Okay, so we're about a quarter of a way through the NBA season and the top team in the Western Conference is...the Utah Jazz?
Lets take a look at who saw this coming,
ESPN's experts seemed to have them on the bubble, although Chris Sheridan and Tim Legler (Tim Legler?) both picked them as the 4 seed. Chad Ford and John Hollinger had them as the 7 seed, and Hollinger gave a pertinent quote:
The Jazz's potentially awesome frontcourt has rarely played together, but if Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur manage 200 games between them then this team is playoff-bound. The upgraded backcourt (Derek Fisher and Ronnie Brewer) should also pay dividends.
Now, to smack Tim Legler down again, because even the broken clock gets the worm.
This team defends, shares the ball and has balance offensively, with seven guys capable of getting 20 points on any given night -- Williams, Kirilenko, Boozer, Gordon Giricek, Mehmet Okur, Matt Harpring, and Derek Fisher.
Oh, of course! Noted 20 PPG scorers like Derek Fisher and Gordon Giricek! Yeah, I think it's safe to say that Tim Legler is still a retard.
Anyway, lets look at how the Jazz have done so far:
W-L: 16-5 (.762)
Pyth %: .614
Pace: 91.5 (12th)
Offensive Efficiency: 117.1 (3rd)
Defensive Efficiency: 108.0 (22nd)
The offense is based on two things:
1) Crashing the boards. They have the highest OReb% in the NBA (32.8%)
2) Shooting really, really, well. (eFG of 51.0, 5th in the NBA)
Free throw wise, they're mediocre, and they're bottom of the pack in turnovers. I'd say with the rebounding was the part that everyone expected--they were that good last year too, at 32.4%. The shooting has improved from 28th to 5th. The question is: is this sustainable?
Here are the players who are significantly overperforming relative to what they did last year (almost everyone is by a bit, but these are the ones that are more than a point or so off):
Matt Harpring: eFG 2006: 48.5, eFG 2007: 52.7
Deron Williams: eFG 2006: 47.8, eFG 2007: 51.0
Harpring, I think, will probably come down to earth. It's plausible that he is just getting better looks with everyone in though. Williams clearly had the pedigree coming out of college, but most of the stat-based services seemed to disregard him as a real prospect ESPECIALLY because of his poor shooting. He was only ranked as the 4th best prospect in Ed Weiland's 2005 draft preview, which had this to say:
Williams’ ticket will be defense. The offense, at least the scoring part, is pretty weak. He has shot in the low .400s his entire college career, though he has been decent at hitting three pointers, .374. That’s going to be a problem, as players generally need to shoot better than Williams has and get to the line more often than Williams has in college to make it as an NBA PG. I’ve heard Jason Kidd mentioned as a possible comp to Williams. It seems right. Both are big, strong point guards with mediocre shooting ability. But the fact is Kidd wasn’t a poor shooter at Cal
He’s big enough that he can guard most SGs and probably some SFs. But that weak shooting ability is going to hurt him, unless he can improve. Right now he looks to me like a defensive-minded third guard. He might start, but it would have to be the right situation, that being a team with a lot of scorers.
Chalk one up for the scouts on this one, I guess. Although I have to say, he did have a Rafer Alston-esque stretch of games late in November. It's too soon to say whether he's turned the corner completely, but if he has, this team sort of reminds me of the 2004 Pistons. Not defensively, obviously, but their five starters can all shoot and only one of them is incapable of creating his own offense (Harpring).
The Jazz actually haven't sent Ronnie Brewer out there much, which is a little surprising because he was considered one of the most NBA-ready players in the draft. The big contributor off the bench has been Paul Millsap, who was best known as being the guy who got booed in the Cheesy Doodles clip. Millsap has a 19.97 PER, and is actually a perfect representation of the Jazz as a team. He was a second rounder (not well-regarded), he has range on his shot and is a merciless rebounder (2nd best rebound-rate on the team, only Boozer is better), but is very light for a power forward, giving a bit of his gains back on defense.
Defensively, I can't say I understand the numbers being where they are, because talent-wise this group looks pretty solid. Okur has never been a great defender, but everyone else in the starting five have pretty great reputations. Kirilenko is widely considered a shut-down guy, Williams was drafted with this as a big plus, Harpring has been well-regarded over his career, and Boozer, while not a stud, has shown ability. Even Derek Fisher is highly thought of, off the bench.
The raw stats show them as a team of hackers; they have the worst FT/FGA in the league. eFG-wise, they are holding their opponents to 49.0, which is middle of the pack. As you'd expect, they do great boardwork, finishing third there. The big difference is that they just don't have the turnover margin you'd expect; they are only 24th in the league in TO ratio, at 15.5. Last year, they finished 9th at that.
So, to put it all in perspective; The Jazz shoot well, rebound well, but their pyth indicates that they are playing over their heads a bit. The raw stats have their defense as worse than I think they would be talent-wise, and I'm inclined to believe they will start forcing more turnovers on defense. Deron Williams is key for the Jazz--if he regresses, they are in trouble. I don't know if this will completely over-take the pyth, but I feel pretty good about the Jazz winning their division and getting 55-ish wins. They will have problems in the playoffs against teams that can actually defend though.
Knickerblogger.net's stat pages were a big help to this article. If you'd like to better understand the stats used, please check out the bottom of this page.