Hey, wanna know something cool? So far this season the Utah Jazz have used 15 different starting line-ups. No, it’s not because there’s a lot of internal competition going on between evenly matched players — each fighting for as many minutes as possible. And no, it’s not because Quin Snyder is making game-by-game adjustments to maximize advantages and minimize disadvantages against each team he faces. It’s been because of injuries. So far in a 36 game season the Jazz have had players miss 103 opportunities to play. On average that’s being three men down every game. And because of who has been injured, it’s usually two starters (starting point guard George Hill and someone not named Rudy Gobert are out) and the team’s most dynamic bench scorer (Alec Burks). Missing 103 ‘man-games’ because the team has bench warmers being injured isn’t tough. What is tough is missing your best, non-Gobert players every game.
But you wanna know something that’s even cooler? Like “dead of winter” style cool? What’s really cool is that the Utah Jazz (22-14) are going to win 50 games this year - and potentially capture the Division title and be a huge pain in the butt of any teams they face in the Western Conference Playoffs — DESPITE missing so many rotation players every night.
I looked it up and spent way too much time on this, but after double checking my work and heaping on tons of small market fan insecurity, I still came out with a 50 win season for the Utah Jazz. And that’s remarkable.
New Orleans / Utah Jazz History:
This team has been around since the 1974-1975 season. And this team has had some down years (seven seasons with fewer than 30 wins), and some up years (8 years of 55 or more regular season wins). [N.B. All of these wins are prorated for an 82 game season, so the 1999 lockout team gets 60.68 wins thanks to their 0.740 winning %, and the 2012 lockout team gets 44.73 wins thanks to their 0.545 winning %] When you chart all the years you get this:
And when you display it just for the frequency of where these seasons have finished you get the following:
So, on average, the Utah Jazz are finishing each season pretty average (40ish wins). It’s skewed towards better seasons than not, but it’s not overwhelmingly so. One team you don’t see represented in the table or the graph is the 2016-2017 Utah Jazz team. This team has played just 36 games so far and have managed a 22-14 record. That’s a winning % that’s 0.611 — which is one of the better marks in the post- John Stockton / Karl Malone era. Behold:
We see the 2003-2004 team that went 42-40 and was coached by Jerry Sloan (and led by Andrei Kirilenko, Greg Ostertag, Carlos Arroyo, and others) start things off. That off-season Larry H. Miller opened up the money pit and paid Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Arroyo, and Gordan Giricek -- and that produced a really bad team due to injuries. But it set up getting Deron Williams. The D-Will era was the major win % mountain here, only falling down to below 0.500 in that disastrous season where Jerry resigned as head coach and Williams was traded away for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, and a handful of future picks.
After that we had the Tyrone Corbin era and the Vetzzzpocalypse. That paved the way for Dante Exum, and the Quin Snyder era — which has been a steady (if not arrhythmic) climb. Of course, you could argue that the Jazz should have won 40 games two seasons ago (only 38), and should have reached 45 last season (only 40). But this year the team is on track for . . . by their winning % . . . 50.11 wins. Which by itself would be great, as only three other times did that happen in the post-Stockton and Malone era (2007, 2008, 2010). But it would be great for other reasons as well, it would put the team back on that arrhythmic track from the last two injury riddled and W/L record based disappointing seasons.
And also it would usher in the new age of Utah Jazz 50 win teams. (And let’s be real -- the goal of the Jazz front office this year wasn’t winning a title or maximizing development, it was to keep Gordon Hayward, who will be a UFA this off-season. And in order to do that the Jazz need to show in good faith that they are trying to win now, while Hayward is in his prime. Winning 50 regular season games, winning the division, playing in 10 playoff games . . . these are the real goals for the team this year. Hence the moves for George Hill, Joe Johnson, and Boris Diaw. Two older guys in contract years and an aging gunslinger.)
So how do you win 50 games?
Simple, you have to win 28 more. Of course, that’s the simple answer. The harder answer is to look at the info that’s available. First, “CAN the Jazz win x number of games?”
Yes they can. And moreso, in order to WIN 50 they need to win at a slightly lower rate than they currently are winning! That’s good news as the schedule doesn’t get easier as the season goes on. Of course, contrasting that we have the point that the team is getting healthier as the season goes on. So in a way, some of that could even out.
So are there 28 more wins on the schedule? Yes indeed!
