There are three rather distinct, divergent ways to process and view what the Jazz have achieved to the halfway point of their season, 41 games in, and to figure what it means for the second half.
Try to determine which group you most snugly fit into:
1. Extreme optimists. The Jazz are just getting started, just getting ready to rumble, and start and rumble and finish they will. Even though the Jazz have, at times, shot the ball as though it were a bag of sand, that ball will yet often spin softly through forgiving rims. Fifty wins are attainable, no matter that they would require the Jazz to finish 30-11 through the back half.
2. Guarded optimists. See the Jazz’s strengths and weaknesses for what they are, acknowledge them and realistically compare them to those of other top teams in the West. Take hope in the idea that the Jazz can indeed play better and worry also that the ascension nearly everybody projected for them is complicated, but ultimately doable, in some more modest measure.
3. Abject pessimists. Note the clouds rather then the sunshine, seriously doubt the Jazz have the offensive weapons necessary to be playing at all past the second week of April, suspecting instead that they’ll be floating on rafts in pools outside their Caribbean villas by then.
Those in Group 1 think the Jazz’s 20-21 record is nothing more than a setup for all the good stuff that is about to commence. They buy into the fact that the schedule, more than anything else, is what has hampered a familiar bunch from taking advantage of that familiarity.
The Jazz have played more road games (25) than any other team by a relatively sizable margin and people who study such things say their schedule strength has been the toughest in the NBA. They may even suspect that somebody in the league office is out to get them.
But they also lean on the remarkable turnaround the Jazz pulled off last season (29-6), after a difficult early span, burning and blowing down the backstretch, straight into a first-round playoff series victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
These people do not believe that bit of mastery was singular.
They believe pretty much these same players, with the addition of Kyle Korver, can do it — or something similar to it — again. The Jazz may be under .500, but starting on Wednesday, they play eight of their next nine games at home, against beatable teams such as the Magic, the Lakers (possibly without LeBron), the Bulls, the Pistons, the Cavs, the Blazers and the Timberwolves. Mixed in is a road game against the Clippers and an important home game against the the Nuggets.
After a couple of roadies against the T-wolves and the Blazers, the Jazz return to Vivint Arena for a four-game homestand, including games against the Hawks and the Suns. There’s also the Rockets and the Spurs, possible accelerators all.
Optimists being what they are, they figure the Jazz are perfectly capable of winning at least 12 of those 15 games, and if they do that, they then would sit at 32-24, well on their way to leaving a sub-.500 record eight freeway exits behind them.
And with that kind of accomplishment in pocket, that boost of momentum with them, they can rediscover the massive defensive prowess that absolutely defined them last season, along with enough offense to actualize so much promise, finishing what’s left of the regular season Hercules strong, passing all the jammed-up lesser teams in the Western Conference standings.
Even from where they are now, the Jazz stand a mere 7.5 games out of first place in the West.
Group 2’s can sip some of the nectar the first group is drinking, but they can’t guzzle it. They believe the early schedule has been unbalanced and maybe unfair, and that there will be an opportunity for fairness through the month of January, that the Jazz can move on up. But they also see that playing in the friendly confines hasn’t always been all that friendly. In some cases, it’s been angry.
The Jazz are 8-8 in games at Vivint Arena, just a notch better than their 12-13 record away from home. These folks in the second group want to believe the shooting inconsistencies that have too often doomed the Jazz, matched with sloppy play, will not simply evaporate with the energy of the crowd. They believe it can, it might, but there’s no guarantee.
The numbers reflect those chunks of concern.
The Jazz currently have a 108.5 offensive rating, which places them 20th out of 30 teams. That can and must improve, even if the Jazz continue their upward trend on the defensive end, where they presently rank fifth, at 106.5.
The Jazz sit at ninth in the league in number of 3-point shots attempted, but only 21st in deep-ball percentage. The more positive news for them is that they rank 12th in effective field goal percentage (52.9) while their opponents’ eFG is 51.9.
Turnovers have been a problem, the Jazz ranking 27th in turnover percentage. They must quit slinging the ball around as though it were a half-filled can of gas with a lit rag in its spout. That’s part of the reason Quin Snyder has been persistent in his use of the word “focus” over the first 41. When he says he wants his team to play with “force,” he’s not talking about forcing bad passes and bad shots.
This second group believes the issues are solvable, once the Jazz get on a confident, decisive roll.
Group 3 does not believe the issues are solvable. It more precisely aligns with the Belichickian idea that you are what your record says you are. And if that is true, the Jazz will not make the playoffs.
These people wonder what Jazz management was thinking when it stood pat during the offseason, making no meaningful personnel upgrades as other teams in the West improved. They see Donovan Mitchell as a young player who has ability, but who takes unwise shots, who shoots 40 percent overall, 30 percent from beyond the arc. And they think he doesn’t have enough help at the offensive end to sustain legitimate contention.
As for that Jazz attack, they wonder what the usefulness is of an offense that moves the ball, that creates open shots for players who can’t consistently hit them. There’s Mitchell — every defense in the league knows there’s Mitchell — and then there’s … who else? Joe Ingles? Ricky Rubio? Jae Crowder? Dante Exum? Those are the guys with whom you want to win the West? Maybe if you trade Derrick Favors and assorted spare parts, with picks, you can haul in Damian Lillard? Yeah, and these folks have a multi-million-dollar app they want to sell you.
On defense, they think highly of Rudy Gobert, but then … he can’t guard everybody.
This grumpy group doesn’t know much, but it is convinced of the following: The Jazz need more offensive firepower and on account of the fact that they lack it, Vivint Arena will be dark for basketball come the middle of April, open only for concerts, conventions and tractor pulls.
Well. Which group is yours?
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.