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Opportunity abounds for the Utah Jazz in scoring volume

A deficit in scoring volume over the past couple seasons is shaping up to be one of Utah’s biggest opportunities for 2021-22

2021 NBA Playoffs - Utah Jazz v LA Clippers
Royce O’Neale secures a rebound in the playoffs last season
Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The Utah Jazz look ahead to the 2021-22 NBA Season with a bright ray of hope. Though disappointing a postseason as it was to lose to the Clippers four straight matchups, the Jazz are, for good or bad, taking the optimistic approach.

On one hand, why shouldn’t they be. They returned all of their core pieces and added several around the edges to fill versatility and defensive needs.

On the other hand, have they really addressed the critical issues keeping them from their ultimate goal?

While some differ on what issues exactly, one of them has to be the scoring volume deficit.

SLC Dunk readers may remember an article from last December on this very same topic: possession and points swing. Last season, we lobbied for Utah to begin valuing each possession as an opportunity to score gained for the Jazz and potentially lost for the opponent.

As a reminder, possession swing is the difference between a team’s forced turnovers and offensive rebounds and an opponent’s.

(opponent TOVs + team OREBs) - (team TOVs forced + opponent OREBs)

While Utah took a tremendous leap in efficiency, we did not see a subsequent focus on valuing possessions. We now have 4 seasons of data and the below charts where the Jazz stand in each campaign:

Possession Swing (y-axis) and Efficiency Swing (x-axis) for the Utah Jazz past 4 seasons
Adam Bushman, SLC Dunk

Two seasons in a row the Jazz have lost possessions to the opponent (negative possession swing). The team has improved on the back of efficiency, but night to night efficiency is a tricky way to live (high variance).

The way to counteract that variance is volume.

Over the past two seasons, Jazz have won 66.2% of their games. Of the 57 games Jazz had a possession advantage, their win rate was 71.9% (in an 82 game season, a difference of 4.5 wins).

Of the past 144 Jazz games, only 57 featured a positive possession swing for the Jazz. Can you say opportunity??

Skeptics may counter that efficiency is more important than volume, and they’re right. If you have to choose, you’d want an efficiency advantage. This is validated by the below visual from the 2020-21 season:

2020-21 NBA Season by possession swing (y-axis) and efficiency swing (x-axis)
Adam Bushman, SLC Dunk

You’ll notice most of the good teams from last season trend toward the right while the bad teams to the left. The variance on the x-axis (efficiency swing) is very large, for good or bad.

Now focusing on the right hand side, where are the best teams located of this subset?

The answers lies near the Milwaukee Bucks, LA Clippers, and Phoenix Suns. While these teams didn’t quite have the sheer efficiency domination of the Utah Jazz or Brooklyn Nets, they had enough balance with volume to counter efficiency variance.

The NBA Champions ended the playoffs with a 0.0% efficiency advantage. What they did do was boast a +5.1 possession swing. They proved that volume is a critical component to winning it all.

Past 4 conference finals participants in possession swing (y-axis) and efficiency swing (x-axis)
Adam Bushman, SLC Dunk

This final chart looks at the past 4 years of conference finals and their participants. Notice how each one hovers near 0.0 (even) in possession swing? The one exception being the 2017-18 Golden State Warriors who generated an insurmountable efficiency advantage.

The past 3 champions (MIL, LAL, and TOR) were all positive in the regular season and had the capacity to double down on generating extra volume come playoff time.

The key question for Utah is will volume be a focus this year?

Will the newcomers (Butler, Paschall, Gay, and Whiteside) contribute to more volume? Will Quin Snyder encourage more risk taking? Will the Jazz accentuate their offensive rebound strategy?

Unfortunately, I have my doubts that Utah returns to even or positive in the volume category, in which case the only way to take another leap is with an efficiency advantage (exceptionally difficult to do).

Hopefully I’m wrong and this time next year we give a portion of credit to volume for the Utah Jazz being NBA Champions.