Where does this story even begin? The D-Will / C-Booz years? The Stockton and Malone years? I honestly don’t know. But for the longest time the Utah Jazz seemed to be a team that was forced to lean heavily on their starters. That’s really a no brainer when two of your starters are among the best players at their respective positions. During the reign on John Stockton and Karl Malone the Jazz did exactly that. And could because those two guys never got injured.
That wasn’t the case when the team was relying upon Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, and Mehmet Okur. Those Jazz teams had a little more depth, but still could only go as far as their starters could take them when healthy.
After the ‘Lost years’ of the Jazz they have built a team from mostly rookies, but a bunch of these characters were getting injured and couldn’t even finish seasons. Last year the Utah Jazz won 40 games. Honestly? They should have won more, but missing rotation guys - even if they weren’t All-Stars or future Hall of Fame players, really hurt them. That 40 win season, up from 38 the season before, had to have been classified as a downer. And the main culprit was injuries.
In the off-season General Manager Dennis Lindsey pulled the trigger on some deals, moving away youth and future players for players today. George Hill, Joe Johnson, and Boris Diaw have added quite a bit to this club. And this season the team has a chance to reach 50 wins still. And that is DESPITE all of the injuries.
No, this hasn’t been an injury free Jazz season. Not at all. It is a successful one because of the added depth. But the old talent limits still exist. This Jazz club is still only going to go as far as their best players can take them.
And which why the data on the starting line-up is so absurd. Thanks to injuries. Again.
The 2016-2017 Utah Jazz:
The projected starting line-up for this season was supposed to be George Hill, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert.
Modest, talented, reasonable, and a group that would grow together. Of course, this season this group would only play in 13 games together (so far, with 77 in the bag). That’s pretty crappy luck.
So far this season Quin Snyder has had to use 22 different starting line-ups in those 77 games. Effectively a new starting line-up every three to four games. Behold:
The “Actual” starters are pretty good together, 11-2. There is success here with other line-ups, but none that achieve the level of dominance that group does. The substitution of Boris Diaw in for Favors results in a team that has gone 6-1. The further substitution of Dante Exum in for Hill (while keeping Diaw in there) is a team that has gone 8-3. The component parts are talented, and useful, and work well together.
But we haven’t seen ENOUGH of the best units because of injuries. Sure, they may be the most used units on the team, but when you look beyond the team you see what I mean.
Just look at the bars here, and see that being the majority starter doesn’t mean you’ve really been here all season long, except for the case of Gobert and Hayward.
Cool graph, no? Because patting myself on the back the purpose of this was to illustrate that this team has had to field a variety of starting units this year. And even the aggregates don’t show a lot of continuity. You just need to see the minutes data to see what I mean.
The West Playoff Teams, and the line-ups with 100+ minutes:
The Top 8 teams in the Western Conference this season are the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, and Portland Trail Blazers. Some of them have been to the rodeo before. Some of these teams haven’t in this version of themselves. One of the unifying things is that the best units for each team have played the most minutes.
And if you look at each of the eight teams you see that they’ve had a number of units that crest 100 minutes together on the season.
The Jazz look really pathetic here, not that because they are bad or that their units are bad. Just that they haven’t been healthy enough to field these units for very long together. The Spurs have fewer numbers of 100 minute line-ups. But they do have a TON of 50-99 minute line-ups, and shuffle people around all season long because of imaginary injuries and rest. They are an anomaly, and we should discount them in this exercise. But even the Spurs’ top unit has about 400 minutes together at this juncture of the season. Utah’s best lineup is 150. That would be the 4th best GSW line-up, 3rd best SAS line-up, and 6th best HOU line-up.
Looking at the #5 to #8 seeds we see the same thing as before. The Clippers have nearly 800 minutes with their best line-up, the Thunder over 600, and so on. Utah’s best group, the 150 minute line-up, would be 4th, 3rd, 3rd, and 4th compared to these lower than them playoff teams.
Playing together matters, especially in the playoffs when your Plan A, B, and C are taken away from you by the defense. And Utah’s starters are behind the curve, significantly.
The Starters for the West Playoff Teams:
Just look at the “starting” units for the eight teams. Utah is last. This isn’t a coaching thing, I’m not bagging on the Jazz for this. I’m pointing out the quantitative disadvantage to all of the injuries. When healthy this is a great line-up. They haven’t been healthy enough. And it means less experience with one another.
Yeeouch. Even the Portland Line-up with Jusuf Nurkic, acquired at the trade deadline and has been out for the season for like a week now, has more minutes together than ANY Jazz line-up, let alone our ‘starters’. The Clippers have 5x more minutes together this season. And those guys have been playing together for a few seasons now. That’s a lot of experience with one another, cohesion, and familiarity.
Memphis has had a ton of injuries as well, so their top line is sub-300 as well. But the rest of the West is minutes and minutes ahead. And that’s not anything the Jazz can make-up right now with five games left in the regular season - and two starters still out.
And really, for the entire season the Jazz have missed 144 games to their Top 10 players in the rotation, and 90 alone just to the starters. Utah has rumbled, stumbled, and bumbled their way to 47 wins while having to play - on average - every game this year without two of their best players (2.04 for those keeping score at home).
And yet here they stand with a chance to get home court in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
While they may not have the advantage of playing their best guys together all year long for 500-800 minutes. They do have an advantage for having to play through adversity all year long.