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The Utah Jazz are not shooting well, but they are still winning

After having one of the greatest three-point shooting seasons ever last year, the Jazz have regressed. How are they still winning?

Atlanta Hawks v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Last season, the Jazz had their best regular season in over two decades. Finishing 52-20 (shortened season), their .722 winning percentage was the highest since the legendary NBA Finals Jazz team in 1998-1999 the season. Not only were they a great regular season team, they also put together one of the best three-point shooting seasons in NBA History.

They set numerous NBA three-point shooting records, on their way to the #1 record in the league last season. Last season, three-point shooting was the cornerstone of their success, and enabled them to win so many games by simply putting teams away by the sheer amount of points they were scoring per shot attempt.

So far this season, through 11 games, the story is not quite the same.

The Jazz are currently shooting 32.4 percent from three, which is good for 25th in the league. They are 3rd in the league in three-point attempts with 42.1 per game. Last season they led the league in attempts, but were still 4th in the league in percentage at 38.9. Last season they scored a league-leading 43% of their points from the three-point line, compared to 36.7% this season.

Last season the Jazz had five players shoot above 40% from three, and and 11 players shoot above 34%. This season, the Jazz have two players shooting above 40% from deep, and only three total shooting above 34%. The biggest individual drop offs have been the Jazz’s two highest volume three-point shooters. Donovan Mitchell went from shooting 38 percent last season on 8.7 attempts, to 31% on 10.7 attempts this season. Jordan Clarkson went from shooting 35% last season on 8.8 attempts per game, to 23% on 9.2 attempts this season. The Jazz have also seen significant decreases in three-point shooting percentage from key shooters like Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale, and are feeling the absence of Georges Niang who left in free-agency (and has been absolutely killing it in Philly, congrats George).

What gives? Why is literally every player on the Jazz not shooting like they were last season? Ben Anderson of KSL wrote a great piece about the possible reasons for the Jazz’s struggles from three this season.

He lists the schedule, opponents’ schemes, and roster shakeups and possible reasons for the Jazz bad shooting so far this season.

Even though the Jazz are not a good three-point shooting team so far this season, they have built a 8-3 record, are undefeated at home, and have the leagues 2nd-best rated offense, and 2nd best net rating. How are they still winning games, when they are depending so heavily on three-point shooting, and missing shots? Couple things come to mind after looking at some stats.

Free-Throws

In a weird turn of events, the Jazz are actually one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the league right now. They are currently second in the NBA in free-throws attempted per game, shooting the fourth-best percentage at 81.3. Both of these are considerable increases since last season. The Jazz were attempting 21.4 FT per game last season, good for 14th in the league, shooting 79.9% (8th). The Jazz have three players shooting 100 percent from the free-throw line, albeit very low attempts. They have three players shooting in the 90s (Bojan 96, Conley 94, Donovan 90), and two in the 80s (Whiteside and Jordan Clarkson). Quite possibly the biggest swing however is due to Rudy Gobert’s jump from 62 percent last season to 67 percent this season. Gobert has been a force in the paint this year, which has led to teams fouling him a lot. Gobert has shot 80 free-throws already this season, which is 5th most in the NBA. That 5 percent increase goes a long away when you’re shooting as many free-throws as Rudy has this season. The Jazz are currently getting 17 percent of their points from free-throws which is 2nd in the league, and just .01 percent from the Heat, who are number one. This number of 14 percent for the Jazz last season, which was 17th in the league. Believe it or not, the Jazz are getting to the line a lot, and are making teams pay for by shooting a great percentage.

Rebounding

The Jazz continue to be an absolutely dominant rebounding team. For the last five years, the Jazz have lived near the top of the ranks in team rebounds. Both last season and this season, the Jazz are leading the league in rebounding percentage, and total rebounds. Much of this is due to Rudy Gobert, and his ability to grab what seems like every single rebound in the game for the Jazz. Gobert is leading the league in rebounds right now, and is averaging 15.9 a game. If he can get that average up jut a bit to where it was a few games ago, Gobert will be on pace to become the first 16+ per game rebounder since Dennis Rodman in the late 90s. It might seem corny to tout the league-leader in rebounds, but it absolutely is not. The Jazz have also benefited heavily from signing Hassan Whiteside this offseason. Whiteside has been great coming off the bench spelling Rudy Gobert so far this season. You don’t see that huge drop-off in defense and rebound that we saw in years past at that position. Whiteside is in the top 5 in the league in both bench rebounding and blocks, and has been a huge acquisition for the Jazz. His 8 rebounds per game off the bench have been key in closing out a few games. Rebounding wins games, and you can see by the Jazz’s record so far this season.

Defense

The Jazz remain a solid defensive team. They have their weaknesses, yes, but having Rudy Gobert anchoring the paint leaves a pretty high floor for team defense. The Jazz are this years 7th ranked defense so far, but they actually have a better defensive rating than they did last season. Advanced metrics like offensive and defensive ratings, and just stats in general become more valuable and telling as the sample size grows. The more games the Jazz play, I think their defense gets better and better. The Jazz sacrificed some of their three-point shooting to get better perimeter defense, and we’ve seen flashes of that paying off with some plays that we’ve seen from Eric Paschall. The perimeter defense will also get a boost when Rudy Gay makes his Jazz debut, which should be in the next few weeks hopefully.

All things considered, the Jazz shooting woes should turn around for the better. Donovan Mitchell seems to have found his groove the last few games, and Jordan Clarkson certainly won’t stay shooting 20% from three the entire year (.....right??). The Jazz have proven that they are good enough team to not be one-dimensional, and can win games even when they are not making threes. As they continue to get back to their elite shooting ways, their rebounding and defense will keep them near the top of NBA standings. Once they get back to shooting a good clip, might be trouble for the rest of the league.