Tag Archives: Utah Jazz

Hi! How Was Your Summer? Utah Jazz

2012-2013 W-L: 43-39

New Faces: Ian Clark, Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson, John Lucas, Brandon Rush

New Places: DeMarre  Carrol (Atlanta), Al Jefferson (Charlotte), Paul Millsap (Atlanta), Earl Watson (Portland), Mo Williams (Portland)

Draft: Trey Burke (9), Rudy Gobert (27), Raul Neto (47)

These are exciting times for the Jazz.

That sounds nonsensical.  Utah let its two best players walk in free agency and completed a trade that nets them almost nothing of immediate consequence for the upcoming season but $24 million in guaranteed salary.  Burke’s draft-day slide was a major coup and Gobert’s longterm potential certainly intrigues, but neither is enough to offset the impact of Jefferson and Millsap’s departure.

The major roster overhaul foretold by the February 2011 trade of Deron Williams is finally here, and with it begins this organization’s first ‘rebuilding’ year since 2004.  The Jazz don’t have realistic playoff hopes in 2013-2014, have fully embraced a long-awaited youth movement, and emerge from a summer in which every move was made with the horizon in mind.

But Utah isn’t the Philadelphia 76ers or even the Boston Celtics.  There’s reason for optimism in Salt Lake City now and going forward, which puts the Jazz in a unique and enviable position among the teams that underwent offseason construction in anticipation of next summer’s loaded draft.

Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are the justification for Utah’s optimistic prospects, just as they’ve been for two seasons running.  But things are different with Jefferson and Millsap playing elsewhere; they’re suddenly this team’s future and present as opposed to just the latter.  That means more opportunity but more responsibility, too.  So while there’s a reason the Jazz aren’t on anyone’s short-list of potential playoff teams, there’s another they’ll remain competitive regardless: Hayward, Favors and Kanter might be really, really good.

That Utah’s three best players are valuable NBA contributors at the very worst is obvious; what isn’t is the slope of their career trajectories going forward.  We’ll finally get the proper opportunity to gauge that this season, though, and what we learn is paramount to this franchise’s direction going forward.  Are they merely starter-level? Is one of them an All-Star? Can Favors and Kanter play together? Is Hayward best as a shooting guard or small forward? There’s enough to suggest multiple answers to every question, and the hope is Utah will have enough real evidence after this season to narrow down the possibilities.

Point being, there’s talent here.  And it’s not just in Hayward, Favors and Kanter, either.

Burke, everyone’s darling of the NCAA Tournament, was once projected as the second overall pick in the draft.  He wasn’t a realistic option for Utah after March, but draft night’s wild lottery gave them a chance to acquire him.  Surrendering the 21st pick of a weak draft to swap the 14th for Burke – considered by many as the top point guard in the 2013 class – was an easy choice for the Jazz, long in search of a franchise lead guard.  Burke is hardly without deficiencies, but at the very least stops Utah’s revolving door of floor generals since being forced to trade Williams.  Noted physical limitations plagued him during summer league play, but Burke’s future is bright.

His potential influence – despite Burke’s limitations, he’s a likely upgrade on the departed Mo Williams and a certain one over Jamaal Tinsley – as an overall playmaking threat will pay dividends for the rest of Utah’s young core, and perhaps most notably third-year guard Alec Burks.  Despite flashes of two-way impact and a rare physical profile, Burks has struggled to earn consistent playing time over his first two seasons despite his team’s lack of viable options on the wing.  But he showed considerable improvement last season nonetheless, especially as a defender and three-point shooter.  He’s not a foundational piece for the Jazz yet, but this should be the year Burks gets a real chance to show he belongs as a fixture of Utah’s longterm plans.

The rest of this roster is made up of career journeymen.  But there’s a silver-lining here, with the contracts of Biedrins, Jefferson, Rush and Marvin Williams set to expire after this season.  Though the Jazz likely won’t make a major trade deadline splash unless the ideal scenario presents itself, they should be active as third-party facilitators; teams with so many salary, player and draft assets are always sought-after trade partners come late February.

Mediocrity gets you nowhere in the NBA, a fact Utah was reluctant to admit until this summer.  So instead of clawing tooth-and-nail for another chance to lose in the first round come spring, the Jazz are sitting that fight out with a longterm payoff in mind.  But their’s is a different rebuilding process than the rest, one as much about players already on the roster as those that might be this time next year.

A small step back makes it easier to take a giant leap forward.  The Jazz understand that now, and have as encouraging a future as ever because of it.  Don’t let the losses this season fool you; Utah should still be the force we’ve thought it will in years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gordon Hayward’s Turn to Star

It’s always been easy to overlook Gordon Hayward.

He almost gave up on basketball in middle school.  He was an unranked high school recruit and received just three division-one scholarship offers.  He was Utah’s second-most heralded rookie by the end of his debut season.  And he hasn’t fallen short of or exceeded expectations throughout his three-year career.

Or so the story goes.

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Table courtesy of Basketball Reference.

These are the per-36 minute statistics of the league’s best young swingmen during the regular season.  Many would laugh at Hayward’s inclusion among the esteemed quartet of Barnes, Butler, George and Leonard, and the numbers would shake their head in response; Hayward’s not only belong, but mostly outpace those of his peers.

