New York • Expectations and reality for the Utah Jazz are just about as far apart as they could possibly be.
You may remember the beginning of the season projections for Utah, some of which loftily placed them as the second best team in the Western Conference. Twenty-one games in, more than a quarter of the way through the season, they’re currently second from the bottom with a 9-12 record. In order to win their projected 53 games, they’d have to go 44-17 the rest of the way. Plausible, but certainly not probable.
But it’s more than their win-loss record. The Jazz’s home record is the worst in the NBA, they’re 2-6 in the confines of Vivint Smart Home Arena. Monday’s loss to Indiana was the second-worst home loss in Jazz history, only surpassed by a 45 point loss to the Rockets in 2013. A 50-point road defeat to Dallas earlier in the month was even more embarrassing.
We’ve heard a constant refrain from Jazz players and coaches — they’re not panicking yet. “The way we play, the way we practice, the things we do behind the scenes that none of you guys see — we know we’re doing the right things,” Joe Ingles said.
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey built the roster, and says he’s still in evaluation mode. “Outcomes are helpful, but early outcomes become really nuanced and contextual,” Lindsey said Tuesday. “Donovan Mitchell for example, missing four games and parts of three others, that’s close to 30 percent of the season. What kind of offensive dilemmas does that create?”
The Jazz are 1-6 in those seven games, though as Lindsey acknowledged, the Jazz have played opponents who were missing their primary weapons, too.
“Right now, the data isn’t large enough to draw hard and fast conclusions. The best example of that is last year, nine games under .500, and Derrick and Ricky and Rudy’s lineup being panned. And then as you know, in those last 35 to 40 games it worked eminently well and was a great playoff lineup for us as well.”
That doesn’t mean that Lindsey is blind to what’s happened so far, just that he has to pick and choose — “with a scalpel,” he says — which conclusions are valid and which are the result of other factors. Lindsey’s early evaluation points to the Jazz’s turnovers as a major source of the problem on both ends of the floor.
“For example, turnovers are down league-wide, and our forcing turnovers is down. But yet our turnovers are up as compared to last year. So that’s a cycle of possessions that is moving in the wrong direction," Lindsey said. “We’ve always had a value proposition. We get very good shots, so our shot quality is good. They’re the right shots, they’re open shots."
This is true, by the way. The Jazz are in the top five in the league in shots at the rim, and have the second-highest percentage of “wide open” shots in the league, where their defender is as least 6 feet away or more. They’re making the dunks and layups, but not the outside shots.
“At times the risk to create the shot can be high. So when you do make interior passes, turnovers happen. So what type of turnovers are we willing to accept? To me, [interior pass turnovers] are acceptable, because Rudy and Derrick are such formidable finishers," Lindsey said.
"The ones where either our energy is lazy or our footwork is lazy, or our passing technique is not good, or it’s an initiation pass where we don’t locate the defense up in the high-quadrant, there’s no way to set our defense. And those are unacceptable, and things that we have to own and get better.”
The turnovers cause bad defensive situations. But in the half-court, the Jazz still aren’t getting the “defensive runs” they’re used to. Lindsey thinks that’s partially due to the NBA’s new emphasis on freedom of movement. “Like every other team, we are trying to understand the rules. We could be quite physical last year, and this year, you have to do it with defensive discipline.”
Lindsey thinks his team can turn it around.
“What we’re experiencing in part is real. But you have to contextualize it. Last I checked, we were three road games above the rest of the league. No. 1 in strength of schedule,” Lindsey pointed out. “But that evening out, Donovan coming back, and I still think there’s a lot to be evaluated.”
And when does that evaluation point come for the Jazz? “Real comes when you ask the question and need to decide. There are always trigger dates with the league that the whole league becomes urgent because of deadlines." Read: the trade deadline, which doesn’t come up until February.
But at the same time, the team knows things have to change on the court. “We can’t wait until we’re 19 and … whatever the hell we were last year to decide to wake up and start playing," Ingles said.
“The results don’t lie,” Lindsey said. “We’re last in our division and second to last in our conference. It’s going to have to be a problem we correct.”
JAZZ VS. NETS
At Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Tipoff • Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. MST
TV • AT&T SportsNet
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 9-12; Nets 8-13
Last meeting • Nets, 118-107 (Nov. 17, 2017)
About the Jazz • After missing last two contests due to a rib contusion, Donovan Mitchell will be available for Wednesday’s game… Jazz have lost six of their last eight games… Beyond Joe Ingles and Alec Burks, Jazz are shooting under 30 percent from 3-point range
About the Nets • Due to a scary dislocation suffered in his right foot, Nets' leading scorer Caris LeVert will not play... former Jazzman Treveon Graham is also out due to a strained hamstring... Nets have just one player over 30, Jared Dudley