The Remaining Schedule at a glance:
The Utah Jazz have 48 more games to play, and need 28 more wins to reach 50. It’s possible. There are 22 games at home (where Utah is 12-7 this season), and 24 games on the road (where Utah is 10-7). The Jazz are above .500 in both locations, so that’s good. There are 28 games against the West (7 vs. Top 5, 11 vs. 6-10, 10 vs. 11-15), and 18 against the East (6 vs. Top 5, 8 vs. 6-10, 4 vs. 11-15). That’s still 15 of 48 games against the bottom feeders, and only 13 against the best in both conferences. The majority of the games are going to be fought against similar-ish teams to the Jazz:
- Three Games: LAC, OKC, POR, NOP, MIN
- Two Games: SAS, MEM, SAC, DAL, CLE, MIL, IND, WAS, DET
- One Game: GSW, HOU, DEN, LAL, TOR, BOS, CHA, ATL, CHI, NYK, ORL, BKN
What about cumulative fatigue?
- Back to Back sets: 9
- Three Games in Four Nights: 16 !!!!
- Five Games in Seven Nights: 3 !!!!
Fatigue could be an issue, but thankfully there’s only two more “road trips” this year. In February there’s @ Atlanta Hawks, @ New Orleans Pelicans, and @ Dallas Mavericks. Those aren’t world beaters, and two of those teams have awful home court turn outs. All three are pretty close to one another and there isn’t a lot of time-zone hopping. It’s still three games in four nights. But it’s not the worst it could possibly be. The second one is one game longer, in March @ Detroit Pistons, @ Cleveland Cavaliers, @ Chicago Bulls, @ Indiana Pacers. These four games are within driving distance of one another, and the weather in March should be such that flying conditions shouldn’t be that bad. And thankfully it’s not two back to back sets, back to back. There’s some space here as it’s four games over six nights.
Utah has two “home stands”, between January and February there’s a four game stretch over 10 nights (vs. Los Angeles Lakers, vs. Memphis Grizzlies, vs. Milwaukee Bucks, vs. Charlotte Hornets). I don’t have high hopes for that Lakers game as it will be the third game in four nights for the Jazz, and the fifth game in seven, while being on TNT. But I’m just being a pessimist here. The second “home stand” of any length is a three game stand in February before the All-Star Break (vs. Boston Celtics, vs. Los Angeles Clippers, vs. Portland Trail Blazers) -- three games over five nights.
Most of the time it’s going to be the Jazz alternating home and road games all the way through April. There’s one more really rough stretch to start March, that has some February fatigue hangover, that ends up with a game against the New Orleans Pelicans as the second night of a back to back, the third game in four nights, and the fith game in seven. This is a classic schedule loss even if it’s at home. Hope the team is healthy enough to challenge here.
But even with my over-emphasis on fatigue (note: I’m not taking into account which times the Jazz are playing a tired team, and that will matter as well), Utah is in a good position to ascend to 50.
January 2017: 8 Reasonable Wins
Games: 15 (Home 7 / Road 8)
The Jazz have already played the first two games here (beating the Nets, losing to the Celtics), so I’ve discounted those games here except for their fatigue affect. The worst case scenario (aside from never winning ever again, ever) is going 2-13. I don’t think that’s likely to happen. Nor do I think the Jazz will go 12-3. My reasonable expectation is for Utah to complete January with a 10-5 record. I’m really banking on taking care of business against the bad teams, while letting fatigue ravage the team in turn.
Utah finishes up this trip by losing to Toronto, beating Minnesota, and losing to Memphis. Cleveland on a road trip, rests LeBron James, and Utah goes on a run against some weaker teams. The Jazz drop three in a row to OKC, DEN, and LAL, but bounce back and even up the season series against Memphis in the last game.
Is it likely that Utah will drop all three of those games to OKC, DEN, and LAL? I don’t know. Is it likely that Utah will not slip up once against DET, ORL, PHX, DAL, or IND? Maybe not. These projections should even out for the final W/L record though. Beating some of OKC, DEN, and LAL will make up for any slip ups against the other group. Meh.
February 2017: 9 Reasonable Wins
Games: 11 (Home 5 / Road 6)
There’s three games off at the end of January before any February games start. Thank you! That, plus the 8 nights off between Jazz games due to the All-Star break means that February is where the team needs to catch their breath for the #PlayoffPush. It also explains why Joe Ingles doesn’t want to do the three point contest -- he’s rather have eight nights off with his young family.
