The Utah Jazz are 28-16 so far this season after 44 games. That’s a .636 winning percentage. If the season ended today that success rate would place the 2016-2017 Jazz as the 14th best ever Jazz team, in their over four decades of basketball. Those teams, all coached by Hall of Fame farmer Jerry Sloan, were NBA Playoff teams (1st round three times, 2nd round five times, Conf. Finals three times, NBA Finals two times). Another common thread between those teams happened to be John Stockton and Karl Malone (two Hall of Fame Basketball Gods).
This year the Utah Jazz are not coached by a Hall of Famer (though we do very much love Quin Snyder here when he’s not leaning on guys like Trevor Booker or Shelvin Mack), and it remains to be seen if anyone on the roster will even make an All-Star team, let alone the Hall of Fame. As an aside, I do think Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert are both deserving of the honor. But despite not being heavy on legends, this team is up there with the best Jazz teams ever.
Dennis Lindsey is a Wizard:
Why? Well, improved play from the existing players and solid Xs and Os help. But what really has put Utah from a lotto team to a team fighting for home court has been the work of General Manager Dennis Lindsey. Essentially the Jazz have depth. This Jazz team is actually deeper than probably every other Jazz team ever. This team is so deep that fans have fights about who should be the 3rd string point guard. That’s never happened before.
While all of Lindsey’s work, some hits (Rodney Hood, Rudy Gobert) and some misses (Trey Burke), has led up to the Jazz being good — I really think his work in the 2016 off-season is what made this team make the jump to hyperspace. The Jazz are great. Now. Today. Not two years from now. But at this exact moment Utah strikes terror into all the teams they face . . . when healthy.
Dennis Lindsey is a Wizard who didn’t take a long summer vacation:
Trading for Boris Diaw, an NBA Champion who is the master on the court of the intangibles, and off of it in the locker room was solid. Signing seven time NBA All-Star gunslinger Joe Johnson was solid. Trading for George Hill to steady the point guard spot and be a hand-in-glove fit for what this team needs was also solid. In most of the Jazz off-seasons I’ve watched doing ONE of those moves, and sitting on the draft picks, would be enough - and the front office would call it a summer and head out to the golf course. (Source: It took the Utah Jazz 10 seasons of John and Karl before they started to add players to help them get out of the first/second round of the Playoffs.)
Lindsey did all three. And instead of just sitting on his remaining picks he continued to make moves to help position this team for future growth.
Three new rotation players, the return of two in-house injured rotation guys (Dante Exum and Alec Burks), and a strong returning core made this a team lots of people started to #TakeNote of in the off-season. But injuries slowed the team down. Some people got off the bandwagon. (Not Jazz fans, but national writers.)
But the team Lindsey put together is there, and that team is a killer.
The Injured Jazz:
Utah is 28-16 right now. That’s good enough to be 1.0 games behind the 4th seed, and 3.0 games behind the 3rd seed. It’s January, there’s a lot of time for Utah to get better. And I think they will. Why? You just have to look at the injury splits.
And the injury splits are significant because so far this season the team has had starters miss 53 games (in a 44 game season so far), and Top 10 rotation players miss 103 games (again, in a 44 game season). That’s an average of not having 2.34 rotation guys a night, missing one and one third starters each time the team lines up for tip-off.
But even with all of that the team is still on the cusp of claiming home court.
The slow start this season was truly a product of injuries. Check it: three or more rotation players were out of 12 of the Jazz’ first 15 games; and out of 18 of their first 25. All in all there have been 22 games where the Jazz have been missing three or more important pieces (usually two starters and a bench guy). In those 22 games the Jazz are 10-12. Utah has scored 2,159 points and given up 2,149 — averages of 98.14 +/- 10.09 points per game for the good guys, and 97.68 +/- 10.67 points against.
There was a 30 point loss on the road to the Golden State Warriors, a loss in the first game of the season at the Portland Trail Blazers, that “we gonna get you back” game by the San Antonio Spurs, and a bad road trip. But all in all, Utah still had 10 wins when they were missing guys. And some of these wins were legit (76ers by 25, Kings by 20, Mavericks by 16, Spurs by 15, Magic by 13, Heat by 10, and so on).
A team that has a 0.450 winning percentage isn’t horrible. It’s not great, and it would be a lotto team, but there are nine other Jazz teams that had a worse winning percentage. In a lot of cases the 0.450 winning percentage 2016-2017 Jazz team to start this season was the team they were all to happy to dismiss.
The “Real” Jazz?
The other side of the coin is what are the Jazz doing in games where they are NOT missing 3+ rotation players? Well, there have been 22 games this season where Utah was missing ONLY two or fewer players. In these 22 games the Jazz are 18-4. Those four losses are totally easy to excuse away.
- Game 3: #UTAatLAC - No Gordon Hayward or Alec Burks, against the Los Angeles Clippers who have three star players
- Game 36: #UTAatBOS - No George Hill and no Dante Exum means Isaiah Thomas can score a lot in the fourth
- Game 37: #UTAatTOR - Same road trip, missing George Hill, Kyle Lowry is a beast in the fourth here as well
- Game 39: #UTAatMEM - The last game of that road trip, the second night of a back to back, third game in four nights, and fifth game in seven. Schedule loss, even if healthy
The grand total is 2,218 points for and 2,041 points against. That’s 100.82 ppg +/- 11.89 for the Jazz, and 92.77 ppg +/- 12.15 for the bad guys. Aside from those games I made an excuse for, the Jazz have been kicking so much butt, it’s brought a smile to my dark, dark heart. Blowouts of 33 points (Pistons), 27 (Hawks), 25 (Nuggets), 20 (Thunder), 19 (Rockets), and 17 (76ers) were fun to watch. But so too were legit games where the team beat the Cavaliers, Memphis, and most recently the weak of will and spirit Mavericks.
This healthy team that’s beating good to great teams is the one we envisioned. And right now it’s the team we fans have. The injured depleted team doggy paddling to keep their head above water is an illusion. (An illusion that still went 10-12, and has a positive +/-, mind you.)
The differences in average game margin when healthy or injured really tells the tale. (Season average is +4.25 ppg)
- Healthy (22 games): 18-4 (0.818 win%) 100.82 - 92.77 = +8.05 points per game
- Hurt (22 games): 10-12 (0.450 win%) 98.14 - 97.68 = +0.45 points per game
A 0.818 winning percentage would be best in franchise history. I don’t expect Utah to keep that up for the rest of the year, but I do expect that this team is going to finish this season with a winning percentage above 0.600.
Utah Jazz fans should expect a 50 win season with how the team is playing overall. We did before the season started, and even with the horrible injury luck to start the year, it looks more and more like this is going to be the Jazz reality as well.
Lindsey and his staff, Snyder and his staff, all the behind the scenes trainers and film study guys . . . they’ve all made this a winning program. The players are winning the games now. Lindsey laid the framework for that to happen. Utah’s never been this deep. And Utah’s never won this well without John and Karl and Jerry.
No matter what happens in the playoffs, or free agency, Lindsey has put together a Jazz team that’s going to make franchise history this year.