That’s surprising on a macro level.  Our perception of Hayward’s merit differs wildly compared to his counterparts’: George is the bonafide superstar, Leonard following Tim Duncan’s footsteps, Butler a fearless two-way force, and Barnes the hyper-athletic marksman.  These are the game’s prototype ‘three-and-D’ guys, players that not only impact both ends of the floor, but do so at multiple positions while filling multiple roles, too.

But circumstance matters here as it does anywhere else.  Barnes, Butler, Leonard and George were afforded the opportunity to shine in front of a national audience during the postseason.  That each of them took advantage and drastically outperformed their regular season selves is certainly commendable.  They wouldn’t be where they are now had they played any differently.

Instead, they’d accompany Hayward on the list of youngsters that face promising but indeterminate futures.  But this group’s playoff chance was had and fulfilled, cementing their spots among the league’s young hierarchy in the process.  Hayward didn’t get his last season and likely won’t this coming one, either.  So we’ll have another opportunity to forget him again, unless he takes that salient leap from supporting to stardom during the regular season.

Let’s just say you’d be wise to pay attention.

Comparisons aside now, the 23 year-old Hayward enjoyed easily his best season in 2012-2013.  In addition to a career-high of 14.1 points per game, he posted personal benchmarks in PER (16.81) and win shares (5.4), and shot 41.5% from three-point range on 3.4 tries a night.  Perhaps more impressive, Hayward increased his usage rate from 17.8 to 22.1 while lowering his turnover rate from 13.7 to 11.7.  All that while guarding the opponent’s best wing, too, and thriving while doing so; Hayward held shooting guards to a PER of 13.6 and small forwards to the paltry number of 12.4.

So it’s safe to say Hayward got much better last season.  We just weren’t watching.

None of that means he’s due for more improvement, of course.  Perhaps Hayward’s reached his ceiling as a floor-spacing wing with underrated passing flair that doubles as a plus defender, and that’d be fine.  Every team in the league would be far better off with a player made from that basic fabric.

But Utah, finally in real transition, needs more.  And fortunately for the Jazz, there’s evidence to support the optimistic theory that Hayward has ample room to grow in the fourth and most important season – he’s due for a contract extension next summer – of his burgeoning career.

Utah fully embraced the youth movement in the offseason.  By letting longtime offensive stalwarts Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap leave without any compensation whatsoever, the Jazz are counting on internal improvement to remain competitive in the Western Conference.  How competitive Utah actually wants to be this season is a discussion for another time, but the point remains that the Jazz will finally be relying on its young talent with no veteran strings attached.

Though Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are the most direct beneficiaries behind the departure of Jefferson and Millsap, the biggest onus will fall on Hayward.  Utah’s flex-heavy offensive system relied almost untenably on its two-headed post-up monster the last couple years, leaving little wiggle room for Hayward and the team’s other perimeter players to even play basic principles of pick-and-roll basketball.  How Ty Corbin will adjust his system to life without Jefferson in particular is anyone’s guess, but what isn’t is that the biggest burden now rests on Hayward’s ever-broadening shoulders.

He’s this team’s most experienced if not best offensive player now, what with Derrick Favors’ established limitations, Enes Kanter developing, and Alec Burks and Trey Burke ill prepared for such a role.  The ball is headed Hayward’s way, and to forecast how he’ll perform with such added responsibility, we need to look back.

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All totals per 36 minutes of play.

Above are Hayward’s splits with and without Jefferson on the floor.   The biggest and broadest takeaway from all that data? Hayward is going to make a jump in 2013-2014; the question now is just how big it’s going to be.

Most everything you’d want and expect from Hayward without Jefferson playing beside him is here.  He’s a more productive scorer, a better creator, a more frequent penetrator and clearly exhibits the type of added aggression befitting a primary wing scoring option.  Hayward’s field goal percentage takes the predictable dip as a result, but that’s nearly offset by his remarkable consistency from beyond the arc and increased opportunities at the free throw line.  A 54.1% true shooting mark is hardly elite, but is sandwiched by those of established scorers like George and Carmelo Anthony.  The Jazz can deal as long as that decrease comes with the necessary uptick in production, basically.  Like everything in basketball, it’s a balancing act.

And remember, the numbers Hayward compiled without Jefferson were garnered through means of Utah’s old offensive system, and at least partially with Millsap on the floor, too.  Those aren’t circumstances in which Hayward will find himself this season; the Jazz offense should be catered to his abilities more than that of any other player on the roster.  With that change comes more defensive attention, of course, but his high-assist/low-turnover yield bodes well for that coming adjustment.

None of this is to say Hayward will ever be good enough to lead Utah to a championship.  In most every case, those types of franchise-changing players will have shown that hand by the time they’ve reached Hayward’s current stage.  But he can absolutely be a foundational piece for the Jazz in their quest to quickly rebuild; versatile defenders that can occasionally function as something close to a lead ballhandler and legitimately stretch the defense from every spot on the floor are rare. Not coincidentally, so, too, are great players in general.

Gordon Hayward is finally getting a chance this season.  It’s not ideal and doesn’t come under the best of circumstances.  But for a player so often unintentionally discounted, that such an opportunity has come at all might be enough.  And considering the quiet but sizable strides he took last season, with Hayward it likely will be.

Analytical support for this piece provided by NBA.com/stats, basketball-reference.com and 82games.com.

