Welcome to the Utah Jazz Track Meet
Updated: Sep 17, 2019
Jazz fans may arrive at Vivint SmartHome Arena next season ready for Utah Jazz basketball and find themselves watching a Utah Jazz track meet.
The NBA has experienced an interesting phenomena the past seven seasons: teams are running.
In the 2011-12 season, the NBA’s league average pace was 91.3 possessions per game. The pace of play has remained quite constant since the mid 1990’s, hitting a historic low at 88.9 possessions in the 1998-99 season.
Since 2011-12, the pace has steadily increased. Last year’s 2018-19 season produced an average pace of 100.0. That’s an 8.7 possessions per game increase in just seven seasons. This is the highest pace of play since the 1988-89 season (see Figure 1).
No team is immune to the pace increases, yet the Utah Jazz have been incredibly resistant to the run and gun era.
The Utah Jazz have ranked significantly below average in pace of play in three of the past four seasons. In transition frequency, they’ve ranked below average in all four seasons (see Figure 2).
The Memphis Grizzlies coined the phrase “Grit and Grind” era for their slow paced, defensive teams of the early and mid 2010’s. The Utah Jazz have carried that reputation for the latter half of the decade.
It’s no surprise, honestly. Without elite athleticism or developed skill around the rim, players such as Shelvin Mack, Ricky Rubio, Trey Burke, and Chris Johnson made it a “no-brainer” to avoid transition.
While such has been their reputation, we’d been remiss for not mentioning that steady improvement has been made over the past two seasons in both categories.
All else equal, the Jazz could very well be above average next season should the recent trend continue.
But all else is not equal. The Jazz revamped their roster with the additions of Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Ed Davis, Jeff Green, and Emmanuel Mudiay.
These players will usher in a new era of Jazz basketball with improved pace and offensive efficiency.
Take a look at the graphic below, showing how the key additions and subtractions will give the Jazz a significant boost in transition (see Figure 3):
In every case, the efficiency percentile improves with each new Jazz member (red to green). In several instances, the amount of transition opportunities also improves. The Jazz are much more equipped personnel-wise to get out and run.
But it’s not just the new editions that should have Jazz fans excited. Other key cogs in the Jazz rotation will contribute handsomely:
Mitchell is an elite athlete despite his subpar numbers in transition
Exum has lightning speed and shows promising flashes in his few attempts
Gobert is incredibly efficient and a great athlete at his size
O’Neale put up great efficiency in his second year
Ingles consistently puts up good efficiency, especially with a properly suited role
Jazz fans have become accustomed to a fast-break opportunity quickly turned into a half-court set. Now, they should get ready for Bojan, Mike, Jeff, and others to push the ball and finish early in the shot clock.
What could this do for the Jazz?
Reduce shot variability
The further away from the basket a shot originates, the higher variability it’ll experience. If the Jazz can be in transition more frequently and thereby score closer to the rim with defenders in a compromised position, that gives the Jazz a more consistent weapon.
Leverage home court advantage
The Utah Jazz have one of the true home court advantages in the NBA due to the altitude. The Jazz have maximized this advantage with constant movement, hand-offs, and screens. They can amplify their strategy by playing in transition and wearing down the opponent.
Lessen stress on defense
Scoring at a higher rate should help the Jazz start a higher number of possessions with a set defense. This idea extends to transition since an offense that quickly transitions to defense on a Utah transition opportunity is even less likely to begin the ensuing possession (assuming the Jazz score) with as much speed as a typical half court defensive play. This puts lets stress on the D.
Other than the two year trend of increasing frequency of transition opportunities and overall pace, there’s little evidence that the Jazz will suddenly become a serious run and gun type team.
Yet, when the aforementioned trend is combined with the personnel adjustments, you have to wonder if Quin and the front office are gearing up for a complete offensive transformation.
We may find ourselves arriving at Vivint SmartHome Arena ready for Utah Jazz basketball and find ourselves watching a Utah Jazz track meet.