Silver Linings – Finding the Good in Utah’s 0-8 Start

Photo: George Frey Getty Images SportPhoto: George Frey Getty Images Sport

As the NBA season begins its third week, the Utah Jazz find themselves sporting the NBA’s worst record at 0-8.  After starting the week with a home loss on Monday night, the Jazz will face a tall order trying to get their first win when New Orleans and San Antonio visit this week. By the time Saturday’s game in Oakland against the Warriors rolls around, the Jazz could be 0-10. While losses aren’t always positive (moral victories are going to be a huge theme for Utah this season) silver linings are always there for people willing to look for them. It’s important for a team, and their fanbase, to look at the good things when they’re stuck in a losing rut like the Jazz are right now.

Now, Jazz fans may want to read Matthew Quick’s Silver Linings Playbook for some tips on finding the good during a losing season, but I came up with a couple of things that should be able to give Jazz fans something to smile about while they wait for Utah’s first win.

The player I’ve been most impressed by so far has been Enes Kanter. Kanter is third in the league in offensive rebounds with 4.6 per game, behind only DeAndre Jordan and Greg Monroe. But offensive boards are only part of Kanter’s story – per the new SportVU stats, Kanter grabs 46.2% of the rebounds he has a chance to get. According to NBA.com, a rebound chance is defined as the player being with 3.5 feet of a rebound. While 46.2% isn’t leading the league (Kanter ranks 301 out of 385 players), it’s important to note that, a) there’s an incredibly small sample size for this stat, and b) Jimmer Fredette leads the league in this stat. Fredette has grabbed 100% of the rebounds he’s had a chance to get his hands on, and he’s racked up a total of four rebounds in two games for the Kings this season. So while this stat is interesting, at this point in the season it still needs more data behind it before it become a stronger indicator of how well a player rebounds.

It’s also important to note that Kanter does have an incredibly gifted frontcourt partner in Derrick Favors. Favors grabs 54.5% percent of his rebounds chances, which balances out Kanter’s 46.2% and also shows that these two players are great at getting as many rebounds as they can, especially when they’re on the court together.  So with that in mind, I’d like to move on to the next batch of numbers I found that are really interesting to me. Kanter grabs 63% of his contested rebound chances, which is 21st in the NBA. The contested rebound percentage is self-explanatory – this stat shows how many rebounds a player gets when that rebound is contested by an opponent.  But if you look at players who’ve played at least five games through the season, then Kanter is the fifth best rebounder in the NBA when it comes to contested rebounds. Kenyon Martin leads the league at 72.7%, but he only plays 10.7 minutes per game to Kanter’s 34.3. The important thing to note with any of the stats from the new SportVU player tracking data is that looking at minutes per game and games played is just as important as anything else.

Now, rebounding aside, this season has seen a jump in nearly every other statistical category for Kanter. He’s shooting 51% from the field, putting up 16.4 points, seeing 34.3 minutes, and is shooting 90% from the free throw line per game this year for the Jazz. While Kanter’s turnovers are up, as are his fouls, that’s to be expected from a player who made a jump from 15.4 minutes per game last season to 34.3 this season. Not to mention the fact that a large part of the scoring burden is now on Kanter’s shoulders, as opposed to the role he played coming off the bench last season.

With such a huge increase in minutes, it’s nice to see Kanter handling himself efficiently on the court and proving that he and Favors can co-exist together. While Kanter’s defense still needs some tweaks, he’s coming along and he’s been my favorite part of Utah’s season so far.

The last silver lining I want to talk about is along the lines of player development. Right now, as I’ve stated before, the Jazz are in a unique situation. With Favors and Kanter starting, Gordon Hayward playing at a high level, and hopefully a great future point guard in Burke, Utah has the potential to become a great team in the next few years. While Hayward’s future in Utah remains uncertain (he and the Jazz weren’t able to reach an agreement on an extension, making Hayward a restricted free agent come July 1, 2014) the Jazz still have a great core of players. Alec Burks is coming along, and hopefully will be able to improve his efficiency on the court and lessen his turnovers. Rudy Gobert is another intriguing player solely due to his size, and from the brief flashes we’ve seen from him through seven games already, I feel confident in predicting that he could become a great rotation player in Salt Lake City in the next few years.

Jazz fans have been spoiled for the entire existence of the franchise – the Jazz are one of three teams who have never lost 60 or more games in a season, the other two being the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks. While every season spent in New Orleans was a losing season for the Jazz franchise, since their move to Utah in 1979, the franchise has only seen six losing seasons. That’s remarkable, but happened due to the fact that Karl Malone and John Stockton spent nearly two decades together in Salt Lake City, and the presence of Jerry Sloan as head coach for 23 years. Even after Stockton retired and Malone left to chase a title with the Lakers, Utah had one losing season, drafted Williams, and didn’t notch a sub-.500 record again until the 2010-11 season. So while the idea of losing a lot of games this season isn’t terribly exciting, it will be good for the team in the long run, and even though Jazz fans have rarely been through tough times, this should be looked at as a silver lining.

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