A New Era in Atlanta

Photo Credit: Andrea Guandalini/Flickr

The writing had been on the wall for some time for the Atlanta Hawks’ Josh Smith. As a part of a strong frontcourt tandem, Smith and Al Horford put the Hawks into playoff contention year after year. Yet, the Hawks closed the book on that era and ushered in the beginning of a new one with the signing of the Utah Jazz’s Paul Millsap for 2 years and $19 million, far less than what Utah had been offering. After allowing Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson to walk, it was wondered if the Hawks were rebuilding, but adding Millsap gives this more of a reloading feel than anything.

The change in direction is understandable. After years of fielding good-but-not-great playoff teams, the Hawks may have felt like they were spinning their wheels; and with Smith’s looming free agency, the team may not have felt that paying him the money he wanted long-term was the solution to that problem. Sure enough, Atlanta was able to get Millsap for some $6 million less per year on a shorter deal, saving the team’s cap space to continue to re-position the franchise.

Millsap may not be the defender that Smith is, but he will present defenses with a different look on offense than in recent years. Atlanta will now be able to run more post-up plays for Millsap than they could with Smith, freeing up Horford (who is a more proficient midrange shooter than Millsap) to stretch the defense, giving them a strong inside-outside game just in the post. According to MySynergySports.com, Millsap should be able to improve the areas on offense in which Smith was most strong — scoring in transition and offensive rebounds — while also not giving them a steep drop-off in areas such as cutting plays.

While Millsap may not be regarded as elite in the pick ‘n roll, Horford makes up for that, having posted a slightly above average 1.01 points per possession in such areas. With the variance in the games of Horford and Millsap, and Horford being more capable of stretching the floor and Millsap being personally strongest within three feet of the rim, the Hawks likely haven’t added a player whose skill set will duplicate that of their star player. Additionally, Horford and Millsap should be a formidable rebounding tandem, and Millsap will have to work much less on defense playing next to Horford instead of Al Jefferson.

The deal for the both parties make sense financially: the Hawks get to maintain longterm cap flexibility and Millsap will still be in his prime in two years when his deal expires, leaving it up to him to return to Atlanta or finish out his career elsewhere.

My Finals Memory: Flu Game Flashbacks

What I remember most is the soothing stench of Ozark lake water, the familiar feel of mildewed shag carpet between the tips of my toes and fingers, and sitting so close to the television that I could easily make out its pixels. Does that make it any less significant?

I was eight and Michael Jordan was sick. My grandfather was rooting for Utah; he loved John Stockton, and as to be contrary I pulled for the Bulls as much as I pushed for the Jazz. And as anyone born between 1988 and 1992 will tell you, the Jordan maelstrom was inescapable. We weren’t born Chicago fans but we might as well have been. There was just no other choice.

Game 5 was never in doubt. That’s not true, of course; the Bulls barely survived to regain control of the series. But my naïveté knew late-game Jordan heroics were inevitable. And that’s actually the only specific game sequence I know I remember. MJ hits the dagger jumper over the top of Stockton, staggers to the bench in Scottie’s arms and my mighty Bulls win.

The Flu Game isn’t my earliest NBA memory or even my fondest. But what it’s not doesn’t matter half as much as what it is – the first time I understood I was watching history. So don’t ask about Pippen’s shooting struggles, Chicago’s fourth quarter comeback or Ostertag’s surprising double-double. I’d be lying if I even tried to answer.

But that smell, that touch, that sight and that feeling I vividly recall. And I remember, too, knowing I’d still remember it all almost twenty summers later.

Statistical Anomaly: Jazz @ Grizzles

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian on Utah’s poor effort against Memphis in a must win situation.

Ed Davis record nine rebounds in 22 minutes of action, giving the Grizzles yet another effective glass cleaner. In fact, the former Tar Heel is averaging 20.2 rebounds per 48 minutes over his last eight games. With Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the peaks of their careers, Davis is getting a chance to learn rebounding from two all star level players. Davis is a bit lanky (6’10” 232 pounds) but the knowledge he appears to be gaining about positioning and timing seems to be outweighing his flaws. The future is bright for Davis, and his emergence of late gives the Grizzles the ability to go extremely big if they want to, something few teams can do.

The Jazz finished the season 2-5 when Paul Milsap fails to record a single assist. It’s not so much his passing that leads to success, but his overall involvement. The versatile power forward could hit the market this offseason (or at least be part of a sign and trade) and while his point production dipped a bit this season, his improvements on his all around game likely earned him a few extra bucks at the negating table. In his seventh season in the Association, Milsap set career highs in average assists and three pointers made while playing in personal best 77 games. In my opinion, he could very well prove to be a better version of this year’s Carlos Boozer for an already solid team like Boston, Atlanta, or even Golden State (if they would give up on Andrew Bogut).

If you subtract Al Jefferson’s stat line from the box score, you’ll notice that Utah shot 28.8% from the field and 55% from the free throw line. It isn’t unreasonable that the Jazz will begin the 2013-2014 season with Big Al, and that is a scary proposition for Jazz fans given the teams reliance on him when scoring is tough. Derrick Favors has promise and is still only 21 years of age, but I worry about his willingness to bloody his nose in the paint. He shot just 11 free throws in the final six games of the regular season, all of which were playoff intensity level games for Utah (196 minutes played). That equates to one FTA every 17.82 minutes, roughly half as often as Jefferson has gotten to the line over his career. Easy points go a long way in the NBA (eight of the top ten teams in FTA made the playoffs) and are a nice option when your team is struggling from the field. Here is a look at the percentage of each statistical category that Jefferson was responsible for in the biggest game of the season.

