Sporting a 21-9 record, the Jazz are distanced a little bit (3.5 games) behind the now first placed Phoenix Suns out West. Given the remaining 52 games, there’s ample time to make up such a difference.
After all, data points showing the legitimacy of Utah’s title hopes are piling high:
- Utah’s point differential from Cleaning The Glass is a league best deep into “the contender” tier
- Utah’s offense is at historic levels relative to league average
- Jazz are putting up a league leading +6.5 eFG% advantage over their opponent
- Jazz have by far the best adjusted 4-factors from NBA Stuffer
- Jazz currently sport the 2nd highest Finals-winning odds from FiveThirtyEight
There’s a virtual endless number of metrics validating the Jazz as a contender. So why does it feel there is something missing?
Looking closer, digging deeper into the numbers and confirming with the eye test gives the impression of a picture too rosy.
Some have cited the lackluster home record (11-6), noting more home losses thus far than the whole of last season. Dave DuFour of The Athletic commented on the record saying, “This Jazz team should be thinking about 36-5 at home, not 31-10, and there’s a huge difference there.”
Others point out the lack of perimeter defense and roster imbalance favoring creation and shooting. After all, Marcus Morris of the Clippers didn’t hold back on the imbalance, saying, “Ain’t nothing changed. He [Rudy Gobert] protects all of them. None of them really can defend.”
We’ve routinely discussed the Jazz inability to generate volume on nights where the efficiency isn’t there. This season has largely been more of the same (ranking 23rd in Possession Swing and 18th in Points Swing).
The growing buzz about Clarkson not being the right fit is absolutely legitimate, given how his inefficiency is pushing the boundaries of unprecedented for NBA Championship teams (below).
The 5 last NBA Championship teams who had a negative rTS% player in their top 2 of rTSA/gm...— Adam Bushman (@adam_bushman) December 21, 2021
Irving at -0.1%
Duncan at -0.5%
Parker at -0.1%
Maxwell at -4.5%
Pippen at -2.7%
The sky isn’t falling by any means. The Jazz will continue to win a lot of games and sport some of the best high-level metrics around the league. They’ll make the playoffs and compete for the Western Conference Championship.
For some, that entirely meets expectations. For others, including the Jazz given the narrative they’ve built for themselves, the goal is a Finals run.
One encouraging perspective is that the Jazz will make or break the season in the playoffs, not the regular season. Hand them the league’s best record by a mile or sneak them into the 6th seed, most claim the playoffs are their real test.
Another encouraging note for those skeptical about the roster is the hiring of Danny Ainge and the multiple reports of Utah looking for a “defensive-minded wing” to impact the starting lineup and willing to “include a 1st”.
Ultimately, no matter how rosy a picture is being painted of the Jazz, let’s enjoy the regular season and playoffs. Let’s rest assured hearing Utah is pushing to send the best team it can to the postseason and that the goal remains on a Larry O’Brien trophy.
Maybe that’s just the right amount of rosy.