NBA.com's John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2018-19 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Utah Jazz, who were better than their record said they were.
Last season, the Jazz were 48-34, with the point differential of a team that was 55-27.
That was tied for the biggest differential between "expected wins" (a number calculated using a team's point differential) and actual wins last season.
The Jazz finished fifth in the Western Conference, but they had the Western Conference's third best point differential at plus-4.3 points per game, comfortably ahead of the fourth-ranked Oklahoma City Thunder (plus-3.4).
The expected-win differential wasn't about Utah's performance in close games. In fact, the Jazz were tied with the Golden State Warriors for the fewest clutch games (those that were within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter) in the league. They Jazz weren't great in those 29 clutch games (16-13), but the point differential was more about games that weren't close.
The Jazz won seven games by 30 or more points, including three by 40 or more. They didn't lose any games by that much and also had more than twice as many wins by 15 or more (22) as losses by 15 or more (10).
Some of those big wins came against bad teams, but even in games played between the 18 teams that finished with winning record, the Jazz had the second biggest differential between their "expected" record 29-23 and their actual record 26-26. The Jazz had wins of 30, 19 and 40 points over the Warriors, and in only one of those three games (the 19-point loss) did the champs play fewer than three of their four All-Stars.
The question now is whether Utah's expected-win differential is an indication that the Jazz will be better next season. They're returning player who accounted for 85 percent of last season's minutes (the league's third highest rate), but are they starting from a baseline of 48-34 or 55-37?
Since 1996-97 (eliminated lockout-shortened seasons and those that preceded them), there is a slightly stronger correlation between a team's "expected" wins and how many games they won the following season than there is between the team's actual wins their following-season total. But of the 18 teams that had an expected-win differential of seven games or more, only seven were improved (in regard to actual wins) the following season.
Of course, one of those seven was the 2015-16 Jazz, who were 40-42 with the point differential of a team that was 47-35. That year, the problem was how bad they were in close games. And the following season, the Jazz went 51-31.
When discussing what the Jazz can do this season, we must first take into account that their best defensive player -- Rudy Gobert -- missed 26 games last season and that they went 30-8, with the league's best point differential, after Gobert returned from injury in mid-January. We must also take into account that their best offensive player -- Donovan Mitchell -- is only 22 years old and just put in his first summer of work after getting a taste of the league.
Finally, we can acknowledge that last season's Jazz were better than their record said they were.
Note: The above table is based on true possession counts. Other efficiency stats here are based on possession estimates (typically higher than true possession counts).
JAZZ NOTES - GENERAL
- Saw the league's biggest increase in pace, from 92.1 possessions per 48 minutes (last in the league) in 2016-17 to 96.7 (25th) last season. Have still played at a slower-the-average pace in 26 of the last 30 seasons.
- Had the league's second best NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) in the second quarter (plus-9.6) and in the fourth quarter (plus-7.9), trailing only Toronto in both cases.
- One of two Western Conference teams (Minnesota was the other) that had a winning record (34-18) within the conference and a losing record (14-16) vs. the East.
- Only team that beat the Warriors three times in the regular season.
JAZZ NOTES - OFFENSE
- Have ranked in the bottom 10 in turnover rate (turnovers per 100 possessions) in each of the last four seasons and in 15 of the last 18.
- 21.9 percent of possessions, the highest rate in the league, were pick-and-roll ball-handler possessions.
- Led the league with 52.9 drives per game.
- Took 29 percent of their 3-pointers, the highest rate in the league, from the corners.
- Saw the league's second biggest post-break drop in 3-point percentage, from 37.6 percent (fourth in the league) before the break to 34.2 percent (26th) after it.
JAZZ NOTES - DEFENSE
- Allowed 97.5 points per 100 possessions from the time Rudy Gobert returned from injury on Jan. 19. That was 3.6 fewer points per 100 possessions than any other team allowed over that stretch. Their post-break improvement on defense - they were 8.0 points per 100 possessions better after the break than they were before it - was the second biggest post-break improvement on that end of the floor in the 20 full (82-game) seasons since 1996-97, trailing only that of the 2014-15 Jazz (11.2).
- One of three teams - Boston and San Antonio were the others - that was better than average in all of the four factors on defense.
- Allowed their opponents to take only 61 percent of their shots from the restricted area or 3-point range. That was the second lowest opponent rate in the league.
- Saw the league's second biggest increase in opponent turnover percentage, forcing 15.2 (fifth most in the league) last season, up from 12.9 per 100 possessions (26th) in 2016-17.
- Allowed a league-low 9.5 fast break points per game.
- Were 6.2 points per 100 possessions better defensively at home (allowing 98.5) than they were on the road (104.7). That was the league's second biggest home-road DefRtg differential.