 Jefferson

The Grizzles held one monster advantage when you line up these two rosters, and it proved crucial in the final outcome of the game. Memphis has two players in Tony Allen and Darrell Arthur who have first names for last names while the Jazz don’t have a single one. Those two players combined for 19 points in a 16 point victory. Don’t believe me that there is a correlation between players with two first names and winning? Before the Knicks waived Kurt Thomas, the top two seeds in each conference combined to have 13 such players with the best team in the league leading the way with five. In contrast, the four teams that will lead the way in ping pong balls come June, have six cumulative players (seven depending on how you feel about the name Davis). If that’s not reason enough to reach on Shabazz Muhammad or Isaiah Austin is this year’s draft, then I don’t know what is.

Lion Face/Lemon Face 4/18/13: LAKERS RULE, JAZZ DROOL

Records broke, playoff seeds clinched, and a lot of really terrible basketball. Ladies and gentlemen, the last night of the 2013 regular season!

Lemon Face: Alonzo Gee Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 8.09.21 AM

 

This is brilliant, and it’s how I’m going to answer most of life’s important questions from now on.

Job interview: “Jordan, why should I hire you?” “I’m here.”

Marriage: “And do you, Jordan White, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, in sickness and health, until death do you part?” “I’m here.”

Birth of my first child: “Mr. White, are you ready to hold your baby for the first time?” “I’m here.”

Lion Face: Stephen Curry

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(Graphic courtesy of the Golden State Warriors)

Not only did Curry break the mark for most three-pointers in a single season (272), he did so while shooting a ridiculous 45% from beyond the arc this season on nearly eight attempts per game.  ANKLES? HE DON’T NEED NO STINKING ANKLES.

Lion Face: Chris Copeland

Last night, Copeland became the first Knicks rookie since 1980 to notch consecutive 30-plus point games.  It’s been a terrific, near-storybook season for Copeland, whose path to the NBA has been well chronicled. Also, his lion’s mane alone is worthy of a Lion Face

Lemon Face: Utah Jazz

 sadjazz1.0_cinema_1050.0

 

Utah, not wanting to face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, went with the unorthodox strategy of sewing up the ninth seed in the Western Conference. This bold maneuver paid off, as the Jazz lost to the Grizzlies, gifting a playoff berth to the Lakers as a result. It’s unfortunate that Utah’s most important game of the season came against one of the league’s premier defensive teams, but you still expected a better effort than what was put forth last night in Memphis.

(Photo courtesy of SBNAtion.com)

Lion Face: Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers lived up to their preseason hype, securing the seventh seed after defeating the Houston Rockets in overtime.

Lion Face: NASA

Lemon Face: Houston Rockets

You let NASA down, Houston. NASA.

Lion Face: Orlando Magic

I have to admit, you really scared me at first, Orlando. You were actually winning games to start the season, and not by accident! That’s not how tanking works! But you righted the ship, finishing the season at 20-62, and are now the proud owners of the worst record (but highest lottery odds!) in the 2013 season. Tankalicious!

Lemon Face: Rasheed Wallace retiring

Goodnight, sweet prince.

Small Sample Size Theater: Earl Watson

Courtesy of hsingy via Flickr

Courtesy of hsingy via Flickr

In this weekly piece I will take a look at a player who wasn’t on the court very long but had a measured impact on the final result. The chosen player may have a negative or positive impact, but either way, the player played a crucial role for his team in the past seven days.

At a glance, it would appear that Earl Watson was directly tied to the success of the Jazz this past week, as he recorded three DNP-CD’s in losses and was active in their lone win. If you dig below the service, however, you’ll notice that Utah won in spite of Watson entering the game.

The 11 year pro managed to take (and miss) five shots in a mere 13 minutes, turning the ball over three times in his brief time spent on the court. If you multiply those numbers forward, Watson attempted over 18 shots and turned the ball over 11 times per 48 minutes. Yes, these are bad numbers, but they are even worse when you consider that Utah is a team that dominates the paint. They’ve got two all star level bigs and two very capable players backing them up, giving the Utah point guards a very specific role. The Jazz average nearly 62% of their points either in the paint or at the free throw line, but with Watson running the offense, points were not coming from either one of those outlets.

 Earl Watson

The above chart shows that Watson’s game simply isn’t fit for his role in Utah. He is more effective in larger spurts of playing time, as is indicated by his shooting percentage holding a direct relationship FGA per game.  A role player, especially a game managing type point guard, should excel at picking his spots to shoot, but it is clear that Watson thrives when he gets into a rhythm, as opposed to being inserted and counted on immediately.  With his playing time trending downward, his primary efficiency rankings (AST/TO, RAT, SCEFF, SHEFF) have all declined on a consistent basis.

I’m not doubting that Watson can still play (has recorded at least five assists in every game over the last three months when he has recorded at least 22 minutes of playing time), but he seems to be a poor fit for the Jazz. He is currently the teams fourth point guard, and he has done very little to move up the depth chart. Utah beat the demoralized 76ers last night, but Watson comes off of the bench to score and take care of the ball, and he did neither on this night.

Statistical Anomaly: Jazz @ Thunder

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian on the Thunder’s blowout win over the Jazz.

Oklahoma City is the highest scoring second quarter team in the NBA (27.8 points per game) and are typically even better at home (28.8). Utah managed to hold the Thunder to a mere 21 points, but lost the quarter (12) by more points than the lost the other 36 minutes by (11).

