per 48 minutes for ALL of the player positions put together. The wing players huge numbers in the past were a product of Andrei's dominance, despite his numbers being heavily diluted by having to share the wing spot with players like Matt Harpring, Gordan Giricek, Andre Owens, and others.
  • AK-47 was so dominant he screws up the data for wing players, and while we have a bunch of wings who get some blocks (G-Time, The Shurbbery, Rodney Hood), it's no where near what the wings of the past (AK) used to do.
  • The 2014-15 bigmen are so dominant that they make up for it, in the Blocks per 48 approx total. This team is 4th highest in approx Blocks/48. It's also 3rd highest in actual blocks per game. (If we even care about such a silly thing . . . )
  • For the record, the correlation between my stat (which is the absolutely too much math to get the most accurate blocks per 48 minute value) and the team's actual on court production (BPG) is 0.964429. Some of the dissonance there involves the fact that not every game is 48 minutes long, there are things called overtime that our previously, poorly defending Jazz teams had to be subjected to somewhat regularly.

So our wings need to step it up? Or are our bigs just awesome that it doesn't matter?

Both, maybe? If you look at all the players who played for the team during these 10.7561 seasons you see some strange stuff. Here's just the Top 20 for each player category:

Point Guards G BLK/48 Wingmen G BLK/48 Bigmen G BLK/48
1 Dee Brown 49 0.75 1 Andrei Kirilenko 441 2.91 1 Rudy Gobert 107 4.62
2 Earl Watson 178 0.66 2 Mike Harris 20 1.49 2 Greg Ostertag 60 3.93
3 Jamaal Tinsley 111 0.57 3 Kyle Weaver 5 1.39 3 Derrick Favors 295 2.68
4 Milt Palacio 71 0.49 4 Brandon Rush 38 1.03 4 Marcus Cousin 4 2.67
5 Ronnie Price 232 0.44 5 Kirk Snyder 68 1.01 5 Jeremy Evans 205 2.38
6 Randy Livingston 17 0.42 6 Marvin Williams 139 0.97 6 Kyrylo Fesenko 132 2.33
7 Keith McLeod 119 0.39 7 DeMarre Carroll 86 0.83 7 Kosta Koufos 84 2.28
8 Dante Exum 62 0.37 8 Kyle Korver 180 0.80 8 Al Jefferson 221 2.17
9 Devin Harris 80 0.32 9 Elijah Millsap 28 0.79 9 Robert Whaley 23 1.81
10 Deron Williams 439 0.31 10 Gordon Hayward 349 0.75 10 Curtis Borchardt 67 1.79
11 Howard Eisley 74 0.30 11 Rodney Hood 33 0.72 11 Paul Millsap 540 1.68
12 Mo Williams 46 0.30 12 C.J. Miles 389 0.65 12 Mehmet Okur 474 1.11
13 Raul Lopez 31 0.28 13 Morris Almond 34 0.65 13 Francisco Elson 62 1.10
14 Eric Maynor 26 0.26 14 Ian Clark 45 0.60 14 Kris Humphries 129 1.09
15 Jason Hart 57 0.24 15 Randy Foye 82 0.58 15 Trevor Booker 60 1.03
16 Trey Burke 131 0.23 16 Ronnie Brewer 266 0.48 16 Enes Kanter 265 1.00
17 Diante Garrett 71 0.23 17 Josh Howard 43 0.48 17 Malcolm Thomas 7 1.00
18 Brevin Knight 74 0.20 18 Steve Novak 22 0.44 18 Ben Handlogten 21 0.81
19 Carlos Arroyo 30 0.19 19 Devin Brown 81 0.39 19 Aleksandar Radojevic 12 0.75
20 Derek Fisher 82 0.13 20 Matt Harpring 365 0.36 20 Carlos Boozer 354 0.55

