Analysis: Reasons for the Utah Jazz’s struggles

Dec 11, 2018, 8:16 PM | Updated: 8:31 pm
Breaking down the Utah Jazz's struggles into three main points: defense, strength of schedule, and ...
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) high fives Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum (11) during a time out in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

The Utah Jazz is currently sitting at 13-15 and it’s probably not unreasonable for fans to feel let down. After all, continuity or bringing the team back was supposed to give the roster an edge and the Jazz were expected to finish pretty high in the standings.

It was only last week the team beat the San Antonio Spurs by 34 and then beat the Houston Rockets by 27. Displaying the stubborn defense fans have come to expect and for once it probably felt nice to see the ball go through the hoop more often than not. Some may have wondered if the team had started to figure it out.

Then the Utah Jazz’s struggles returned after another road trip. This time it lost to the Spurs by double digits and were down by as many as 21 in the game. Then the next night, the team took on the Oklahoma City Thunder and lost by nine, but that does not tell the whole story. The Jazz were down by as many as 29 in that contest.

In the Jazz Notes podcast hosts Cleon Wall and Jeremiah Jensen called it a broken record. It seems to be the same things they discuss in every podcast. In the end they narrow it down to three main reasons as to why the team has struggled: defense, schedule, and on-court chemistry.

The Struggling Defense

Last season the Jazz were the best in defensive rating at 102.9. It was so good that it earned Rudy Gobert Defensive Player of the Year honors.

What happened to it this season so far? Well some of the players cited the adjustment to the player movement rules the league implemented this year.

There could probably be a deeper dive into this, but simply put the defense just hasn’t been as good this year. The Jazz currently sit at 12th in defensive rating per NBA Stats at 107.4, nearly five points more per 100 possessions.

To be fair the Jazz may be turning a corner here. In the last 10 games the Jazz are the 8th best defense at 104.4. Still not quite elite, but it is improving.

Jensen also believes the Western Conference has gotten better and that has played a factor.

Strength of Schedule

It may be easy to find excuses and the schedule may be merely just that. It does play a factor, however. The Jazz lead the NBA in road games played with 18 (9-9) so far. The next closest? Seven teams have played 15. Only the Toronto Raptors (playing their 29th game Tuesday night) and the New Orleans Pelicans have played more games than the Jazz.

(ESPN RPI Rankings)

You see the Jazz at the top of the ESPN’s SOS (strength of schedule) list. You will also see “EWL” in there which is Expected Win-Loss and the Jazz are currently sitting at its expectation. The team is also top-10 in the league in RPI (Relative Percent Index). ESPN defines RPI: “The basic formula is 25% team winning percentage, 50% opponents’ average winning percentage, and 25% opponents’ opponents’ average winning percentage.”

Another forum in has the Jazz with a 2.3 SOS rating (the higher the number, the tougher the schedule). The next closest to them is the Rockets at 0.8.

So it may be called an excuse, but it does play a factor and perhaps to some degree the Jazz are playing to the exact level fans should expect out of the roster right now.

What fans may need to worry about is when the schedule does lighten up. Losing early like the Jazz have puts a lot of pressure to win those games you are favored in.

(Fun fact: OKC has had the easiest schedule in the league so far.)

On-court Chemistry

This probably shouldn’t be an issue considering the team returned most of its roster. However, it seems to be.

“The guys have talked about that, how it’s just not clicking right now,” Jazz Notes host Jeremiah Jensen said. “The connected-ness you expected to see right out of the gate has not been there.”

Jensen and Cleon Wall say you can see that by the turnovers on the court. The Jazz currently rank 25th in the league turning it over 15.9 times per game.

It has affected the offense as well with the Jazz being #21 in offensive rating at 106.5. Last year the Jazz finished 16th at 107.2.

The lack of on-court chemistry has also made it very hard for the Jazz to be consistent. Per the Jazz have the highest consistency rating in the league at 18.2. This stat measures consistency on game-by-game efficiency differential variation. This means the higher the rating, the more unpredictable that team is, essentially meaning the Jazz easily can swing the other direction. Example is the two wins versus San Antonio and Houston last week to the Spurs and the Thunder this week.

Can the Jazz turn it around?

Well the team did it last year once the schedule lightened up, but that run was probably an anomaly. It probably means re-adjusting the expectations slightly and the Jazz under Coach Quin Snyder have always been a second half team.

So time will tell, but for this roster to make the playoffs in the stacked Western Conference, it will have to win a lot of the games it is favored in. Even though they’ve done it before, it is still a tall task to do it again.

Listen to Jazz Notes for free, wherever you get your podcasts, or on the KSL Newsradio App.

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Analysis: Reasons for the Utah Jazz’s struggles