The rise to the top tier of the Western Conference for the Utah Jazz is not happening quickly or smoothly. With a 7-8 record through the early part of this season, patience is going to be a necessity for fans.
The young Jazz team came into the season with fans and pundits alike foreshadowing a leap that would have them competing for a top four spot and home-court in the playoffs. While the season is still indeed young, the clairvoyance of some is shaping up to be a bit shaky.
The progression of NBA teams is rarely a linear action. Players and coaches like to recite the hackneyed adage It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon in regards to the NBA season. However, as fans, that sentiment seems to get lost when things begin to look bright for a team that once was lottery bound but seemed to have figured some things out.
For the Jazz, it seemed they were on the upward trajectory, destined to burst through the glass ceiling. It could still happen. The season is still young and all it takes is for them to pick up a little steam and play their best basketball near the end of the season.
Things are not all bad for this team. Not even close. George Hill has been pretty darn solid for this team. His addition has gone just as planned if not better. He’s averaging 20 points and five assists per game. Hill also has a 65% true shooting percentage. He’s also hitting 43% of his three pointers in his seven games played.
Rodney Hood is still providing steady production for his team as well as offseason addition Joe Johnson.
Head coach Quin Snyder and his staff has this team playing close to elite defensive basketball. Allowing only 95 points per game has them first in the league in that regard. If the opponent can’t get points from their offense then there’s always a chance for a team such as the Jazz to keep the game close. That goes hand in hand with how well the Jazz are keeping their opponents from even having the chance to get shots up as they are top ten in shots allowed.
The key to winning games is to not beat yourself and Utah does a great job of doing just that. They are bottom five in turnovers. The flip side to that is that they aren’t turning their opponents over all that much either. The Utah jazz are last in the league in steals.
Nevertheless, as well as they are playing on the defensive side of the ball, the offense has to improve if they want to get where they want to go. Utah is middle of the pack in offensive efficiency. The consensus for this squad is that they share the ball and play unselfish basketball.
The thing is, even though they are top ten in passes made through 15 games, those passes aren’t turning into assists. The Houston Rockets are a team that ranks last in the league in total passes made but are fifth in the league in average assists. The ball can move around the half-court as many times as 24 seconds allows, however if it’s not going in the basket, then that’s not good offense.
How do you fix an offense that goes deep into the shot clock without even an attempt? Trying playing a bit faster. The Jazz find itself last in pace played. Pace does not just boil down to running up and down the court, it also encompasses how fast the team is getting into their sets, or making decisions. This also ties into their half-court defense not getting steals and getting easy transition buckets.
Getting to the free throw line would help a ton as well. Easy points raises the confidence of shooters and allows the team to set up its high ranking defense. The Jazz are in the bottom third of the league in free throw attempts at 21 per game.
The team is at the bottom of the league in transition plays and points off turnovers. Settling for spot-up jumpers 17 seconds into the shot-clock (the Jazz take 42% of their shots during that time frame and is top five in the league in spot-up jumpers) doesn’t make for great chances to score. Of players averaging more than three 3-point attempts, Utah has only two players shooting above 30% from three.
Or how about Rudy Gobert?
This squad is bottom ten in the league in points in the paint. Bringing up a player’s contract when discussing role can be trite at times (see: Enes Kanter), but the $100 million center has to find a way to get more involved in the offense. He’s averaging 10 points on 62% with about six attempts per game. The Jazz should try to incorporate more screen and roll actions. At seven-feet, 250 pounds, Gobert as an every possession roll threat would open up the floor.
I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up Gordon Hayward, who is quietly not having the best of seasons. With only nine games under his belt due to an early hand injury, it’s going to take some time for him to get his legs back. The question is, how long? Hayward has shooting splits of 39/25/91. As the team’s best perimeter option the time has come for Gordon to be more efficient.
The music that Jazz fans hear isn’t so pleasant right now. The expectations were high, but the output has been low. However Jazz fans, the NBA season is a war of attrition. This won’t be the same team in February. The days of glory haven’t come yet for Utah, just be patient.