There is no doubt that Kevin Durant is an elite talent in this league, but his 23 turnovers and 22 assists over the last week (5 games) is a bit concerning. When you consider that KD is shooting 50.5% from the field, his 4.6 turnovers per game over the week is costing the Thunder an average of roughly five points. It didn’t matter (OKC has outscored its opponents by 52 points) this week, but the playoffs are played in a much tighter window. Interestingly enough, Durant has excelled more than normal at the free throw line when he is plagued with the turnover bug. Over his last ten 3+ turnover games, Durant has made 101/108 (including 44/46 in his last four such games) free throws. This shows the maturation in the game of the three time scoring champion, as he understands when he is struggling and finds a way to positively impact the game.

Serge Ibaka managed only three rebounds and one blocked shot against the big front line of the Jazz. One would assume that rebound total and blocked shot total would be directly correlated, indicating a dominating force in the paint. However, entering this game, Ibaka was averaging 4.3 blocked shots in games in which he grabbed three or fewer rebounds. He isn’t your prototypical center of the past, but his style of play very well could be the new norm in our increasingly athletic league. Here’s a look at how many rebounds Ibaka averages this season based on number of shots blocked.

Serge1

Everybody tends to focus on the shot count when it comes to comparing Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but why not look at shot location instead? The Thunder beat the Jazz with Westbrook not making a single three pointer, something they have done on a regular basis over the last two regular seasons. In fact, OKC has a higher winning percentage in games in which Westbrook doesn’t make a three (0.767) than when he does (0.705). The Thunder will peak as a team when Westbrook plays his game (attacking the rim and pulling up for midrange jumpers) and lets Durant take care of the outside shooting.

Each Jazz starter totaled at least 18 minutes of action, combining to shoot 25.7% from the field and score 26 points. Utah’s four bench players who played 18+ minutes shot 45.7% and scored 51 points. With Paul Milsap and Al Jefferson both playing at less than 100%, the Jazz are frantically searching for ways to make the playoffs. You have to wonder, though, would they be better off missing the playoffs? Qualifying for the eight seed isn’t really as much of a selling point to their free agent eligible paint protectors as a young and promising floor general they could acquire in the draft. With Derrick Favors playing well, is that far of a stretch to say that the Jazz (as currently constructed) are a top 10 PG away from being a similar team to Memphis?

Silver lining time for Jazz fans. Enes Kanter nailed all six of his free throws and has now converted on 90.9% of his freebies dating back to February 2nd. Kobe Bryant (83.4%) is considerably behind the 20 year old while the league’s leading FT shooter (Kevin Durant) is just slightly ahead (91.1%). If the Jazz lose one or both of their big men this summer, Kanter has showed promise as an interior presence (55.6% from the field and nearly 14 rebounds per 48 minutes) and seems to be developing an outside game thanks to the tandem of Jefferson and Milsap.

The Jazz seem to be in free fall, but the Lakers lost Kobe Bryant to the dreaded “severe ankle sprain”. Utah, when healthy, can dominate the paint on both sides of the floor, which gives them a chance in most games. Can they take advantage of the Bryant injury? If they do qualify for postseason play, can they ugly their way to a win or two? I realize they may lose most of their scoring/rebounding this offseason, but they do have some nice pieces, and may be closer than you think to being a legitimate playoff team who can win a series.

Correlation Between NetRtg and Quarter

What quarter deserves the most attention when trying to draw a link between NetRtg (points scored per 100 possessions minus points allowed per 100 possessions) and winning? What does it take to be number one?

In each season, beginning with the 2007-2008 campaign, the most linked quarterly Rtg (offensive or defensive) was the first quarter. A poor DefRtg in the first 12 minutes resulted in the highest Loss Correlation in each of the past five seasons.

Also, fans like to obsess over the fourth quarter scoring (How often have you heard, “Kobe is the most clutch player of all time” or early in his career “LeBron freezes up down the stretch and couldn’t finish a game is his life depended on it”?), but is that really all that important? The average Win Correlation for OffRtg (how directly tied the game result is to the number of points scored per 100 possessions) is lower in the fourth quarter than the average of quarters one through three in every single season since 2007. This stat indicates that the offensive efficiency prior to the fourth quarter is consistently more crucial to winning that what a team does in the final 12 minutes.

In fact, if you’re still going to look at the fourth quarter as the most crucial of quarters, you’re better off looking at the defensive efficiency. In three of the five seasons studied, the average Loss Correlation for DefRtg was higher in the fourth quarter than the average of the first three quarters three times.

When analyzing the data from the past five seasons, it becomes obvious that games are won in the early going, as opposed to the final few minutes. Success is ultimately determined by victories and the wins leader (Lakers with 277) has the greatest cumulative first quarter NetRtg (48.2) over the last five seasons. Coincidence? I think not.

The total number of wins by the quarterly NetRtg leader decreases as you progress through the game. But this trend isn’t only true for the elite teams, it holds true for the NBA as a whole. The top 17 teams in terms of wins over the last five seasons are the exact same 17 teams that lead the way in cumulative first quarter NetRtg. Here is a look at how each team stacked up in total wins and cumulative NetRtg by quarter since 2007.

