Two months of the season have passed, and the Utah Jazz sat below .500 heading into last Sunday’s match against Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers squeaked out a last-second win the Friday before, and prevailed again on Sunday.
Jazz fans certainly had their sights set higher than 11th in the Western Conference, but in reality, where should the team be?
Take a look at the early schedule, and any sane prognosticator would have assumed the team would be around .500. The majority of their early games were on the road, and historically the Jazz is a poor road team.
But should a reasonable Jazz fan be content with the early season performance of the team? Is the team where it should be with the talent assembled, or is it behind pace?
If you follow Las Vegas betting lines, the Jazz should have been at 16-15 had they beaten Los Angeles. They were betting favorites. While the Vegas lines are fairly accurate, they are based on their opinions.
Basketball is coming up with new ways to measure a team’s performance, of answering if a team is performing as it should.
A commonly used metric is the expected win-loss record. Instead of guessing what games it should win, a team can look at the expected wins and see if it is where their stats say it should be.
This is a modified Pythagorean Method, for those who stayed awake in math class.
The numbers used are the points scored by a team compared to how many they allow.
Anyone can agree the most important statistic in basketball is the scoreboard, so the more points a team can score against other teams, the better shot they have of winning.
The good news for the Jazz is, depending on whose formula you read, the Jazz is performing at or better than its expected win-loss record. Basketball-reference.com expected the Jazz to have 15 wins before Sunday’s game, and ESPN’s rating predicted 14.
There are a few ways to look at this number.
You can look at it with a glimmer of hope, seeing that the Jazz are performing better than what is expected of them. With the number of home games upcoming, the Jazz could make a run for a playoff spot.
The other perspective is that the Jazz is giving up too many points. Unless it shores up its defense, it will not be expected to win many more games.
Somewhere between the two answers lies the truth.
During the recent losing trend, where they have lost eight of their last nine games, the Jazz has been outscored by more than 80 points, frequently losing by double digits, or barely squeaking out wins.
Part of that is poor offense; the Jazz only scored more than 100 points once, in Friday’s loss to the Clippers.
But the defense is not blameless. It sits near the bottom of the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing nearly 108 points per 100 possessions.
The team needs to find a balance between their offense and defense.
Adding Alec Burks to the rotation in the last few games has added a new offensive dimension to the Jazz’s second unit.
During Friday’s Clipper game, the second unit, including Burks, outscored the Clippers.
With Burks on the floor, the Jazz outscored the Clippers by 17 points.
With Burks, the Jazz may have finally found a role for the second-year player. The second unit lacked firepower from the perimeter, and Burks can fill that void. He can also play with Gordon Hayward, allowing for the two to match up on opponent guards.
Hayward was able to swing to All-Star Chris Paul in the final minutes, holding the star to 1-6 shooting in the final quarter.
The Jazz are not a finished product, and with a few adjustments to their defense, once they are out of their offensive funk, things will turn around.
The team has the potential to score at a much higher rate. Couple that with improved defense, and before long Utah will be back in the playoff hunt.