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Jazz efficiency advantage an early season bright spot

Earning a nightly advantage in shooting efficiency is the best avenue for pursuing the league’s best record and the Jazz are doing it splendidly

Utah Jazz v Milwaukee Bucks
Rudy Gobert, Utah’s regular rotation leader in regularized TS%, aids the Jazz in an efficiency advantage over Milwaukee
Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Each season brings a flood of excitement surrounding the NBA and the Utah Jazz. One component of that excitement is checking in on performance relative to the rest of the league. More specifically, who’s generating an efficiency advantage and who’s not.

For longtime readers, such a topic may seem natural and exciting, but for others, they’re asking themselves, “What is that and why do we care?”

The why of all sports is to win enough games in pursuit of team and personal accolades, chief of which is the NBA Championship. Teams, players, fans, etc., all receive utility from such success.

Brooklyn Nets v Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks secured the 2021 NBA championship, the elusive goal for the Utah Jazz
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The how to win enough games is fairly straight forward: consistently score more points than the opponent. “Scoring points” is a function (yes, sports has a math component...don’t fight it!) of volume and efficiency. Shot attempts are volume and the rate at which an attempt is successful is the efficiency. The trick is to balance these out.

We’ve discussed volume on many occasions, but let’s focus on efficiency: the what. A team or player’s efficiency is evaluated in various ways: FG%, eFG%, TS%, and others. Each has their pros and cons. But at the end of the day, what we want is an advantage (a greater value) over the opponent.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll consider efficiency advantage as net eFG% (or the difference between a team’s efficiency from that of their opponent). Put differently:

Net eFG% = team eFG% - opponent eFG%

This value matches our how and why because there’s a positive relationship between eFG% and win%. Take a look at the below graphic for the best teams since the 1997 season in eFG% advantage!

NBA Top 25 Historical eFG% Advantage
Stats via | Visual thanks to Adam Bushman

The Warriors dynasty peppers the top followed by the Celtics championships and those of the Heat. Later on the Spurs dynasty, all the while Finals and Conference Finals teams are littered throughout.

Efficiency advantage is absolutely a crucial metric to monitor as it directly correlates to a team’s success in what is the why of all this.

Without further ado, let’s check-in on the NBA with every team having played in 5 or more contests:

2021-22 NBA eFG% Advantage through games played on 10/31/2021
Stats via | Visual thanks to Adam Bushman

As the previous visual indicated, the elite range (top 25 teams since 1997) were between a +5.5% and a +8.5% advantage. There are currently 5 teams in that interval, a sign that we’re very early on in the process of identifying takeaways from this metric.

The Denver Nuggets lead the league with a +8.2% eFG advantage. That means on average, they’ve shot 8.2% eFG better than their opponent every game thus far. This year’s worst team is the Detroit Pistons with a -9.5%. The lowest advantage since 1997 was the 2001 Golden State Warriors at -7.5%.

After a dismal year, the Minnesota Timberwolves are 10th with a +2.1 advantage. Such a mark absolutely validates their early season success and should it continue into the new year, they look like a lock for the play-in game at minimum.

The Dallas Mavericks have struggled, but seeing them at 28th and a -6.0% really puts it into perspective. Jason Kidd’s strategy does not appear to be setting the Mavs up for success. How long will they stick to their philosophy with these results?

The Utah Jazz come in as the #2 team in eFG% advantage at +7.7%, unsurprising since they led the league last year with a +5.1% (the 2021 Jazz can be seen in the historical graphic above).

Much has been made of Utah’s offensive struggles, primarily from the 3P line where they rank just 18th in efficiency after ranking 4th a year ago. It begs the question, how are they still near the top of the league in efficiency advantage?

Utah Jazz v Milwaukee Bucks
Hassan Whiteside’s defense has spurred the 2nd unit and is a primary reason the Jazz have generated a top efficiency advantage this season
Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

The answer is the defense where they have been vice grips. Opponents are shooting just 24.9% from 3 against Utah and the 11th fewest 3PA per game.

While many fans will point to the shooting struggles as evidence that Utah could in fact increase the efficiency advantage, there’s also a lot of shooting luck that’s going to come back to Jazz opponents.

Overall, Utah has done extremely well in the most important area. Now the goal should be to strategize ways they can get an even volume advantage. One way team’s neutralize an efficiency advantage from their opponents is by swinging scoring opportunities away from their opponent to themselves with OREBs, TOVS, and FTAs.

The Jazz play the Sacramento Kings, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, and the Orlando Magic in the next several games. All but the Magic are generating an efficiency advantage so there will be some tests ahead.

But if you’re looking for a bright spot early in the season, this is it!