Win Chart

 

Top 10

 

Middle 10

 

Bottom 10

Further disproving the myth of fourth quarter efficiency and its overall importance is the overall trend of the top teams in NetRtg and the bottom teams in NetRtg . Now, one must acknowledge the fact that blowouts do play a role in the late game data and not the early game stats, but with five years of games (394 games per team), the vast majority of games are competitive throughout. Even during a game which has for all intensive purposes been decided with considerable time left on the clock, both teams will turn to their reserves, thus not skewing the data a whole lot. Take a glance at the trend of the best team/worst team in terms of cumulative NetRtg by quarter.

First Place

NetRtg Last Place

As you can see, the worst team in the league (in terms of cumulative NetRtg) improves as the game progresses while the best team gets worse. The gap from the best team to the worst team shrinks from 94.5 in the first quarter to 59.4 in the fourth stanza, a 37.1% drop off.

With all of this data surrounding the fact that the best team excels early in the game, it would only follow that the best player in the world would be associated with a similar trend. Since 2008-2009, no player has won more games than LeBron James (231) and his teams have dominated in the first quarter. In the last four seasons, James’ team has had a first quarter cumulative NetRtg of 47.5, far and away tops in the league. While his fourth quarter efficiency is still very good (27.2) in those seasons, that represents a 42.7% downward trend.

 LeBron James Pie

 If your gut feeling is to blame that disparity on James’ slow developing “clutch gene”, consider that Kobe Bryant’s Lakers (the most successful franchise over the last five seasons) have seen their cumulative NetRtg drop by 72% from the first to the fourth quarter.

Kobe Bryant Pie

 What could this trend of production early in games tell us about the future?

Since the 2007-2008 season the East has gradually improved and finally overtook the West as the better conference when it comes to playoff teams. The 2007-2008 Eastern Conference playoff teams (Celtics, Pistons, Magic, Cavs, Wizards, Raptors, 76ers, Hawks) had an average NetRtg of 3.2, with four teams logging a negative NetRtg. It was a top heavy conference, as the top three seeds had the highest NetRtg’s in the NBA. The Western Conference, however, had the next eight highest NetRtg totals from its playoff teams (Lakers, Hornets, Spurs, Jazz, Rockets, Suns, Mavs, Nuggets) and averaged a far superior 5.84 NetRtg.

Since that point in time, however, the Eastern playoff teams have cut into that gap until finally passing their Western counterparts last season. Despite a minor regression in 2009-2010, the East teams have gained ground on the West in average NetRtg (trailed by 2.64 in 2007-2008, by 0.68 in 2008-2009, 0.87 in 2009-2010, by 0.37 in 2010-2011) before finally breaking through with a higher NetRtg by 1.24 last season. Instead of being a top heavy conference, the East boasted five of the top seven playoff teams in total NetRtg.

Production in the first half of games appears to be directly correlated with this changing of the guard. In 2007-2008, the Western Conference playoff teams averaged a NetRtg of 12.3 in the first half of games, a number that was 40.2% greater than the Eastern Conference playoff teams. The East gradually chipped away at that difference by cutting the disparity to 16.2% the next season and 2.8% in 2009-2010. The East broke through last season, as their NetRtg was 13.9% greater than that of the West. They were able to make these strides specifically due to their strong play in the second quarter. Back in 2007-2008, the average Western Conference playoff team had a NetRtg that was 3.1 points better than the Eastern teams in the second quarter alone. Fast forward to the 2011-2012 season, and the Eastern teams had a NetRtg 1.69 points higher than the West.

Since the 2007-2008 season, the Eastern Conference has won 14 games (five seasons) in the Finals. They had won only 17 since the Michael Jordan era (nine seasons) ended in 1997-1998. The bottom feeders in the East are as bad as ever, but are we seeing a changing of the guard at the top of these conferences?

It’s A Revival: Jamaal Tinsley

Via Flickr – Nutmeg, Nikita Awakumov

Sometimes we get a second chance to leave a first impression, an opportunity to turn around a career and life gone awry, set right wrongs and leave behind a patched if parceled legacy. Such is the story of Jamaal Tinsley, left for dead by the basketball world, exiled first to the bench, then banned from the arena, and finally forgotten by the NBA at large.

As was the case recalled here today by guest writer Sean O’Connor, Tinsley was always on the periphery, never the center-piece, but always a key cog in a chaotic life on and off the basketball court. Tinsley never gave up his love of the game and continued to ply his trade, seeking a second chance, a shot at redemption. That chance to leave another first impression, this time upon a new generation.

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The Indiana Pacers once decided that paying Jamaal Tinsley to stay away from the team was the best move they could make for the franchise.

 While getting paid millions of dollars to literally not do anything for a year seems like a dream for most people, for Jamaal Tinsley the above scenario represents rock bottom for his basketball career. Tinsley, at the time a highly paid and fairly productive player, carried so much baggage that the Pacers decided he wasn’t worth keeping him with the team, “exiling” him from the team and telling him to stay at home until they could get rid of him.

 The Pacers reached this conclusion through a series of incidents that occurred over the darkest times in franchise history, of which Tinsley was an integral part. The following is a timeline of Jamaal Tinsley’s career, along with notable events of some of his Pacer teammates, to understand exactly how the Pacers reached this decision, how Tinsley ended up sitting out a full season, and how Tinsley has been able to salvage his career in Utah.

