Super Secret Stats: The Utah Jazz and Extra-Big Lineups

March 23, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin talks with forward Derrick Favors (15) during the first quarter at Energy Solutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

Super-Secret Stat: In the 113 minutes they played together in the 2012 regular season, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, and Al Jefferson posted a plus/minus (per 48 minutes) mark of +30.9.  That number led all three-man units that played at least 100 minutes by a full eight points.

Analysis: Utah has one of the brightest young rosters in the league and is coming off a surprise playoff appearance in 2012.  So on the surface all should be right in Salt Lake, the team and its notoriously dedicated fans content to watch green players develop and revel in hardly league-changing but shrewd offseason moves.

But the Jazz are facing a problem and it will only get worse as time goes by, even if it’s one any team would be happy to have.  Utah needs to address their roster’s redundancy in the post, and that’s something we’ve known for a long, long time.  Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson would be an awesome frontcourt tandem if the Jazz weren’t counting on them to be their two top players, and especially if the organization hadn’t acquired youngsters like Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter in 2010 and 2011.

But wait… what was that stat again? Utah can play their three best big men – who just so happen to be their three best players – on the floor at the same time? To actual success? And the sample size isn’t as tiny as you’d expect? Interesting.  Very interesting.

Millsap, Jefferson, and Favors all deserve minutes and each have a legitimate claim to status as Utah’s franchise player.  The former is one of basketball’s most unique and underrated two-way players (and a StS favorite), the median might be the league’s best post scorer, and the latter has a combination of size, athleticism, raw skills, and youth the other two don’t come close to matching.  But they’re clearly all big men, and even in today’s positional-revelatory NBA the prevailing thought is there isn’t enough space on the floor or enough opposing players for three post players to guard.

But this trio is an exception and they’ve made that clear in the limited time coach Ty Corbin has eschewed convention and played them all together.  And more stats than raw +/- paint that same beautiful, potentially game-changing picture for the Jazz.

Some quick statistical nuggets displaying their prowess and cohesion (in bullets for time and convenience).  They average (per 48 minutes):

  • 106.7 points, 9.1 more than the team average
  • 33.9 free throw attempts, 9.1 more than the team average
  • 59.7 (!) rebounds, 16.4 more than the team average
  • 11.0 turnovers, 3.9 fewer than the team average
  • 75.8 (!) points allowed, 21.2 fewer than average
  • 31.6% (!) opponent field goal %, 13.6% fewer than team average
All this statistical glory was done in a sample size that is far from indicative of sustained similar success.  But for Corbin to continue trotting out lineup featuring Raja Bell, CJ Miles, and DeMarre Carroll on the wing last season instead of sliding Millsap to the three and going extra-big was absolutely inexcusable given this overwhelmingly positive data.
And that the Millsap-Favors-Jefferson triumvirate even enjoyed success in the playoffs against the mighty Spurs in their 4-0 sweep of the Jazz makes it all even worse.  Lineups featuring them had a +/- of 4.1 against San Antonio, second best among units that played at least 50 postseason minutes and one of just two that had a positive number as well.
So the same likely holds true – Utah needs to make a move regarding their surplus of talent in the post.  But to do so without giving Millsap-Favors-Jefferson real opportunity to mesh on the floor together would be a huge error in judgement, and potentially cost the Jazz a coming season much better than even 2011.



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