As of Game 44 of the Utah Jazz’s 2013-14 NBA campaign, the lineup I’ve come to call the “mythical unicorn” has played 31 minutes together. That is, Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, aka: The Future, among other monikers.
Coming into the season (before the preseason Burke finger injury) many, myself included, expected this could be the starting lineup for the franchise. Instead we’ve seen Burks in a sixth-man role — one that has suited both him and the team well, since he gets far more touches with the bench unit than he would as a fourth or fifth option starter — and Marvin Williams starting at power forward in a stretch 4 capacity after the Jazz started 1-17 with Kanter starting at PF.
Aside from having an unprecedented all-lottery-pick starting five, there has been other problematic issues with simply throwing out the unripened young guns as a single unit for extended stretches.
According to BasketballReference, the Utah Jazz have been in the cellar as far as Defensive Rating rating goes for the bulk of the season. Indeed, they’ve been dead last for all but a handful of games of it. Over the last 20 games or so, the Jazz haven’t been the worst defensive team in the NBA as the BasketballReference statistics might indicate.
There’s a good reason for this: Defensive Ratings at BasketballReference are weighted heavily for defensive rebounds, and as a team the Utah Jazz have been a poor defensive rebounding team, somewhat skewing the actual numbers. This isn’t to say the Jazz have been particularly good at defense, just that they haven’t been as bad as the most widely cited team defensive stat might indicate.
But they have been better, especially in the case of Enes Kanter and a scheme recently altered by Ty Corbin to make defense a little simpler and easier on the big Turk. That in turn makes it possible for Derrick Favors to be more effective at his job as the defensive anchor of the team since he doesn’t have to scramble as hard to cover up rotation mistakes.
However, there is still a glaring problem defensively when it comes to Kanter and Favors being on the floor together.
For some strange reason, whenever Enes Kanter is on the floor the Jazz’s defensive rebound rate plummets. This is especially puzzling since Kanter’s one clear NBA skill when drafted was rebounding, especially on the defensive end.
Since Enes has an affinity for blondes, as we all know, let’s use a little analogy here that he would appreciate.
When Fox was a fledgling network trying to break into the regular broadcast rotation, there was a show called Married with Children on it. Al and Peggy Bundy had two teenage children: Self-absorbed Bud and his older sister, ditsy blonde Kelly. Kelly was your stereotypical blonde of the time who only did one thing well: look good.
Al Bundy lands himself an audition on a gameshow called Touchdown Trivia, and as we recall, Al was a star football player for Polk High. And when he isn’t working at the shoe store he’s planted squarely on the couch watching sports. Only Al lacks personality and sex appeal and is denied his big chance, so he plots to get super-hot Kelly on instead and daddy will fill her full of the relevant information so she can win and he in turn can win a new TV.
Only there’s a problem. I’ll allow Bud to explain.
You have to understand, Kelly’s brain can hold anything. But there are some things you have to know.
You can’t just shove information into her head. You have to be careful. Feed her information slowly, bit by bit, drop by drop, until she’s full.
Oh, yeah. Kelly’s brain can actually get full with information. And then you got to be really careful. Because each new fact after that will totally replace an old one. That’s why Kelly forgot to wear a blouse on the day she went to take her drivers ed exam.
Basically, if you put something into Kelly’s head, something else has to come out.
Enes Kanter’s offense has been borderline spectacular,a testament to his work ethic. But, like Kelly Bundy’s brain replacing old information with new information, it has come at some great expense. For whatever reason, Enes Kanter has stopped doing what got him drafted in the first place.
How poor has Utah’s defensive rebounding been when Enes Kanter is on the floor? Minimum 30 minutes played together, which constitutes the 14 most-used 5-man lineups this season, Enes Kanter appears on four of the five worst. The Jazz are 18th in the NBA as a team at defensive rebounding, corralling only 73.9% of available DRebs compared to a league average 74.4%. In those four oft-used lineups with Kanter in them, the Jazz average only 69.8% of available DRebs.
Interestingly, and counter to intuition, when Marvin Williams replaces Kanter in the Burke, Burks, Hayward, Favors lineup the Jazz have their best defensive rebounding unit in, gathering up 80% of available DRebs. For some frame of reference, the Indiana Pacers lead the NBA in defensive rebound rate at 77%.
We know Kanter has the ability to rebound very, very well. What we don’t know is why he isn’t able to do so with the players he’ll likely be playing with for the next several years. An NBA big man of Kanter’s stature and opportunity shouldn’t have the 5th-best defensive rebounding rate on his roster, with even Jeremy Evans ahead of him, and barely better than Marvin Williams on the D-glass.
If Enes begins to grab defensive glass at even a mere 5% better rate, the entire team’s defense, and their D-Rating with it, will improve rather dramatically.
Oh, and in case you wondering if Kelly won her daddy that new TV, you can find out here.