Heading into a Friday night tilt with the Milwaukee Bucks, the Utah Jazz stand 5-3, fifth in the top-heavy Western Conference, and fresh off a gut-check 106-104 win over the Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday night.
The Jazz rearmed and loaded up this offseason, and so far so good for them, but let’s take a look at some of the fundamental stats and patterns of this team and see if coach Quin Snyder is getting the most he can get out of them or if Jazz fans should be hoping for a fundamental shift in style in order to take a playoff leap in a loaded half of the league.
Donovan Mitchell‘s Midrange Efficiency
Mitchell’s midrange game has elevated this year, benefiting from a lot of great open looks he’s getting in that part of the floor space thanks to Bojan Bogdanovic tickling the twine from long range this season.
Bogdanovic is hitting 53.4 percent of 8.3 three-point attempts a game, a massive barrage of deadly artillery fire that has propelled him to 20.1 points per game (second on the team behind Mitchell) and reinforced the belief of Pacers fans that no good ever came out of using a spot-up artillery piece like Bogey in a role that doesn’t let him fire away eight-plus times every night.
Mitchell, meanwhile, has used the floor spacing to sneak into no-man’s-land and hit 58.3 percent between 10 and 16 feet and 51.9 percent between 16 feet and the arc.
Which is both (a) unsustainable and (b) not even as good as Mitchell’s 3-point shooting (41.9 percent, for a .629 eFG% better than even that super-sized percentage from the short midrange.)
Of course, all those midrange shots do not come without a certain opportunity cost, and the Jazz sit 26th in offensive rating and have played at a “snail’s pace” of 98.4, 28th in the league, which is never a good sign when you’re down in today’s fast-paced NBA and need to wipe out the 20-point lead that never seems safe these days.
But Then Again…
It’s not like Utah’s low offensive output is because they’re missing shots.
They’re 11th in raw FG% and ninth in eFG% while standing a respectable 18th in 3PAR on a team that generates a lot of easy two-point buckets from having a giant Frenchman in the low post.
Rudy Gobert is, however, only shooting the ball 6.3 times per game (for 11.3 points), two fewer attempts than Bogdanovic is hoisting up from 3-point range alone.
Something’s not quite right with Utah’s offensive flow, but despite my deep, abiding love of taking a steaming hot one on midrange jump shots, a team that’s top ten in shooting efficiency and near league-average in getting long-range shots up isn’t a sign of a coaching deficiency.
Defense Wins Championships
And, of course, there’s that 2nd-in-the-league defensive rating to consider.
Gobert has actually improved on his league-leading 5.1 defensive BPM last year (he’s at 5.2) and leads the league in Defensive Win Shares (0.8.)
Mitchell is a plus defender for the first time in his career. Having Bogdanovic alongside him to relieve some of the pure-scorer responsibilities on the offensive end has freed Mitchell to post a 1.9 DBPM, which in turn has boosted his overall advanced stats to a downright MVP-conversation-level .264 WS/48.
There are three guys on the entire Jazz team with negative DBPM. They’ve played a combined 110 minutes. Mitchell has played 273 by himself in the first eight games.
An Identity Emerges
The Jazz are what happens when a Dark Ages team that won games 67-63 in 2002 plays in a league that plays on fast forward 17 years later.
They can’t score (at least not in per-possession volume, thanks mostly to their second-worst-in-the-league turnover percentage) but if you think you’re going to score on them, you’re out of your mind.
Crank the speed up on a 67-63 snoozer and what you’re left with is…a 106-104 thriller in proper lockstep with what an NBA game in any era is supposed to look like to the folks in the seats.
The Jazz are 5-3. When they bring their turnovers under control, their efficient shooting—even with Mitchell shooting midrange shots!—is going to push their offensive advanced stats much higher.
And speaking of the Spida, he’s made a genuine leap from “intriguing but infuriating young volume shooter” to “complete player about to become one of the very best in the league if he keeps it up.”