The Utah Jazz (44-29) are heading to the NBA Playoffs for the first time since I was a younger man with more hair on his head and hopes and dreams in my heart. Life may have taken it’s toll on me, but it’s clear that Gordon Hayward (NBA All-Star) and Rudy Gobert (possible Defensive Player of the Year) are only just starting to dominate. You could argue that both deserve to be recognized on the end of season All-NBA team this year. But which third Utah Jazz player should be recognized as the franchise’s current “Big Three”? Last season it was a no-brainer: Derrick Favors. Sadly, Favors has been hurt all year long and hasn’t been his old self all season. You can make a fine argument for off-season point guard addition George Hill. Hill has been a huge upgrade at the position and made the team that much more dangerous. The eye-ball test is biased, but statistics are not. So what do they say? Do they favor Favors, or turn Hill into a mountain? Or does someone else step up to be part of the Jazz’ “Big Three”?
Why, Amar why?
Why are you doing this? I guess because I’m a crazy person. Anyway, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors have played alongside 11 of the 13 total possible Jazzmen this season as a three-man unit. Only rookie Joel Bolomboy and mothballed Jeff Withey didn’t show up in the data. And that makes sense as Withey and Gobert play the same position; furthermore, Bolomboy is Snyderian for “Forgotten 15th Man”.
I did break up the data into four sections: totals; per game; per 36 minutes; per 100 possessions. Many of us have seen these four things before in our online travels. If you don’t understand what something is holler.
The players were grouped by primary position type: ball handlers, wing players, and bigmen. Furthermore, they were sorted by total minutes (high to low). And while you get a breakdown of what each three-man group does in terms of points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks it is likely that the critical component is going to be +/-.
Because what good are stats if you are behind in the one that counts the most: being ahead or behind in the scoreboard?
Part I: 2016 2017 Season Total Statistics
I guess things have to start with Hayward + Gobert + George Hill. This group has put up a lot of stats and played a lot in the short time they’ve been together, only 39 games this season out of 73. That’s not good. They are tops in +/- though, and that’s made even all the more impressive when you see that they’ve done it in only 39 games this season.
However, Joe Ingles has made a lot of good things happen this season. In fact, the Hayward + Gobert + Ingles trio has put up the most points, second most rebounds, most assists, most steals, and is tied for most blocks this year. Being in second place in +/- isn’t anything to overlook either.
The unit of Hayward + Gobert + Rodney Hood is another wing heavy group that is offense-first. And that offense can be hot or cold on any night, but does deserve some mention here. The group of Hayward + Gobert + Joe Johnson is another, they are 3rd in total +/- this season.
Sadly, Hayward + Gobert + Derrick Favors is an afterthought. It’s even worse because the substitution of Favors for Boris Diaw or Trey Lyles hasn’t returned anything to #TakeNote of so far this season.
Usually it’s all about the minutes. More minutes means more stats. And when you are looking at the production of these 13 three-man units it’s the ones with the most minutes that matter. And that’s been the +Hill, +Ingles, +Hood, and +Johnson ones. The +Diaw has been a disappointment, even if it’s over the 600+ minute threshold.
Part II: 2016 2017 Per Game Statistics
This is probably a better application of the time these players have had together. And, it’s no surprise, that the +Hill line-up really cleans up here. They are first in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. Of course, they are also first in MPG, their 23.0 mpg is out in first by a lot. A very distant second would be the +Hood lineup that sits at 18.6 mpg. More minutes means more stats, and it follows that the +Hill group is +5.7 in +/- per game.
That doesn’t mean that the +Hood group isn’t worth taking a closer look at. It’s effective at putting up numbers, even if that doesn’t always mean the team is winning big.
The eye-ball, on-court test tells us that the +Ingles group does get the job done. Sure, they are second in +/- behind the +Hill group, but Ingles’ versatility (the ability to defend PG, SG, SF, and PF) really makes this group valuable.
