The Utah Jazz Worst Season: 1980

The Utah Jazz, stretching back to their founding in New Orleans in 1974, have on occasion been bad.

But as franchises go, since the team finally figured it out in 1984 and had their first winning season, Utah’s been incredibly successful.

Indeed, the worst season the team’s put up in Salt Lake City still featured 24 wins. The worst season they posted in New Orleans was 23-59. And that was their expansion 1974-75 campaign.

Let’s look at what “not really that bad” looks like. That 24-58 season in 1980 deserves a deep dive.

The On-Court Record

Utah started out awful. They started their tenure in Salt Lake, freshly moved, at 2-19.

From that point onward, they never lost more than five in a row.

In fact, they won six out of eight after that awful 2-19 start.

They had another five-of-seven stretch later in the season.

On the other hand, that plus a three-in-four streak accounts for a 14-5 record in a 24-58 campaign.

Utah, at minus-6.2, had the second-worst Net Rating in the league, ahead of only the Detroit Pistons. We’ve talked about their 1980 season in this series.

Truly awful teams have utterly cringeworthy losing streaks, statistical disasters, and other sources of amusement.

Utah just had a bunch of the season where they were run-of-the-mill bad. And for three points in between, they were actually pretty good.

The Featured Players

Adrian Dantley of the Utah Jazz

Utah had 19 games’ worth of Bernard King, who posted negative Win Shares (minus-.002 WS/48.) Adrian Dantley scored 28.0 points per game and posted 10.5 Win Shares and .189 WS/48.

Ben Poguette and Allan Bristow both played 82 games and posted just short of the Starter’s Mendoza Line. Poguette had .099 WS/48. Bristow put up .091.

The Jazz also had Pete Maravich, traded to Boston midway through the season in his final year in the league. The washed-up Pistol Pete put up a positively dreadful minus-0.5 Win Shares in 522 minutes.

Still. Three Hall of Famers on the roster. A superstar put up a carry-the-team-on-his-back season. Two other starters were not great but not awful.

The problem was that anyone below the top eight in minutes was complete garbage. And Duck Williams, who was in that top-eight rotation, put up minus-0.3 Win Shares.

Even a mid-aughts LeBron or Kobe couldn’t carry this roster. But Dantley deserves serious credit for trying.

The Coach

Tom Nissalke made a name for himself coaching Houston into the second round of the playoffs in 1977.

Trouble was, his time in Utah started after the Rockets showed him the door in 1979. The next five years featured four sub-30 win seasons and an 8-12 start. The last two of those seasons involved coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1983 and ’84.

Or, in short, a bad coach had some bad rosters and coached some terrible seasons.

Nissalke finished his career with a .388 NBA winning percentage. You can’t have a bad team without a bad coach, and Nissalke fit the bill.

The Aftermath

It took another few years for Utah to get themselves together as a franchise. And by “get themselves together” I mostly mean “drafted John Stockton and Karl Malone in consecutive years.”

The rest is history. The two Finals appearances in 1997 and ’98 were the top of the mountain, but the Jazz have built a contender in recent years around Rudy Gobert. Whether that bears fruit under new coach Will Hardy remains to be seen.

NEXT: The season tips off tomorrow, and we’ll be talking Washington Wizards as the games begin. Get out your Gatorade, but don’t try to be like Mike.

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!