 2001 NBA Draft – The Vancouver Grizzlies drafted Tinsley 27th overall and traded him to the Atlanta Hawks in a deal involving Pau Gasol and Shareef Abdur-Rahim. The Hawks then traded Tinsley later on draft night to the Pacers. Tinsley, after being traded twice, would experience more whirlwind nights like this throughout his life and career going forward.

 2001-02 Season – Tinsley earns the starting point guard spot for the Pacers, starting 78 of 82 games for a Pacers team that made the playoffs. Tinsley finished 7th in the league in assists per game. The 78 games started and 80 games played to this day represent career-highs for Tinsley, whose production sadly would not improve much over his rookie campaign. He did, however, earn a spot on the All-Rookie 2nd Team for his efforts.

2003-06 Seasons – Tinsley missed games repeatedly for injuries, so often that he had to earn his starting job back upon his returns. He played no more than 53 games per season, but he was so important to the Pacers’ on-court success that he earned a contract that averaged over $6.5 million per season over 6 seasons.

 November 19, 2004 – The Malice at the Palace occurred. Tinsley was not among those suspended or majorly involved in the carnage, while teammates Metta World Peace, Stephen Jackson, and Jermaine O’Neal all served multiple-game suspensions. The former Ron Artest was suspended the entire season for the incident. The Malice marked the start of what was a major PR problem for the Pacers, as players from the team would eventually get involved in a series of incidents over the coming years, which includes (but is not limited to) Tinsley. This also marked the start of a breakup of a 61-win roster, one that seemed primed for a second consecutive championship run. The Pacers fell down in the standings without their star defender, and since this point the Pacers have yet to reach the Eastern Conference Finals again.

 January 25, 2006 – The Pacers traded Metta World Peace to the Sacramento Kings for Peja Stojakovic. This would be the first of three major trades designed to rid the team of its association with the Malice at the Palace.

October 4, 2006 – Tinsley (along with two teammates, including Marquis Daniels) was present when a car ran over his teammate, Stephen Jackson, outside of a strip club. Jackson then proceeded to fire bullets from a gun he legally owned. According to Jackson, in an interview with ESPN’s Chris Palmer, Jackson took out his gun when saw someone follow Tinsley out of the club, possibly looking to rob him.

 January 16, 2007 – The Pacers traded Jackson, among others, to the Golden State Warriors for a group headlined by Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy. Jackson eventually led the “We Believe” Warriors to the second round of the playoffs, while the Pacers missed the playoffs.

 February 6, 2007 – Tinsley, along with Marquis Daniels, got into a bar fight and were eventually arrested. According to the police report, Tinsley allegedly punched a bar manager and threatened to kill him. Both Daniels and Tinsley eventually had to serve 32 hours of community service in lieu of going to trial. This was the second major incident for Tinsley in less than six months.

2006-07 Season – Tinsley remained healthy for the most part, and while he struggled shooting the ball, he provided enough in other areas to be a solid contributor for what ended up being a disappointing Pacers team.

December 9, 2007 – Tinsley, along with a group of companions, was shot at late in the night following a gathering at an Indiana night club. The bullets did not hit Tinsley, but they struck Pacers equipment manager Joey Qatato, who was with Tinsley and who eventually sued him for $400,000. Tinsley was found not guilty in the civil suit after passing a polygraph test spurred on by an assumption that Tinsley had started the altercation, when he was in fact the victim of circumstances.

This marks the last major off-court incident Tinsley had as a Pacer, all in fewer than 1.5 years. He would eventually play out the season, playing more games than he had at any point since his second NBA season. At this point, following the incidents on-court and off-court, the Pacers felt they still had a PR problem even after trading World Peace. World Peace had maybe the worst moment of violence on an NBA court ever seen (with the only competition belonging to Kermit Washington), and the Pacers couldn’t condone that. But the off-court troubles, and their legal ramifications, eventually pushed the Pacers to blow up their core.

2007-08 Season – More of the same for the Pacers and Tinsley: injuries for Tinsley limited him to fewer than 40 games, and the Pacers disappointed again.

 July 9, 2008 – The Pacers traded Jermaine O’Neal to the Toronto Raptors. This trade did a number of things which ultimately changed Jamaal Tinsley’s life. For one, it represented the trade of the third and final majorly suspended player from the Palace brawl. O’Neal, aside from that one incident, had been seen as a fine, upstanding member of the NBA. Second, it brought T.J. Ford, a starting-quality point guard, onto the roster, providing a good excuse to bench Jamaal Tinsley.

 2008-09 Season – Aside from fan-favorite Jeff Foster, Tinsley was the only member of those maligned teams left on the roster. His large contract for multiple years and his injury history prevented him from being moved in a trade over the summer, but the Pacers wanted to move on. So while trying to find a trade partner, they sent Tinsley home. They “exiled” him from the team, which included taking him out of the media guide despite his being on the official roster, removing his belongings and his name plate from the Pacers locker room, and banning his presence at Pacers team facilities. Because he was not playing, his trade value dropped even further, and the Pacers were unable to complete a trade by the trade deadline. Eventually, the Union filed a grievance on Tinsley’s behalf, forcing the Pacers to buy Tinsley out during the 2009 summer.

 By not playing a year and having a bad reputation around the league, Tinsley went unsigned throughout the summer. At this point, Tinsley had been 31 and wasted maybe the last year of his athletic prime, but teams knew of his passing ability, and he figured to sign somewhere at some point during the season.

