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Should John Collins still be starting for the Jazz?

Short answer: no.

Utah Jazz v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Utah Jazz head coach Will Hardy has been very creative with his lineups this season. Hardy has played 16 different starting lineups this season. Some of that has been due to injury, while others have just been coaching decisions. Hardy has clarified that players need to earn playing time and that he doesn't "believe in free minutes."

That philosophy, combined with a Jazz roster with too little high-end talent and entirely too much middling talent, has resulted in many changes in the rotation. Talen Horton-Tucker was a starter on day one of the season and has fallen completely out of the rotation. Kris Dunn has experienced almost the inverse of that trend. He began the season without seeing the court and has started the last ten games. Collin Sexton, Keyonte George, Simone Fontecchio, Walker Kessler, and Jordan Clarkson have all been in and out of the starting lineup.

Only Lauri Markkanen and John Collins seem immune to Will Hardy's lineup-tinkering. Markkanen has started all 28 of the games he's played this season. Collins has started 32 of his 34 games, and his only two non-starts were the games following his return from injury. Markkanen is the best player on the team, and his starting spot should not be questioned. Collins, on the other hand, is questionable. Hardy's insistence on keeping Collins in the starting lineup has made it difficult for Utah to keep its best players on the court.

The Jazz are playing better with Collins at center. Is that the answer?

Utah has won 11 of their last 15 games, eight of their previous 10, and four of their last five. In that stretch, they have wins against the Knicks, Heat, Mavericks, 76ers, and Bucks. The starting lineup for the previous ten games has featured John Collins at center. So, is that the answer? Should Will Hardy keep that lineup?

I contend that moving Collins to center is not the change that has improved the Jazz. Two other lineup changes occurred simultaneously, which I believe are more important. Hardy inserted Kris Dunn into the starting lineup and moved Collin Sexton to the shooting guard position. He also removed Talen Horton-Tucker from the rotation.

Collins vs Kessler

Below is a look at the four primary bigs that the Utah Jazz play. Lauri Markkanen, John Collins, Walker Kessler, and Kelly Olynyk. These numbers are the difference between the Utah Jazz's points per 100 possessions and their opponents' points per 100. For example, the best number on there is +7.9, which comes with Walker Kessler on the court and John Collins off the court. That means that in all non-garbage time minutes that the Jazz play with Kessler and without Collins, they are outscoring their opponents by 7.9 points per 100 possessions. The worst number is with Collins on the court and Markkanen off, in which the Jazz are outscored by 18.8 points per 100 possessions.

Some significant trends these numbers show:

  • The Jazz are very bad with John Collins ON the court.
  • The Jazz are very bad with Lauri Markkanen OFF the court.
  • The Jazz are good with Walker Kessler ON the court unless John Collins is there, too.
  • The Jazz are good with Lauri Markkanen ON the court unless John Collins is there, too.
  • John Collins is not positive with any of the other three players.
  • Each lineup with one of Markkanen, Kessler, or Olynyk ON the court and Collins OFF the court is +5.0 per 100 or better.

This doesn't look good for Collins. But what about this new starting lineup? Isn't that the answer? That starting lineup of Kris Dunn, Collin Sexton, Simone Fontecchio, Lauri Markkanen, and John Collins has played 157 non-garbage time possessions and is a -3.2 in that time. If you look at the same lineup but with Kessler substituted in for Collins, the Jazz are +26.1 in 69 possessions. This supports my theory that the positive changes have more to do with the Dunn and Sexton backcourt than with Collins at the center.

The Jazz defense allows 123.2 points per 100 possessions with John Collins on the court. That is good for the 8th percentile league-wide. The offense only scores 111.4 points per 100 with him on the court (24th percentile). That's a -11.8 difference (10th percentile).

The Jazz defense allows 112.6 points per 100 possessions with Walker Kessler on the court, good for the 77th percentile league-wide. The offense scores 112.7 points per 100 (30th percentile). That's still not a very effective offense, but with such a good defense, that amounts to a +0.2 difference (49th percentile).

Utah's defense is miles better with Kessler than with Collins. Many would expect Collins to provide more offensive value, but Utah's offense is even slightly better with Kessler than Collins. It's hard to see what value John Collins is bringing to the court.

According to, the Utah Jazz have 15 5-man lineups that have played at least 30 minutes together. Seven of those lineups have positive net ratings. Kessler is in 6 of the seven positive lineups; Collins is in only one. Of the eight negative lineups, Collins is part of seven, while Kessler is part of only two.

Even going by raw +/- numbers over the course of the season, we see the same trends. Here is the total +/- for every Utah Jazz player with at least 200 minutes this season:

Utah Jazz raw +/-

Kris Dunn 25
Kris Dunn 25
Walker Kessler 14
Lauri Markkanen 5
Talen Horton-Tucker -6
Kelly Olynyk -43
Simone Fontecchio -48
Collin Sexton -58
Jordan Clarkson -72
Ochai Agbaji -73
Omer Yurtseven -73
Keyonte George -129
John Collins -234

Raw +/- is a very messy stat, and I wouldn't use it alone to justify an opinion, but in tandem with all the other stats and with such a vast difference between Collins and the rest of the team, I think it shows something important.

Collins' +/- of -234 ranks 513th out of 521 NBA players with at least 200 minutes this season. Every player behind him plays for the Spurs, Wizards, or Pistons. The Jazz aren't just bad with Collins on the court; they're Pistons bad.

What is the solution?

Will Hardy has found something with the Dunn+Sexton backcourt. Including Fontecchio with the starters provides some shooting that the team desperately needs. I'd keep the same starting lineup but switch Kessler in for Collins.

That lineup allows Sexton to continue playing in the role that has worked well for him. It will enable Markkanen to continue playing next to a shooting forward in Fontecchio without needing him to be the rim protector. Kessler's defense would boost that starting lineup to even better than it has been. Of course, the bench would need help, but giving more minutes to your more effective players is always a good idea. There will be more for Hardy to figure out, but the most straightforward improvement he can make is reducing John Collins' minutes while raising Kessler's.

All lineup on/off stats via, 5-man lineup stats, +/- stats, and others via