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Utah Jazz and the Socialism of passing in Quin Snyder's offense

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The most boring thing you will read all week

"Is that a boomerang in your pocket or are you . . . "
"Is that a boomerang in your pocket or are you . . . "
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans / Utah Jazz have had a history of great ball dominant guards, Pistol Pete Maravich, Rickey Green, John Stockton, and Deron Williams. All of them were All-Stars and put up some really strong assists numbers. But the playbooks those guys play with, and the NBA system they played in, are very obsolete today. This era has bigmen who can cross over and hit step back three pointers. Wings are the ball handlers now, and more and more we see a shift from polar play (where all the play making is polarized to certain players) to a more "everyone contributes" style. The Utah Jazz at their best had a number of good teammates, but still relied upon clearing one side of the court for a two-man game. Quin Snyder's offense is much more advanced, and gives many players an opportunity to touch the ball on offense, and make a play on offense.

Nylon Calculus' Seth Partnow busted out excel and charted every team in the NBA's "playmaking matrix". You need to see all of his work over here immediately! What that means is that he identifies which players have scored, and who assisted to them, in the case of an assist. And the data set is from the beginning of the season till January 14th, 2016. For example, here is his data for the Utah Jazz.

Click on it to go to the full article by Seth.

I had to take a deep look into it. And I probably went a little too far into.

Ordinal Ranks:

One of the dumb things I did was try to find out who was the "most important passer" out of all of their teammates. Now, this doesn't mean the guy who has the best passing stats, but the guy who sets up his teammates the most. So I found out which five players assisted each scorer, and added it all up. A player got a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 for being the first, second, third, fourth, or fifth most assisting teammate for each scorer. And then I added it all up. Because Dante Exum isn't playing this season, and because the data Seth used was from being J.J. O'Brien was on the roster, the maximum value you can get is 13. That's the first value we look at. The second is a weighted value where you get 5 points for being the #1 assister for a teammate, 4 points for being #2, 3 points for being #3, and so on. I added those numbers up and got a gold medal winner, a silver medal winner, and a tie for the bronze medal in being a good teammate.

2015 2016 Utah Jazz Assists Ordinal Ranks

Gordon Hayward was the overall winner here, and he's the main man on offense. He plays the most minutes. He scores the most points. He takes the most shots. And according to the data, he's the teammate who makes things for the other four guys on the court the most. He was among the Top 5 assisters for 10 of the 13 teammates on the roster, and was first with 46 weighted points overall.

In second place we had Trey Burke, who came off the bench and was a Top 5 assister for 12 of the 13 other guys he has played with so far this season. His 44 points were just two points off of Hayward's 44.

In third we had a tie between Raul Neto and Rodney Hood. Raul was in the Top 5 of more teammates, but Hood had more 1st place votes. I decided to give both the bronze medal for their 29 points. We also had a tie at 18 points for Alec Burks and Joe Ingles in 5th place, but no medals for them.

This is an interesting way to look at the data Seth presented, but really meaningless unless you watched a lot of Olympic figure skating as a kid like I did. (Hey, petite girls in short dresses jumping around and doing flips and stuff can be fun.)

Passing Matrix Expanded

This is the specific data originally presented by Seth, but I added on how many FGM they have overall and assisted, and then also looked at how many assists received to assists given they dish out. We get to see how many of a player's FGM are from someone else setting them up; and we also get to see how generous they are at 'giving it back'. (I love you, Jobin.)

2015 2016 Utah Jazz Assists Expanded Matrix

What pops out at you? For me it was that the only bigman on the team with an assisted FGM percentage less than 60% is Derrick Favors. Everyone else is majorly getting set up on the regular. Of the rest of the players Trey Burke, Rodney Hood, Alec Burks, and Gordon Hayward are scoring on their own more than not. Alec Burks leads the team in unassisted FGM%, which is the eyeball test incarnate. And his talent is sorely missed when the defense isn't moved around and our team stagnates on offense. At least he can make something out of nothing.

As for the Giving to Received assists ratio, yeah, Elijah Millsap was at a 3:1 ratio. That's crazy good. Raul Neto was at 2:1. Everyone else had nominal values -- except for maybe Gordon Hayward who was high quantity in both setting up other guys, and finishing plays other people had set up (126 : 114). Both Rudy Gobert and Trevor Booker were generous passers as bigmen, taking more than they gave, but giving a lot back as great teammates.

What jukes the system here is that you can be someone who doesn't score a lot from people assisting to you, while being on the positive assist karma scale yourself -- like Alec Burks. He hasn't been regarded as a high assists guy ever, but these two factors make it look like he's more of a team player than some would label him as. Of course, if he made more open, spot up jumpers (and this, scored more FGM from assists) his ratio of assists given to assists received would level off a bit. As always with numbers, it's one thing to find them out, but it's entirely another thing to get two people to agree on what story they tell.

Just plain Assists:

The first thing we looked at was Seth's assisting matrix. The second thing we looked at was the ordinal ranks for teammate assists. The third thing we looked at was assisted field goals and ratio -- this last one was really more about scoring or finishing. This fourth thing is just plain assists. It's the easiest thing to look at, and unlike the rest of the data, it is accurate to January 18th, and not January 14th. And what we see here is a return to more traditional assisting economies.

2015 2016 Utah Jazz Assists Expanded

The point guards, while not hogging the ball like the ball handlers in Jazz history before them, really are the guys who do the most dime-ing with their time out there on the court. Gordon Hayward leads the team in actual assists per game (3.28 apg), but there are five guys dishing out between 2.00 to 3.28 apg. The distribution belies the playbook. Even Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are at 1.54 and 1.55 apg respectively. These are not big numbers by themselves -- not in a season where Blake Griffin is dishing out 5.0 apg as a PF. But as a proportion of the pace of place and total assists we see that our bigmen are contributing, lost every player on the court.

We're no longer dominated by John Stockton getting 15 apg anymore while everyone else had to just watch. It's a harder game to defend or game play against. And it's a harder playbook to pick up for our young guys. And while the results aren't blowing anyone away, the deeper you look into this developing offense in Utah the more purposeful these passes appear. There are a lot of nonsense passes still, but we're also seeing sensible passes as well, passes that lead to scores.

Moving outside of pace at the Per 36 minutes values and Per 100 possessions values we see a number of guys putting up more objectively larger assist numbers. Our guys *can* dime. And our offense does produce numbers. They just haven't turned the dial up all the way.

But the big take has to be socialism of our offense. Everyone shoots. Everyone passes. Everyone sets screens. And our starting center has an AST% that's basically double Mark Eaton's. It's five on five basketball in Utah now. And Quin Snyder has an offense that depends on everyone being a good teammate.

If you circle back to Seth's original post at NyCalc, you can see what this distribution looks like for other teams. The Clippers have Chris Paul dominating.The Raptors have Kyle Lowry dominating. The Kings have Rajon Rondo dominating, and so on. In Utah, Gordon Hayward is #1 for the Jazz, and visibly looks so, but everyone pitches in.

It's a harder offense to understand, but the players -- and bloggers alike -- are still trying to learn it. In year two of Synder's Xs and Os I am liking what I see. Even if the team is still playing so bloody slowly that you can do your taxes during Jazz games.

Passing is fun. Passing is contagious. And in Utah, passing will always be the way to play -- even if the purpose of each pass no longer resembles the stimulus/response we all understood from the FLEX offense we no longer see on TV. And really, this meta analysis of passing was so boring for even me. I can't imagine any of you have read this far down.