 November 14, 2009 – Tinsley signs with the Memphis Grizzlies, technically his second stint with the organization after being drafted by them eight years prior. He signed to essentially replace the disgruntled Allen Iverson as a point guard off the bench. He had a sub-par year by his standards, averaging career per-36 lows in practically every statistic. His performance left him unsigned and out of the league in 2010-11.

 November 3, 2011 – Tinsley declares for the D-League draft just before the deadline, and because of his history in the NBA is drafted first overall by the Los Angeles D-Fenders, the Lakers NBADL affiliate. He averaged 9.9 points and 7.6 assists per game in 8 games. Meanwhile, the Lakers are still looking for a decent backup point guard.

 December 10, 2011 – Tinsley becomes a D-League call-up by signing with the Utah Jazz. He would sign a one-year deal with a team option, which would be picked up after a solid season and eventually earning the backup point guard spot. The Jazz have since lauded him for his leadership role on a young team.

 Jamaal Tinsley, it seems, was more of a victim of circumstances than someone who looked for trouble. He couldn’t have been paired with a worse franchise for him than the Pacers – a team with an image problem after a nasty incident that did everything it could to break away from it. Combine that with the contract and the injuries, and Tinsley was robbed of his prime years. He went from leading a potential NBA finals team to getting injured, nearly losing his life, then sitting out some of the final years of his athletic prime. Some of this was his fault. Much of it was not.

 Tinsley could not have foreseen the brawl with fans happen. While he could have not partied late at night, that behavior isn’t out of the ordinary. He also didn’t look to get robbed or shot at, and by all accounts he was only a victim of the club incident and the shooting. Again, much of his image problem had more to do with his surroundings.

But now, in Utah, his image is well on its way to being restored. Since signing in Utah, he’s been a model citizen by all accounts, a “true professional” in the eyes of Utah’s head coach Tyrone Corbin, and a solid backup point guard for the Jazz. He’s been a source of stability for a young roster as part of a larger, stable organization, one unlike an Indiana Pacers organization in flux and looking to solve a major image problem. He has stayed healthy for the most part, too.

In a perfect world, it could have worked out better for Tinsley, whose value and career got derailed by staying at home for a full two years. But now he has a solid role for a solid team in a solid place. Maybe that’s what Jamaal Tinsley needed all along.

Sean O’Connor (@soconnor76) is a graduate student and a CPA-in-training in Philadelphia. He previously served as editor for The Sixer Sense and currently writes at various spots around the internet, most notably the general NBA blog Hoop City, where he hopes to profile more NBA comeback stories.

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• With a reputation earned as a tough defender for those stingy Pacers squads, Tinsley brings much needed perimeter defense to the Jazz. He is the point guard in three of Utah’s top four defensive units this season, minimum 20 minutes played

• Of Utah’s ten most-used lineups this season, Tinsley plays point in it’s best net offensive and defensive rating, 114.0 on offense and it’s best defensive lineup with an 85.6 DRtg, a net plus 28.4, alongside Gordon Hayward, Marvin Williams, Paul Millsap, and Al Jefferson, indicating that when Utah plays better perimeter defense it puts a lot less pressure on it’s big men to play late, scrambling anchor D

• Never known as a consistent shooter, Tinsley started the season 1-14 from the three point line, since shaking off the rust going 16 of his last 34

• Tinsley has a career assist percentage of 38.2% and, while clearly rusty in a rotation as a backup where head coach Ty Corbin has played Tinsley two games on and two off, with Earl Watson, a respectable career turnover percentage of 21.5%. Expect the career high 31.3% turnover rate to continue to dwindle, as it has all season long, as he continues to shake off the rust

• Tinsley shows not only quiet tenacity on defense, but also patience on offense, often finding the right man with the shot clock running dry, making the correct passes with smooth confidence, a necessity in many of the lineups of fresh young faces he often plays with in Utah

• While he’s logged minutes in ten NBA seasons, thanks to the Pacers, Tinsley has only 13,539 NBA miles on his legs, only about halfway to the typical decline of an NBA player’s numbers. Think Marcus Allen, whom most thought his career was finished with the Raiders, only to have him play several more years for Kansas City

• If he was qualified for minutes played, which he soon will be with starting point Mo Williams out indefinitely, Tinsley would currently be ninth in the NBA in assist percentage

• The Jazz are 4-1 this season when Jamaal Tinsley starts

With his mother as his inspiration, the Brooklyn, New York native has returned home each holiday season for the last nine years to give back to the less fortunate. You can learn more about what the Jamaal Tinsley Foundation does at his official website.

Jamaal Tinsley continues to be a pillar in the community, and although he is away from Indiana, he continues his toy drive yearly becoming ‘Santa Tinsley,’ providing over 200 kids with a Christmas party, gifts, clothes, and computers. Kids who maintained a good GPA were provided with coats and Thanksgiving during this past holiday, a blessing for children who now reside in the neighborhood where he grew up.

Kids were given tickets to the Utah Jazz at Brooklyn Nets game on December 18 at the new Barclays Center. “These kids need the guidance and help to get through tomorrow. I don’t mind being that extra push,” said Tinsley. “It was rough growing up for me during the holidays, so any extra help goes a long way,” Tinsley reminisces about spending Christmases at the old recreation center in his neighborhood.

Mel Mel the Abuser says, don’t forget to add some nutmeg to your eggnog this holiday season.

Special thanks to Jamel and Jamaal for the quotes and additional information included in this post.