Utah Jazz point guard Alec Burks (10) fouls Philadelphia 76ers point guard Michael Carter-Williams - Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz Are Overachieving

Before the 2013-14 NBA season began, a character that goes by the moniker “Clairvoyant Bill” predicted (in a fantastic gold turban) that Tyrone Corbin would be the first NBA head coach fired this season in the midst of a mess out Utah way.

This isn’t a Bill Simmons bashfest, rather I enjoy Bill and Jalen Rose immensely — they are quite entertaining and insightful, and the Clairvoyant Bill character hearkens back to the glory days of the Tonight Show and Johnny Carson’s beloved Carnac the Magnificent (go ahead, Google away. I’ll wait).

But I was quite adamant at the time that there was no way Ty Corbin was getting kicked to the curb mid-season, for a variety of reasons, not to even the mention the fact that a Utah Jazz head coach has never been fired, mid or off-season. With the Detroit Pistons’ firing of Mo Cheeks last Sunday, Clairvoyant Bill’s reputation as a reliable gypsy forecaster takes a shot.

One could say that the young Utah Jazz are in fact ahead of schedule, overachieving this season.

Few realistic expectations had this Jazz roster doing much in the way of wins this year. One such metric that attempts to glean the future more scientifically than Simmons’ crystal ball-reading foil is over at BasketballReference, known as Pythagorean Wins. Without having done a thorough historical analysis, Pythagorean Wins seems to generally have about a plus or minus of three games in accuracy, so, not a bad barometer of where your team  maybe should be or ended up in a particular season.

The Utah Jazz have the most difficult Strength of Schedule in the NBA this season

The Utah Jazz have the most difficult Strength of Schedule in the NBA this season

To this point in the 2013-14 season, the All-Star break, the Pythagorean formula spits out that the Jazz should have won 16 games and lost 36. A cursory glance at the standings shows the Jazz as three games ahead of schedule to the break point, at 19-33. Not too shabby.

And that with the league’s most difficult Strength of Schedule to date — even with the recent schedule respite, no less.

After the All-Star break, on to season’s end, the Jazz’s schedule toughens back up with another extended Eastern Conference road swing and plenty of contests versus the tougher West yet to come. So, no need to panic and fret over winning too many games and in the process sending the future of the franchise into a mediocre spiral of death. At least not yet.

Obviously, the first two candidates for where Ty and Co. picked up those three wins they shouldn’t have are: Oklahoma City Thunder, Jan 7 and being the only Western Conference team to beat the Miami Heat on their west coast road trip that included playoff contenders Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors, quite an impressive feat indeed. I’d submit beating the Phoenix Suns in US Airways Center on the second night of a back-to-back to avenge a loss in Salt Lake the evening previous as the third.

You could argue that the Jazz shouldn’t have beaten the Houston Rockets either, making for four potential games Utah has won to date and probably shouldn’t have, when penciling in scheduled wins and losses.

Judging the Jazz by this criteria, that isn’t to say they haven’t also lost games they could have or should have won, but it’s encouraging for the future and gives us a frame of reference when determining why Utah is ahead of schedule according to the Pythagorean Wins metric.

Clairvoyant Bill and his tremendous tuban

Clairvoyant Bill and his tremendous tuban

One of the items GM Dennis Lindsey has said will determine Ty Corbin’s future fate, defense, has been on the rise as well. As noted in a recent write-up on Enes Kanter, BasketballReference’s D-Rating is somewhat suspect as a stand alone metric for defense, since it favors defensive rebounds so heavily in it’s formulaic make up.

This is beside the fact that the early season hole dug by the team’s defense was deeper than a YouTube rabbit hole of Karl Malone highlights, leaving the Jazz a season-long task of climbing out of the skewed numbers.

Checking on the Utah Jazz by the Four Defense Factors:

• The Utah Jazz are 17th in the NBA at opponent effective Field Goal percentage, holding opponents to .503 eFG%. League average is .497

• An area of improvement to work on, the Utah Jazz are 28th in the NBA at forcing turnovers with only a 12.0 TOV% against opponents. The league average is 13.7%, On offense the Jazz aren’t too bad at turning the ball over, 13.9 TOV%, considering they’re the fourth-youngest team in the NBA with an average wet-behind-the-ears age of only 24.8 — some three or more years removed from peaking yet

• Another area of improvement, the Utah Jazz are 19th in the NBA at defensive rebound rate with a DRB% of 73.8. The league average is 74.4%

Short, well earned intermission for Enes Kanter here, who has gotten back to fundamentals on defense lately, both in rotations and man D as well as posting an awesome DRB% over the last three games, likely not coincidentally coinciding with the team’s first (and probably only) three-game win streak of the season.

• The final defense factor is opponent free throws per field goal attempt, where the Utah Jazz check in at 25th, at .230. This is related to how often a team fouls and how much an opponent scores as a result of it. The league average is .213, so there’s room for improvement there as well

While the Utah Jazz appear at a glance to be the second-worst defensive team in the NBA, they ring in much higher in the Four Factors than D-Rating, both formulas created by Dean Oliver. Explanations can be found with links to the formulas and papers here, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Be cautious when citing defensive stats, especially if leaning on any single metric as gospel. There’s a plethora of stats available outside of BasketballReference and digesting as many as possible will help you gauge a given team better as our understanding of defense and ability to measure it improve all the time.

Certainly, the Utah Jazz are headed in the right direction on defense of late, holding their last three opponents to an average 89.3 points per game, lending to Ty Corbin’s case for an extension in Utah or job as head coach of another NBA team should Dennis Lindsey decide to go another direction after this season.

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Tags: Defense Ty Corbin Utah Jazz

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