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The Utah Jazz are playing defense, opponents flustered at this new development - The Downbeat #1558

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The Defense is killing team; the Analytic Revolution reaches Utah; Andrei Kirilenko is really gone for good, now?; looking for summer content; and new additions

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

What a crazy awesome game last night! I wrote about it in the preview here, relive it in the game there here, check out the recap here -- but more than that, check out this research piece I just did on all the big wins the team has had this season so far! I am very impressed with this young club, and the defense is really been turned on of late. It's not just the addition or subtraction of one player, though. It's a team thing. And for younger players defense is harder to get. The good news is that they are getting it now.

  • In December the team scored 96.9 ppg, and gave up 98.3 ppg.
  • In January the team scored 95.0 ppg, and gave up 95.1 ppg.
  • So far in February the team is scoring 93.9 ppg, and are giving up only 91.6.

The team is a net positive right now, and while the pace is slowing down to a crawl -- the Jazz are grit and grinding their way to some wins, and doing it by relying almost entirely on young guys (including 27 year old rookies like Joe Ingles and Elijah Millsap).

Good teams and bad teams can score a lot of points. But the really good ones can stop the other team from scoring. And that's what the Jazz are doing right now. Thank you Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Dante Exum, Gordon Hayward, Sapling, Jingles, Trevor Booker, and the rest of the crew. Keeping the games slow and close also unlocks (to use the video game term) Trey Burke 's special ability to be better and play better in close games where he doesn't have to run a lot. It's almost as if our front office and coaching staff understand this team and know how to get the best out of them -- instead of going small, and playing slow, for example.

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STATS! ANALYTICS! It seems like the last five seasons have been all about the influence of over analysis. Smart guys with Math degrees are all the rage from Nate Silver to Andy Larsen, they are taking over! The MIT Sloan Sports conference is a big deal, and some teams eat that all up. Others do not. ESPN's Kevin Pelton broke down how each team in each sport feels about the analytic revolution here. (It's a ton of work!) For the NBA there are different tiers: All-In; Believers; One Foot In; Skeptics; and Non-Believers. If you want to skip down to the Jazz part, and that's really all I did, you can click here.

Pelton puts them in the "One Foot In" category, and writes:

For years, under the pairing of coach Jerry Sloan and GM Kevin O'Connor, the Jazz successfully played an old-school style that featured few 3-pointers. In year 3 under new GM Dennis Lindsey, Utah has stepped away from the Sloan model, building a new culture -- modeled off the San Antonio Spurs -- that features analytics in an important role.

The Jazz hired their first full-time analytics employee last summer and also have relied on outside resources. They've worked with the BYU statistics department, and count among their consultants two prominent writers.

Like Lindsey, first-year head coach Quin Snyder spent time in the San Antonio organization. He also served under former Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer last season in Atlanta. Snyder has encouraged his big men to work on 3-point shots rather than long 2s, and the Jazz's shot-distribution stats have improved at both ends of the court.

"You're playing a percentage," Snyder recently told the Salt Lake Tribune. "You're going to give something up. Do we want to give up this shot in this situation? Or would we rather give up this shot? I think that helps drive a lot of our decision-making or confirm it."

- Kevin Pelton, ESPN, 2015

This is cool, and it's progress. I love how Lindsey and company are taking the Jazz out of the comical Brontosaurus slowly chewing on rocks / stone age of understanding reality. I like stats, and I like analytics, but despite how much I use them in my work -- I'm not crazy about it to the point of closing my eyes to other forms of observation. You have to watch the game, and almost every situation is different. If you just look at box scores and see a low quality center take 8 shots in a quarter you could be upset about it. if you watched the game it could be that he took three shots, and on an important sequence in the fourth quarter was active enough to get several "don't quit" style tip-ins on third and fourth jump moments.

You have to watch the game, and look at the numbers both. But even in this case you mat still miss important things. For me the best possible defense you can play is where the man you are defending cannot even get the ball, let alone take a shot and miss it. These efforts can be hidden in a sea of numbers that do not directly lead back to actually being good on the court. There are flaws with how stats are recorded (why don't we track hockey assists yet? why don't we look at deflections? why don't we count ball denial attempts?), and as a result I feel like we cannot just let stats decide everything -- even if the final score is just a stat.

