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Utah Jazz close game finishing inability or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and love Iso-Joe

Looking at every game the Jazz played from 1991 to 2016, and finding out where Joe helps the team the most.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Your eyes do not deceive you intrepid Utah Jazz fans. The Jazz have lost a lot of close games over the last year. In fact, the last two years have been quite bad. I know because I looked at the last 25 YEARS of Jazz basketball (fun, some of the readers of this site aren't 25 years old), from the 1991-92 season to the 2015-16 season, and tabulated every regular season and NBA Playoffs game the team played in. And I divided it all up by the final margin of the game: 21+ point Jazz win, 16-20 point win, 11-15 point win, 6-10 point win, 1-5 point win, and the conjugate Jazz losses of the same categories. All in all there were 2,185 total Utah Jazz games in this 25 year data set. During that time the Jazz went 1,258 - 927, which is a 57.57 winning %. That doesn't seem great in aggregate. But it's better than the Jazz performance in close games. Close games are games where the final score is between +/- 5 points. In that case there were 570 close games during this span -- or about 26.09% of the games were down to the wire. In close games the Jazz went 300 - 270, for a 52.63 winning %. Rounding up and down, the Jazz usually win about 60% of all of their games, but only 50% of their close ones.

Not shabby, not epic.

But these values are far ahead of what we saw in 2014-15 and 2015-16. And really, that's where NBA Free Agent addition of Joe Johnson really should help out. Yes, yes, I know that Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood have made some shots, but they clearly haven't made enough of them to avoid having a crappy record in close games.

Anyway . . . the data.

Full distribution of all Utah Jazz games (1991-2016):

1991 2016 Utah Jazz Final Score Margin - All Games

So, the Jazz have a 2:1 ratio in blowouts (greater than 20 points final margin), which is great. But better is that they get it done in close games (final margin of 5 or less), or games approaching double digits (final margin of 10 or less), 300 to 270, and 648 to 544. Overall the distribution is in favor of winning, which is what matters in the bottom line. But what do the last two seasons look like, in a vacuum?

1991 2016 Utah Jazz Final Score Margin - 201415 210516

Here we see that the distribution is going back the other way, leaning towards losing more close games than not. In fact if you add it up between the 5 margin for the two seasons you get 19 wins and 35 losses. That's a winning % of only 35.19%. If you include the 6 to 10 point margin games as well the Jazz only improve to a 39.39 winning %. It hasn't been good when close. It's been winning one out of every three games. And that makes earning a playoff spot more difficult.

There is some good news though, when you compare the 2015-16 season against the aggregated 2011-2015 seasons you get the following distribution.

1991 2016 Utah Jazz Final Score Margin - 201115 vs 201516

Our current squad, even with all the injures, really blew teams out -- something Jazz fans did not see much of over the last five seasons -- 29.41% of all the greater than 20 point blowouts won by the Jazz happened last season. Woo! Of course, things haven't been so impressive the rest of the way, but hey. I wanted to point out that silver lining.

Why? Because the next chart is going to hurt.

1991 2016 Utah Jazz Final Score Margin - Scatter Graph

Blue = 2014-15 Yellow = 2015-16 (colors inverted here by human error)

These past two seasons have been among the worst when it comes to close games. There have been LOTS of close games (as a percentage of total games played in a season), and the team has been quite bad at winning them. The only other time the team played over 33% of their games as close games was the 1993-94 season -- but that team won 50% of their close games. And the only other time the team was this bad at close games was the 1995-96 season -- but fewer than a quarter of the total games were close. In this case we have a LOT of close games and a poor winning percentage.

That's the eye-ball test lining up with the actual data.

To recap the Jazz are winning 52.63% of their close games over the last 25 seasons. These last two seasons they've been winning about 20% less than that. That's not good at all. Even against their own season winning percentages it's been bad.

  • In 2014-15 the Jazz won 46.34% of their games, but only 33.33% of their close games.
  • In 2015-16 the Jazz won 48.87% of their games, but only 37.04% of their close games.

Not awesome.

Thankfully there's that Joe Johnson guy. He's made a career of being clutch, and while with the Miami Heat he was more of a spot up guy, Johnson has made a career of making shots that matter.

It's not like these are just memories from his glory years. LAST season here's another game winner from last season:

February 8th, 2016 vs. Denver Nuggets

But I guess the big thing is that with a guy like JJ, someone who is just a load to defend, the Jazz may not even be in so many close games anymore -- winning with ease -- something us older Utah Jazz fans remember (something the Tyrone Corbin era Jazz fans didn't see much of). Here's what he did in Game 6 of the second round last NBA Playoffs:

For a team that was 16th in ORTG last season, and over the last two seasons have been franchise history type of bad (over the last 25 years) in close games . . . yeah, I'm ready for Iso-Joe. Even if he's not going to Iso-so much.

Thanks to

1991 2016 Utah Jazz Final Score Margin - Full Table

Without you none of this is possible. And here is the full data set.