Utah Jazz: Average Stats Tell the Season’s Story So Far

The Utah Jazz have been oft credited with an elite defense and a subpar offense this season, but a deeper look at more detailed stats paints a clear picture of why Utah has gotten off to just an average 7-8 start so far.

Prior to the start of the 2016-17 NBA season, there was a lot to be excited about for the Utah Jazz. An improving core, key offseason additions and a seemingly limitless ceiling made it hard not to be thrilled with the possibilities for this season.

We’re now 15 games into the 2016-17 campaign and there’s truly still a lot to be excited about as the season is yet quite young. Nevertheless it’s hard to deny that the initial wave of exhilaration has died down considerably.

That’s largely due to the fact that despite Utah’s encouraging start, after now dropping four straight games, fans have begun to come back down to earth and the cold, hard reality that this team still has a lot of work to do is slowly settling in.

But with so much promise and potential, why is it that the Jazz are struggling of late and why are they currently posting just a mediocre 7-8 record?

While lots of times stats can be misleading and sometimes people put too much stock into them without understanding what truly went on in any given game or series of games, I believe in the case of the Jazz, there are some statistics that tell the story quite well as to why this team is having just an average season so far.

A simple glance at Utah’s basic stats tells us what any Jazz fan already knows (or at least assumes they know) that Utah has an elite defense and a poor offense. The Jazz currently rank 27th in the league in points, notching 96 per game and they rank 29th in the league in assists with 17.8 per contest.

On the other end of the floor, Utah comes in as the supposed top defense in the league as they are currently holding opponents to a meager 95.1 points per game.

However, for better or for worse, if we dig a little deeper, it’s easy to see that these stats are a little misleading when observing the Jazz’s pace. Utah currently plays at the slowest pace of any team in the league, averaging 92.9 possessions per game.

To put that in a little bit of perspective, the Brooklyn Nets and Phoenix Suns who lead the league in pace both log over 104 possessions per game, about 12 more than Utah.

Nov 12, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) is fouled by Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow (20) during the second half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

With the Jazz slowing down the game and reducing possessions for both themselves and their opponent, there’s no question why they both score much fewer points than the league average and hold their opponents to the least amount of points of any team.

So do the Jazz really have an awesome defense? Perhaps. Is their offense severely lacking firepower? That may be the case. But Utah’s extremely slow pace definitely plays a huge factor in making the defensive numbers look better than they truly are and their offensive numbers look much worse.

So let’s take a look at a few other indicators. In terms of field goal percentage, the Jazz are shooting 45.1 percent from the floor, good for 11th best in the league. 11th best field goal percentage sounds a lot better than 27th in points per game.

And while the Jazz boast the best defense in terms of points allowed per game, their opponent field goal percentage isn’t quite as good comparatively. Currently opposing teams are shooting 43.8 percent against the Jazz, good for eighth in the league.

Eighth in the league isn’t shabby by any means, but it doesn’t quite match the impressive top spot that their opponent points per game statistic holds.

While Utah’s done reasonably well on both sides of the floor in terms of field goal shooting, it’s been a different story from behind the arc. Not only are they in the bottom half offensively, ranking 19th in three-point percentage, but they are also in the bottom half on defense, coming in at 17th in the league at defending the deep ball.

Nov 20, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder during the first half against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 105-91. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

An even deeper look tells us even more of the story. By observing offensive and defensive efficiency, which levels the playing field for all teams by measuring the number of points they score per 100 possessions, the Jazz rank almost right in the center offensively at 13th in the league, scoring 104.2 points and 9th in the league defensively, giving up 101.6 points per 100 possessions.

That statistic does a great job of revealing that while Utah’s defense definitely is good, it’s a little misleading to consider it the best in the league based strictly on points allowed per game. Similarly with the offense, the Jazz are much better than their points scored per game ranking indicates, but coming in at 13th in the league is still pretty average.

And several other in-depth stats seem to indicate the Jazz are neither as good nor as bad as they may seem from a simple perusing of box scores. One such indicator is their efficient field goal percentage. For those not familiar with how that statistic works, basketballreference.com gives an awesome definition:

Effective Field Goal Percentage… adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal. For example, suppose Player A goes 4 for 10 with 2 threes, while Player B goes 5 for 10 with 0 threes. Each player would have 10 points from field goals, and thus would have the same effective field goal percentage (50%).

Looking at this arguably more accurate measure of a team’s shooting prowess, the Jazz finish almost smack-dab in the middle at 12th in the league at 50.7 percent, while their true shooting percentage (a measure of shooting efficiency that accounts for field goals, free throws and three-pointers) is at 13th in the league at 54.5 percent.

Nov 20, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) drives to the basket against Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari (8) during the first half at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, it’s interesting to note that their offensive rebound rate is in the bottom ten in the league, as Utah often forgoes crashing the offensive boards to set up the defense and limit transition points. Their defensive rebounding rate on the other hand is in the top ten.

Thus while Utah’s defensive stats are typically in the top half of the NBA and their offensive stats for the most part rank in the bottom half, in nearly every detailed stat category the Utah Jazz find themselves consistently somewhere in the middle of the pack.

And their middling stats match with their middling 7-8 record. While Utah certainly has the potential to be much more, their somewhat overrated defense and their better than perceived offense perfectly describe the type of team they have been overall this season up to this point.

Average.

An average team with average stats and an average 7-8 record.

The stats clearly tell that story so far, but it’s up to this Utah Jazz team, who was pinned to be much better than average, to change the way that story ends over the course of the 65 remaining games.

As the defense gets more locked in and the offense develops more cohesion, I expect that even as Utah’s overall pace stays low, their other stats will slowly climb their way from the middle of the pack up towards the top of the league.

All stats courtesy of ESPN.com

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