Yeah. The PGs you may care about who didn't make the Top 20 cut are John Lucas III, Sundiata Gaines, Blake Ahearn, Bryce Cotton, and Toure' Murry. The Wings who didn't were Wesley Matthews, Alec Burks, Joe Ingles, Richard Jefferson, Gordan Giricek, Raja Bell, and some players we can really just forget about. For the Bigs who didn't make the Top 20 you are left with Jarron Collins, Rafael Araujo, Andris Biedrins, and a whole bunch of Murphies. If you eliminate the players who did not play 50 games for the team you reduce the data to this:

Point Guards G BLK/48 Wingmen G BLK/48 Bigmen G BLK/48
1 Earl Watson 178 0.66 1 Andrei Kirilenko 441 2.91 1 Rudy Gobert 107 4.62
2 Jamaal Tinsley 111 0.57 2 Kirk Snyder 68 1.01 2 Greg Ostertag 60 3.93
3 Milt Palacio 71 0.49 3 Marvin Williams 139 0.97 3 Derrick Favors 295 2.68
4 Ronnie Price 232 0.44 4 DeMarre Carroll 86 0.83 4 Jeremy Evans 205 2.38
5 Keith McLeod 119 0.39 5 Kyle Korver 180 0.80 5 Kyrylo Fesenko 132 2.33
6 Dante Exum 62 0.37 6 Gordon Hayward 349 0.75 6 Kosta Koufos 84 2.28
7 Devin Harris 80 0.32 7 C.J. Miles 389 0.65 7 Al Jefferson 221 2.17
8 Deron Williams 439 0.31 8 Randy Foye 82 0.58 8 Curtis Borchardt 67 1.79
9 Howard Eisley 74 0.30 9 Ronnie Brewer 266 0.48 9 Paul Millsap 540 1.68
10 Jason Hart 57 0.24 10 Devin Brown 81 0.39 10 Mehmet Okur 474 1.11
11 Trey Burke 131 0.23 11 Matt Harpring 365 0.36 11 Francisco Elson 62 1.10
12 Diante Garrett 71 0.23 12 Wesley Matthews 82 0.36 12 Kris Humphries 129 1.09
13 Brevin Knight 74 0.20 13 Alec Burks 228 0.34 13 Trevor Booker 60 1.03
14 Derek Fisher 82 0.13 14 Joe Ingles 59 0.32 14 Enes Kanter 265 1.00
15 15 Richard Jefferson 82 0.30 15 Carlos Boozer 354 0.55
16 16 Gordan Giricek 201 0.25 16 Jarron Collins 307 0.51
17 17 Raja Bell 165 0.25 17

Mind you, these are cumulative career numbers for JUST the last decade of Jazz basketball (+ this season). So it's not completely indicative of their abilities over their entire careers; and similarly, it's not indicative of how a player may be performing THIS season.

Just the 2014-2015 Jazz:

Point Guards: Trey is clocking in at 0.36 Blocks/48, and Dante is at 0.37 -- both above average for the control group

Wings: Gordon is *only* at 0.51, but he plays a lot of minutes; Eli is at 0.79, Hood at 0.72, and even Ian Clark is at 0.65. Sure, it's not like Andrei getting a billion, but it's positive progress on defense.

Bigs: It's just unfair to have all of this talent. Trevor is at 1.03 blocks per 48 minutes. He's never going to play that long in a game, but we do see that it's about 2/3rds of what the cumulative bigman gets. Derrick Favors is at 2.51 B/48, while Jeremy is at 4.03 B/48, and Rudy at a whopping 4.65 B/48. Evans is only playing 5.46 MPG this year, but when he's in there he is efficient as all get out. Favors is *only* +65.1% better than average this year, compared to control bigs. But that's usually great enough to be a reliable rim protector.

Rudy just makes it unfair. He blocks 3x as many shots per 48 than all of the Jazz bigmen (including himself) combined over the last decade of Jazz basketball.

I would include a chart or graph here, but we all know that three is three times as big as one.

This is, really, the return of Swat Lake City.