JAZZ NOTES - LINEUPS
- Players still on the roster accounted for 85 percent of the team's minutes last season. That's the third highest returning rate in the league.
- Lineup of Ricky Rubio, Mitchell, Jae Crowder, Joe Ingles and Gobert outscored its opponents by 27.5 points per 100 possessions after the All-Star break, the second best mark among 31 lineups that played at least 100 post-break minutes.
- Prior to Gobert's second injury absence (Dec. 16 - Jan. 17), the Jazz were outscored by 9.5 points per 100 possessions with Gobert and Derrick Favors on the floor together and were a plus-8.3 with Favors on the floor without Gobert. After Gobert's return (Jan. 19), the Jazz were a plus-15.3 with the two on the floor together and a plus-3.3 with Favors on the floor without Gobert.
- For the season, the Jazz allowed 97.3 and 97.7 points per 100 possessions with Royce O'Neale and Gobert on the floor, respectively. Those were the second and third lowest on-court DefRtg marks among players who averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 or more games.
- In the playoffs, the Jazz were 20.2 points per 100 possessions better with Ingles on the floor (plus-4.3) than they were with him off the floor (minus-15.9). That was the biggest on-off NetRtg differential among 55 players that played at least 250 minutes in the postseason. Favors had the second biggest differential (19.5).
JAZZ NOTES - INDIVIDUAL
- Jae Crowder saw a drop in effective field goal percentage from 57 percent in 2016-17 to 49 percent in '17-18S. That was the biggest drop among 126 players who attempted at least 500 shots both seasons. His effective field goal percentage was higher in 53 games with Cleveland (50 percent) than it was in 27 games with Utah (47 percent).
- Derrick Favors saw an increase in effective field goal percentage from 49 percent in 2016-17 to 57 percent last season. That was the third biggest jump among 160 players who attempted at least 400 shots both seasons.
- Favors (73.5 percent) and Rudy Gobert (70.2) were two of 11 players who shot 70 percent or better on at least 300 shots in the restricted area.
- But Favors had an effective field goal percentage of just 34.6 percent from outside the paint, the worst mark among 207 players who attempted at least 200 total shots from the outside.
- Gobert took 84 percent (372/444) of his shots in the restricted area, the third highest rate among 222 players who attempted at least 400 shots.
- Gobert had an effective field goal percentage of 69 percent at home and 54 percent on the road. That was the biggest home-road effective field goal percentage differential among 213 players with at least 200 field goal attempts both at home on the road. Alec Burks (54 percent, 40 percent) had the second biggest differential.
- Gobert led the league (by a wide margin) with 6.2 screen assists per game.
- Joe Ingles ranked fourth in 3-point percentage at 44 percent. He ranked third with 74 corner 3-pointers and his effective field goal percentage of 63.4 percent on shots from outside the paint ranked second (behind Anthony Tolliver) among 207 players who attempted at least 200.
- Ingles recorded assists on 30 percent of his possessions, the fourth highest mark among 128 players 6-7 or taller who averaged at least 20 minutes in 40 games or more.
- Donovan Mitchell ranked 21st in overall usage rate (using 29 percent of Utah's possessions while he was on the floor), but fourth in clutch usage rate (using 44 percent of Utah's possessions while he was on the floor with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime). In the playoffs, he had a usage rate of 32 percent, the highest mark for a rookie in the playoffs (minimum 100 minutes played) in the 22 years for which we have usage rate data.
- Mitchell led all rookies in scoring at 20.5 points per game and set a rookie record with 187 3-pointers.
- Royce O'Neale (11.4 percent) and Alec Burks (10.5) ranked fifth and seventh in rebounding percentage among 123 players 6-6 and shorter who averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 games or more.
- Ricky Rubio shot much better from 3-point range on the road (41 percent) than he did at home (30 percent). That was the biggest regular-season road-home differential among 139 players with at least 100 3-point attempts both at home and on the road. In the playoffs, he shot 7-for-16 from 3-point range on the road, but just 3-for-16 at home.
- Rubio shot just 51 percent in the restricted area. That was up from 47 percent the season prior, but still the third lowest mark among 178 players with at least 150 restricted-area field goal attempts.
- Rubio recorded assists on 26 percent of his possessions, down from 41 percent in 2016-17 (with Minnesota). That was the biggest drop in assist ratio among players who played at least 1,000 minutes in both seasons.
- Rubio saw a drop in free throw rate (FTA/FGA) from 44 attempts per 100 shots from the field in 2016-17 to 31 per 100 last season. That was the third biggest drop among 126 players with at least 500 field goal attempts both seasons.
NBA TV's Jazz preview premieres at 7:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Oct. 3.
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