I am on board with the analytic revolution. I just don't think I ever wanted Greg Ostertag or Olden Polynice or Felton Spencer to take a bunch of threes, though.

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So Andrei Kirilenko is really gone, for reals, and maybe for good this time around.

I was wrong about this, I felt like he may have sat the season out and spent it with family and not played at all. I knew that some NBA teams wanted him, and knew that I wanted him in Utah -- but didn't expect this. Perhaps I underestimated his family's ability to move to Russia right after having a baby? I guess so. I've had lots of family have babies, and in those cases those new mom's don't want to get up early to get breakfast -- let alone fly to the other side of the world. I don't know. I guess Masha is just tougher than most.

As is Andrei. AK-47 is only 34 years old, and he has only played in 3,071 NBA minutes (regular season and playoffs combined) over the last three seasons (A per game average of 26.7 mpg). So he's not been used much, and it's not like he should be TIRED from overplaying of late. And I guess there's more to it than what he wants to do now. It's what Andrei does.

He doesn't need the money. He doesn't need to improve his resume. He's already a National hero and EuroCup Gold Medalist and Olympic Bronze medalist. Maybe he actually really do love playing basketball, period? After all, he *cried* about not being able to help his team win games because of his role / minutes. When was the last time you cried at work about not getting enough work to do?

Props to AK, who has been a pro baller since the age of 15. In a way it's really the most normal part of his entire life, playing basketball. Who are we to suggest he retire or sit the season out? I wish you all the best, and hope that you and your family are happy wherever in the world you all end up.

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I play video games. It's one of the safe hobbies I can have late at night in the cities I live in. (I do not sleep all night long like normal healthy people, I sleep for less than 3 hours in a 24 hour cycle) So obviously playing basketball video games is something I'm really into. The top website / news / blog / forum for Sports video games is Operation Sports (they are like the ESPN / SB Nation of that world). They came out with a post-trade deadline power rankings for each conference. It's based on how the trades have physically changed the nuts and bolts inside the game for each team. Similar to the problem of statistics, the recognize the flaws that are just inherent. The perception and evidence the developers have for the players affect how good they are. And how good they are affects how good the teams are. And if you are a club with poorly perceived players, well, you get this:

10. Utah Jazz (74 overall):

The rating for the Jazz might actually be a little bit too low. Second-to-last [Ed. note. This power ranking is for a #playoffpush type situation for these team, not a full ranking of each team in the league] is not where the Jazz currently are in the actual Western Conference standings, and it doesn't look like that's where they'll be at the end of the season either. The loss of Enes Kanter will hurt, but it won't ruin the team. While the rating might be too low, it shows the Jazz are not a playoff team and that's accurate to the actual Jazz.

Since the original Lakers vs. Celtics (I had the PC version that came out in 1989) I have been waiting for a video game to accurately represent my homer-tastic opinions of how good the Jazz are.

More than ever I now see that it will only happen if our players are popular. But at least there is hope . . . Rudy Gobert is a defensive force. That's a start.

Also, how do you feel about sports video games? During the summer where there are no real games being played I am thinking of playing these games, but streaming them so you all can watch how bad I am at them -- and then I will keep score / stats, and more, and we can have fun with that. If you are NOT interested in that at this site please say so. Otherwise, well, there's not much news to talk about in August and September in non-Olympic or non-World Cup years.

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So we're are hearing a lot of names lately, in Jazz transaction land. The Jazz are to announce the signings of Jack Cooley (bigman) and Bryce Cotton (point guard) to 10-day contracts today. The team seems to also be really interested in bringing over European bigman Tibor Pleiss. Personally, unless that dude's name isn't Myck Kabongo, Morris Almond, Kyrylo Fesenko, Ante Tomic, or Raul Neto the needle doesn't really move for me on these end of the year try outs. But who are you interested in?