Last week I claimed that a) this Utah Jazz team is having a pretty good season (thanks mostly to the work of Dennis Lindsey), and b) that while this team currently has no stars (as officially recognized as such) it is one of the deepest teams in franchise history. Yes, Rudy Gobert is someone who could very well end up as the Defensive Player of the year and on one of the three All-NBA Teams at seasons end. And yes, Gordon Hayward is having the type of season (numerically) that’s similar to a number of the guys voted in as All-Stars this year (and if apples and apples can be compared, then he should be an All-Star too). So the timing of this article means a lot as I probably can’t say this next month.
But for the time being, this non-star team is having the 14th best season in franchise history. And out of the top 20 teams (by regular season win%), it appears as though a) this team is having a pretty good season, but b) perhaps they aren’t the deepest team ever. A main fulcrum of my argument was that most of the best Jazz teams ever were build around two Hall of Famers (John Stockton and Karl Malone), and coached by one of the greats (either Jerry Sloan or Frank Layden). This team doesn’t have that, but it does have quality players from 1-15.
And really, 15 of the 20 top Jazz teams (again, by regular season win%) are John and Karl teams. Five are not. Four of those five teams are Deron Williams / Carlos Boozer / Mehmet Okur / Andrei Kirilenko teams. All four of those guys were NBA All-Stars at least once, and I guess you can argue that those teams had more depth at the top (mainly because three of those four teams also had future All-Stars on it: Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver).
That doesn’t mean 2016-2017 doesn’t have talent. It just has currently unrecognized talent.
I looked at every Jazz season, found the best ones, and then went over their regular season rosters. Due to injuries things do get funked up a little (get funky everyone, this is a blog about a team with a musical style as it’s name), but when sorted by total minutes played and starting values, you get some pretty fun rosters. I decided to point out the ‘recognized’ players for each 15 man roster.
Gold players are Hall of Famers. Silver players have been an NBA All-Star at least once in their careers, and it could be for an All-Star game before they joined the Jazz (like Jeff Hornacek and Tom Chambers) or after they left the team (like Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver). Bronze level players have some other NBA level recognition -- mostly things like being on one of the two All-Rookie teams. The only exception here is Darrell Griffith who was also Rookie of the Year. Current Jazzmen are indicated by the team colors this year. And if a player was traded during the season their text is indicated with red.
The Top 5:
John and Karl and Jeff. Bench point guard was mostly held down well by Howard Eisley. The wing group outside of Horny was . . . interesting: Bryon Russell Adam Keefe, Shandon Anderson, Quincy Lewis . . . Chris Morris? I am going to argue that Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood, Joe Johnson, Joe Ingles, and Alec Burks are better than that group. And there’s no comparison here between Rudy Gobert and Jeff Withey against Greg Ostertag and Greg Foster. Raul Neto is better than Brooks Thompson with Jacque Vaughn standing on his shoulders.
But when you have a John and Karl and Jeff you don’t really need much else to be great. You pretty much can fill out a roster with role players and win playoff games.
Top 6 to 10:
More Stockton and Malone here, which isn’t a surprise. They were Hall of Famers for a reason. Mark Eaton and Mehmet Okur are — currently — the top two centers in franchise history. They are a huge step up from Greg Ostertag and Felton Spencer. When all is said and done, maybe Rudy Gobert (recency bias aside) will be better than those two overall. But I don’t see Rudy blocking 4.5 shots a game or shooting 40% from three in clutch situations.
The John and Karl teams were really shallow in this grouping though. Howard Eisley and Antoine Carr / Mike Brown are solid. Thurl Bailey should have his number retired by the Jazz. But those teams had maybe 3-4 good bench guys on any given night. The Jazz team this season has had to lean on their bench due to injuries — and I think the Jazz’s 6-15 guys would win a tournament against all the other teams . . . save for maybe those D-Will era Jazz teams.
Top 11 to 15:
Here we finally see our current team, with a better record than two of the great D-Will teams (one team shown here, one in the next group). And wow, this team only has seven time All-Star, All-NBA Most Clutch guy team member Joe Johnson . . . and two guys who made All-Rookie Teams (Derrick Favors and Boris Diaw).
When you compare line by line it’s clear that D-Will and Stockton are better than George Hill. But aside from The Mailman, I think you could make an argument that the 2016-2017 Jazz guys are holding their own.
- Rodney Hood, if having one of his “he can’t miss” nights, would torch Derek Fisher and everyone else.
- Gordon Hayward is competitive enough to go at Andrei Kirilenko and Bryon Russell for sure.
- Rudy Gobert would make Olden Polynice and Felton Spencer look dumb all game long.
- Shelvin Mack is at about the same level as Ronnie Price / Jay Humphries / Derek Fisher.
- Joe Ingles or Kyle Korver? Ingles all the way (two way player).
- David Benoit / C.J. Miles / Donyell Marshall / Matt Harpring or Joe Johnson? Yeah. This is a fun discussion, but Iso-Joe is a closer.
- Trey Lyles isn’t anywhere as near as Paul Millsap, Danny Manning, or Tom Chambers. So I guess power forward is a problem, unless we put Boris Diaw here.
- And that means putting Jeff Withey against Kyrylo Fesenko, Greg Ostertag, Luther Wright, and Jarron Collins.
The Deep bench of this team has no answer. We love Sundiata Gaines for that one shot; DeShawn Stevenson for, uh, something; but really . . . Raul Neto / Dante Exum / Alec Burks are too powerful.
Top 16 to 20:
These are the last five in the Top 20. That doesn’t mean they are bad, being 18th best is better than being the 42nd best Jazz team. (This club has been around for over four decades, remember.) Four of the five are John and Karl teams, and one of them is a D-Will era club. But it’s over-the-hill John and Karl or pre-great John and Karl. And it’s a D-Will team that had a lot of injuries. That kind of explains these five teams and their win%.
The D-Will team has a good bench and very solid depth. The John and Karl teams have 4 or 5 good players on their team on average who aren’t forgettable. (Another comment I have is that the Jazz wasted 10 years of John and Karl before building around them.) But after looking at all 20 teams it’s clear that a) the 2016-2017 team doesn’t have a lot of recognized talent, but b) is still winning a lot.
Does that mean the depth is real, even if it’s not filled with All-Stars? Yes. Does it mean that it’s the deepest Jazz team ever? Before I did the research that’s what I thought. Right now I can’t say that is true.
I would like to see this team play the D-Will era team, though. That would be fun.