A Look at Utah’s Advanced Stats

Photo: Melissa MajchrzakPhoto: Melissa Majchrzak

As you may have noticed this season, the NBA introduced some new statistics to us fans that can’t get enough analysis and breakdown of every player and team. With the introduction of the new SportVU cameras in every NBA arena this season, a plethora of new stats is available to the geeks of the basketball community, who were all clamoring for new and more ways to break down a player’s performance on the basketball court.

You don’t need to be a big fan of the numbers to appreciate the importance of these new stats. Thanks to the player tracking data, we can now see what percentage of rebounds a player grabs, how many assist opportunities someone creates, and how far players run every game.

This is especially helpful for the Jazz this season, because this is a year all about development. While wins are appreciated (although rare, Utah is 9-24) seeing players learn and understand the NBA is more exciting. Utah has a great core of youth, and the future looks very bright. Using player tracking data, we can see how well the Jazz’s young talent stacks up against the rest of the league, and how much the young guns need to improve in order to become serious NBA players.

Take Gordon Hayward for example. He leads the league in total miles traveled at 85.5. Hayward runs an average of 2.6 miles per game, tied for second place in the NBA with Luol Deng, Nicolas Batum, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, Demar Derozan, Bradley Beal, Aaron Afflalo, and Paul George.  Michael Carter-Williams, Chandler Parsons, and Klay Thompson are tied for first in the NBA, averaging 2.7 miles per game.

What this stat does is support the eyeball test that Hayward is one of the hardest working players on Utah’s roster. As David Locke, radio voice of the Jazz, has pointed out multiple times this season, Hayward is the all-around player for Utah.

Having the extra evidence from the player tracking data to show that, beyond the numbers, Hayward is a very large asset to Utah is a big help in validating what fans and analysts alike see on the court. Too often, media members make the mistake of stating an observation that looks good on the court, but fails to live up to a statistical background check. Having so much extra information is turning out to be a huge help to those basketball talking heads in the media. Following up on that point, another new stat adds further proof to assertions made about Derrick Favors, who has been vaunted as a great rebounder ever since his days at Georgia Tech. While Favors has certainly improved each year he’s spent in the league, his rebounding has gone leaps and bounds ahead of where he was in college.

According to the new stats, Favors grabs 59.9% of every rebound he has a chance to get. A player is considered as having a chance to get a rebound if they’re within 3.5 feet of the ball after a missed shot. Taking into consideration that the Jazz actually have a very adept rebounding backcourt, and the presence of other good rebounders, such as Enes Kanter, Favors is impressive. Favors has 15.3 chances to get a rebound every night, and he averages 9.2 boards per game. Considering that a certain percentage of those missed rebound opportunities are to other teammates, Favors does a good job grabbing nearly 60% of all the loose balls that come his way. Seeing a player do anything at a rate of 60% (well, besides free throws) is always a good thing.

Another interesting rebounding stat also highlights how adept Favors is becoming at snagging loose balls – he collects 40.5% of every contested rebound as well. That number shows that Favors is better at winning rebounding battles than Zach Randolph, Kenneth Faried, Tim Duncan, Kevin Love, and DeAndre Jordan. That’s pretty good company to be in.

Once again, having the knowledge of these stats really cements the claim that Favors is turning into an elite rebounder. While it’s easy to note his hustle in games going after loose balls, having the numbers to back that up is incredibly important.

Rebounding and distance traveled aren’t the only valuable stats to get a revamp this year, however; the passing game in the NBA is now under more scrutiny. While the good old fashioned assist-to-turnover ratio is still a great number by which to judge a player’s offensive efficiency by, we now have the opportunity to see how many points are created by a player’s assists, how many assist opportunities they have, as well as secondary assists (a pass that leads to a pass that leads to a shot).

Trey Burke averages 5.1 assists per game and has 10.6 assist opportunities per game. Assist opportunities are an interesting stat to measure – NBA.com defines them as, “Passes by a player to a teammate in which the teammate attempts a shot, and if made, would be an assist.”

With the Jazz shooting 43.1% from the field, 27th in the NBA, one has to think that Burke would average a few more assists per game if his teammates shot better. Burke gets an assist on 48% of his opportunities with his team only making 35.4 baskets per game, which means that Burke assists on 16.9% of all of Utah’s made field goals. For a rookie point guard in the NBA, that’s a great mark.

Conversely, Tony Parker averages 6 assists per game to 13.1 assist opportunities. The San Antonio Spurs shoot 48.5% from the floor, which means that Parker assists on 45.8% of his opportunities. This means that Parker is responsible for 18.6% of the Spurs’ 40.7 made field goals every game (the Spurs make more field goals than any other team in the NBA).

This shows what a lot of people have noticed about Burke this season – when he’s on the court, he makes every player around him better. Burke’s court vision, timing, and unselfish play are turning him into a very efficient point guard. After all, he’s responsible for only 1.7% less of his offense’s made field goal than Parker, an absolutely stellar player.

In addition to these new passing stats showing how effective Burke is, they also illustrate another intriguing aspect of Hayward’s game. Hayward averages 4.9 assists per game, .2 less than Burke, yet both players create exactly 11.5 points per game from their assists. Without Burke and Hayward, the Jazz would have to find another way to create 23 points each night. Beyond Hayward and Burke, Utah doesn’t have a player on its’ roster capable of running the offense at this high of a level.

Once again, this stat supports what is already accepted as fact by the eyeball test – both Burke and Hayward are integral cogs in the Jazz’s offense. There’s a myriad of other stats to dig into about this team, but these were some of the most surprising I found while perusing NBA.com’s database.

These new stats are great to help fans really understand how effective a player is, and there’s a good chance that all this new data will be affecting trades and contract extensions in front offices around the league.

Spencer is an avid sports fan and fisherman. He’s a lover of classic rock and Sundays filled with football. You can find him on Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant
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