Throughout this season, I’ve said that the best way to look at the Jazz is in 10- or 20-game stretches. Last night, the Jazz played their 60th game of the season, completing the sixth 10-game stretch. Over the last 40 games the Jazz are 17-23 and far better than they were in the opening 20 games of the season.
Here’s how the Jazz rank offensively and defensively in the NBA over the six 10-game stretches:
The Jazz have increased their 3-point shooting, but (as the graph below shows) they have not increased their accuracy. However, even with this drop in shooting percentage, the Jazz are still getting the same amount of points per shot from 2s and 3s. The Jazz are receiving .99 points per shot on 3-pointers and .99 points per shot off their 49.7% 2-pointer shooting.
Have the Utah Jazz made defensive progress this season? One way I look at Utah’s defense is that I take the first 25 games of the season and then compare it to the last 20 games of the season. The Jazz were 6-19 after 25 games and by then Trey Burke had worked his way into the lineup comfortably.
Dean Oliver, in this brilliant book, broke the game down into four factors: defensive effective field goal % (which weighs 3-point shooting), DFTA rate (the rate at which you send opponents to the free-throw line), DTO% (the percentage of possessions you force a turnover) and DREB% (percent of defensive rebounds you get).
Here is how the Jazz have changed over the course of the season:
|First 25 games||24th||26th||24th||29th|
|Last 20 games||9th||16th||30th||13th|
The Jazz have shown considerable growth in three of the four categories. The ninth in DEFG% over the last 20 games is really exciting. In addition, the Jazz have long been notorious for the amount they foul—and that has subsided. Finally, the Jazz have moved to above average in defensive rebounding despite playing with a stretch 4.
The only area where the Jazz have been inadequate is their lack of forcing turnovers. Ranking 30th doesn’t tell the whole story. The current rate of forcing turnovers over the past 20 games is historically low at only 11.8% of opponents possessions.
Overall, the Jazz have improved from ranking 30th defensively in the first 25 games to 23rd, and if they can begin to force some turnovers they will be near average in a hurry.
Watching the Jazz against the Celtics on Monday night was a clear reminder of how important Derrick Favors is to the Jazz defense.
By excluding the 14 games to start the year—when Enes Kanter and Favors started together—and isolating the games the games Favors has started as the center without Kanter and the nine games Kanter has started as the center without Favors, the impact of Derrick becomes lucid.
Favors’ absence has been felt most vividly early in games with paint defense. In the games Favors missed, the Jazz allowed 13.8 points in the paint in the first quarter, contrasting to the games with Favors as the center at 12.4 points in the paint in the first quarter.
In addition, in the games when Favors starts as the center, the Jazz allow 60% shooting in the restricted area in the first quarter. In the nine games Favors was absent, the Jazz allowed 69.5% shooting in the restricted area in the first quarter.
Moving beyond the first quarter into the entire games gets a bit complicated statistically. In games when Favors starts, Kanter gets most of the back-up minutes. Whereas when Kanter starts, Rudy Gobert gets the back-up minutes.
According to the player-tracking data, Rudy Gobert is a very good defender at the rim. Gobert allows only 43.2% on shots within five feet of the rim. Favors allows 51.2% and Kanter allows 53.7%. For game-long data, an argument could be made that Gobert assists the numbers when Favors doesn’t play.
With the aforementioned weakness to this data, it is still revealing in regards to the impact of Favors. In the games Favors started without Kanter, the Jazz have allowed 46.2 points in the paint. In the games Favors didn’t play, they allowed 49.8.
In the restricted area for the entire game when Favors starts without Kanter, the Jazz allow 62.7%. And in games when Favors doesn’t start, it is 64.8%—despite the impact of Rudy getting more minutes.
The biggest number of all, however, is points allowed. In games when Favors starts without Kanter, the Jazz allow 98.6 points per game. In the nine games Favors missed, the Jazz allow 105.3.
Thanks to Bloomberg Sports for this data.