I’m being bold here by expecting the Jazz to drop games to only Dallas and Oklahoma City. The rest, hopefully the better health, and the nature that only SOME of these teams are good makes me feel optimistic. I am hoping for good reasults at home: Milwaukee, Charlotte, Boston, Clippers, Trail Blazers in Utah. But I think some of these road games aren’t impossible either: Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Washington. Of course, the Jazz usually lose in D.C., so you never know. Right now I’m feeling a 9-2 February.
March 2017: 9 Reasonable Wins
Games: 16 (Home 7 / Road 9)
March is going to make or break this team -- but also several others. It’s after the trade deadline. And hopefully by this time of the year the Jazz are about as healthy as they could be. This is where the wheels have come off the last few seasons after regularly impressive Februarys. (Februaries?) Anyway, more fatigue here and more scrutiny as the team is on TV three more times.
There’s fatigue to fight and other teams eyeing the NBA Playoffs. I’m again being bold expecting the Jazz to take care of business against MIN, BKN, SAC, DET, IND, NYK, NOP, SAC, and WAS. It’s likely that our team may still be playing ‘down’ to their competition and drop a handful of these. It’s going to be harder to make those unaccounted for losses up at this part of the season.
I am being a little harsh, possibly, by expecting the Jazz to drop almost all games they have against West teams that matter, going forward. So maybe that will even out, but I’m expecting the Jazz to be handled by HOU, LAC, OKC, POR for the most part in these last 48 games. And Utah plays HOU, OKC, and LAC this month. Some of those could be wins. I don’t really know. I am penciling in the Jazz going 9-7 this month. That’s still above 0.500 basketball, but it’s lower than Utah’s current rate of 0.611.
With one more month to go the Utah Jazz are sitting at 48 wins on the season. Two more to go.
April 2017: 2 Reasonable Wins
Games: 6 (Home 3 / Road 3)
- The Spurs handle the Jazz in their gym. Loss. On ABC, the only time Utah’s on that network this year.
- A desperate Trail Blazers club finish off a tired Jazz team. Loss. Still stuck at 48 wins.
- The Timberwolves would love to play spoiler here, but the Jazz are trying to win as much as possible because this is their #PlayoffPush make or break moment. 49 Wins on the season.
- The Trail Blazers, fighting for their playoff lives, beat the Jazz again, this time in their gym. Stuck on 49 wins for the season.
- Oh man, the Warriors face a tired Jazz squad and want to make the statement by sweeping the “team that was supposed to give them trouble” according to pre-season press. Still only 49 wins for the season.
- The Spurs, with no benefit to winning a game because their #2 seed is locked up, rest players and allow the Jazz to win this one. Utah and San Antonio tie 2-2 on the season series, the only series Utah looks okay in after having lost the season series to GSW, HOU, LAC, and OKC. Jazz get their 50th win of the season. Is that enough to get home court in the first round? We’ll see.
So it happens. Barely.
EVEN MORE TABLES!
This is how the Jazz finish against the East:
This is how the Jazz finish against the West:
You can see some bias here on my part, expecting Utah to finish up 15-3 against the Eastern Conference (probably too high), and only 13-15 against the West (probably too low). There are a lot of assumptions here. The first is that Utah continues to get healthier as the season goes on. The second is that cumulative fatigue is a real problem in March and going forward. Maybe with some of the Jazz players playing only half the season this isn’t a problem anymore? Or if the team is, indeed, healthier then Snyder can keep everyone more fresh as the season goes on?
The other major flaw here is that I expect, or at least account for, the Jazz to beat a lot of the bad teams. For example, I don’t have Utah losing to WAS NYK, DET, ORL, or BKN out East even if there are seven games to play; or losing frequently to NOP, LAL, DAL, MIN, or PHX out West even if there are 10 games to play. (I am spotting them three wins, two of which are in games where the Jazz play the 5th time in seven nights.)
The worst case I found is Utah going 8-38. The best case is Utah going 35-11. Both are not going to happen. Finishing 28-18 is perfect. It’s 50 wins. The 0.583 winning % is lower than the rate right now of 0.611 -- but I can live with that.
Is Utah going to get healthier and play better and end up winning MORE than they did to start this season? That is possible, and also more probable than my conservative idea here. But I’m not greedy. 50 wins after only 40 last year (and 38 the year before) puts this team back on track and probably helps convince Gordon that this is a worthwhile place to be. And that was the focus of this season all along.
Here’s the full schedule if you are a crazy person. (It will be updated when the Playoffs schedule is released!)