The Surprising Utah Jazz

After ten games the Utah Jazz have the best record in the NBA. How did this happen?

In reviewing the Jazz of last season I noted that this team had several above average front-court players – Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, Mehmut Okur, and Matt Harpring – and very little in the backcourt. And although the frontcourt players were good, the two best (Boozer and Kirilenko) had trouble staying on the court.

Kirilenko is still having problems getting on the court, missing three of the team’s first ten contests. But if we look at the Wins Produced of the 06-07 Jazz (and the expected Win Produced of the Jazz had player performance not changed 0n a per-minute basis from last season) we see that the team has found additional production even with Kirilenko posting a slight decline on the court and spending substantial time on the bench.

The big change is Carlos Boozer, who posted a 0.248 WP48 last season. Although o.248 is very good, Boozer’s 0.425 this year rivals Kevin Garnett. Yes, Boozer has gone from very good to one of the games very best.

Beyond Boozer we see a flicker of productivity in the backcourt. Deron Williams is so far making Utah fans forget that the Jazz passed on Chris Paul in the 2005 draft. Okay, that’s a bit of an over-statement. Williams is not quite as good as Paul. But he has been above average in Wins Produced per 48 minutes (WP48) after 10 games. The key for Williams has been a dramatic improvement in shooting efficiency. So far he is hitting 56% of his two point shots (but only 25% of his shot from beyond the arc).

Boozer and Williams have combined to produce 4.5 wins. The remainder of the team’s production comes from Kirilenko, Okur, Harpring, and Paul Millsap. Of these, Millsap is a fresh face, joining the Jazz as a second round draft choice in 2006. A few weeks ago I noted that Millsap was one of the most productive rookies in the pre-season. Of the players drafted out of college, he was one of the most productive college performers in 2005-06. How did he fall to the second round?

For a big man, Millsap is actually short (only 6’8”) and also a graduate of a small school (Louisiana Tech). Cursed with two doses of “smallness” the Jazz were able to take him in the second round. This pick has turned out to be quite good since as a professional Millsap has thus far shown an ability to rebound and hit his shots (traits he also demonstrated in college).

So the key for Utah has been a substantial increase in the production from Boozer and Williams, and a surprising contribution from a second round draft choice. Can all this continue? It would seem unlikely that Boozer can keep posting a WP48 in excess of 0.400. Again, only Garnett did that last year. And one also wonders if Williams can keep hitting shots at this pace. If these players do come back to earth, the Jazz will probably start losing a bit more than 10% of their games.

Any time someone says “if” and “probably” in the same sentence, you know someone is hedging their bets. It is important to remember that this is just a sample of ten games, which is not much of a sample. But in the early going, it is all we have to work with.

By the way, I decided that I would rather look at Wins Produced – rather than Win Score – during the course of the season. This takes a bit more effort, but I think I have this set up so I can look at a team fairly quickly. If the Bulls keep losing, I think they will be the next team I examine. That is unless anyone has a request.

— DJ

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