With the All-Star break finally coming to a close, the Utah Jazz enter their final stretch of the season. Up until this point in the year, the Jazz have statistically been one of the most inconsistent teams in the NBA. If you’ve watched the Jazz this season, you don’t even need to see the numbers. You were probably watching when they got 50-piece by the Mavericks in what was a historical loss for the Utah Jazz franchise. They lost to the Pacers two games later by 27, and then again to the Pacers at home by 33 within a five-game span. But then a week later they beat the Spurs by 34 and the Rockets by 27. In that same month they beat the Blazers in consecutive games, outscoring them by 44 points over two games. Since then the schedule has softened and the Jazz were able to finally find a bit of consistency, but this season overall has been a whirlwind of highs and lows.
Per NBA Stuffer, the Utah Jazz have the highest consistency rating in the NBA. That sounds good, but it's not. Essentially, the higher the number, the higher the variance in your efficiency differential from game to game. Simply put, they're the most inconsistent team in the NBA.— John Keeffer (@john_keeffer) February 20, 2019
I mentioned yesterday that the Jazz are the most inconsistent team in the NBA, here is a graph that can help you visualize it. That dip in the middle? It's because the Jazz are rarely in close games. It's usually a big win or a big loss. Not a lot of in-between. pic.twitter.com/llsGuJJpBF— John Keeffer (@john_keeffer) February 20, 2019
What in the world is to make of such a huge swing in wins and losses? The most likely culprit of the inconsistencies this season has been the lack of reliable support to Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Both Donovan and Rudy are going to get theirs. Mitchell is at the point in his career where you just expect him to get at least his 20-5-5, which is pretty great. You also can bet that Rudy is going for 15-13, at least. Both of these guys together form the face of the franchise and a solid foundation for success in the future. But to reach the next level and find some consistency this season, the Jazz need something more from someone else. An X-Factor if you will.
Who will be the Jazz’s X-Factor for the rest of the season?The problem so far this year is that you don’t really know who is going to step up and create that game-changing impact. Some games it has been Dante Exum pre-injury, coming off the bench and exploding to the rim at will. Some games it has been Ricky Rubio, who when able to control his game and find his shooting stroke has been an absolute cog in the Jazz’s success. Some games it’s Jae Crowder, or Kyle Korver bringing threes of the bench.
Most recently, however, the X-Factor has been Royce O’Neale. Don’t look now, but Buckets O’Neale is currently shooting 44 percent from three, which leads the Jazz when modifying for qualifying contestants. Royce has been huge lately being able to successfully knock down open threes, and has been able to help maintain the Jazz’s solid defensive identity. The Jazz are 9-3 this season when O’Neale makes more than two three-pointers in a single game. He’s made an obvious impact in every game he has played in during the last few weeks, and if he can keep it up it might just be the difference in a home-court playoff seed or a rough first-round exit.
Every single one of the guys mentioned above has been the x-factor for the Jazz in at least a game or two this season. But then there are other games where they don’t get hardly anything from any of them. These games where they don’t get consistent production out of at least one or two of players in this pool are usually the games the Jazz get blown out. This is why Dennis Lindsey tried to make a move before the trade deadline, only to come up empty-handed and forced to roll the same squad back.
It’s fairly obvious that without the influx of another consistent scoring option, the Jazz have a very limited ceiling. That being said, do any of the Jazz players have it in them to step up and assume this role, at least just for the remainder of the season? Ricky Rubio did it last year with his incredible play late in the season and becoming the first Jazz man in 20 years to record a triple-double in the playoffs. Can he somehow find his groove again this season and yield similar results? Can Dante Exum return to health and pick up where he left off? Can Royce O’Neale keep up his recent three-point shooting stroke? All of these questions are valid, and will ultimately determine the success of the Jazz later on this season.