Obviously, +Hill is the top of the class again, but both season totals and per game averages are really assisted by minutes. This probably tells us which players get the most opportunities, not necessarily which groups do the most with their opportunities. Right? Or at least, that’s the nice way of putting it.
Part III: 2016 2017 Per 36 Minute Statistics
This is where things start to get fun. Want assists? Take a look at + Raul Neto. Which group scores the most? None other than + Alec Burks. Who controls the boards? None other than + Derrick Favors.
Of course, if the critical value here is ‘winning’ then we have to look at +/-, and in that case the Top 5 trios are: +Hill, +Ingles, +Johnson, + Trey Lyles, and +Favors. Didn’t see that, now did ya? The +Lyles formation is frustrating. This group can score, and seems to find a way into getting steals, but for a SF / PF / C group it really doesn’t do it’s job on the glass. The opposite is the case for the +Favors grou. They own the glass, an get assists, and are very tough defensively. They just have trouble putting the orange thing through the hoop. How much of that is a system issue, and how much of that is Favors missing bunnies within 5 feet because he’s playing on one leg?
The +Hill squad is still the best here, but it doesn’t have much of a personality or specialization. Maybe that’s good? Stability is good. I do like the haywire component of the +Ingles group though. Lots of steals and points, with the third best assists. #TransitionBuckets
Part IV: 2016 2017 Per 100 Possession Statistics
First of all, the + Dante Exum group blocks all of the shots per 100 possessions. Also, there is something going on with that + Lyles group. I just don’t know what it is.
Second, yes, the Top 3 groups here in this distilled efficiency +/- are +Hill, +Ingles, and +Johnson. Hill has transformed the problem area of point guard for the Utah Jazz. Ingles is the offensive foil of Swiss Army Knife forward Andrei Kirilenko. But damn, Johnson is something else. He’s more #Vet than Hill, and almost as versatile as Ingles. His post-up game, face-up game, and spot-up game has no equal on this Jazz team. Or perhaps, the entire Jazz franchise history.
His crew is 2nd in points, 4th in rebounds, and 3rd in +/-. They don’t get at it defensively, and the assists go way down (there’s a lot of isolation here to contend with). However, National writers like Zach Lowe and others have worried about the Jazz in the post-season. Not because of their defense or the defense’s ability to get stops. No. They’ve worried about how tight things get on offense, and if the Jazz can put points on the board in crunch time.
Joe Johnson is specifically built for half-court, clutch, playoff basketball. His resume speaks for itself. When he’s on the court there isn’t the overall chaos of +Ingles, the poise of +Hill, or the mercurial firepower of +Hood. But there’s something you can rely on (unless you are the Miami Heat and their 2016 Playoff sojourn).
Quin Snyder is relying on Joe Johnson more and more - and as a power forward qualified player he can be on the court at the same time as Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, and both George Hill and Joe Ingles/Rodney Hood.
After all, basketball is a 5-man sport, not 3-man.
Is there a conclusion here?
Beyond the one where this season it’s clearly not a Hayward + Gobert + Favors led Utah Jazz team? Maybe. But before we get there, let me lament Favors. I want to see what he can do with this team when healthy. Give him an off-season to get well, work on his outside shot, and hopefully this team doesn’t have to make any compromises between offense and defense? I hope so.
Anyway, for this season it’s pretty clear that the Utah Jazz “Big Three” is Hayward, Gobert, and Hill. They play the most when available, and they put up the numbers - including the ones that matter most in this case: plus/minus.
The three wingmen, Ingles, Hood, and Johnson, are behind them. But not too far behind. It’s comforting to know that two of those three guys should be on the court almost all of the time going forward.
Moving away from a SF / PF / C “Big Three” makes sense, especially in this organic manner. The only team to win in my recent memory with that formation was the Boston Celtics with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. A PG / Wing / Bigman “Big Three” is a lot more normal looking.
That’s what the Jazz have this season, plus some versatility thrown in there so someone else can step up if need be. That’s probably even better than being “normal looking.”
Who is the third man of the Utah Jazz 2016-2017 "Big Three"?
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