Utah have struggled mightily to find a rhythm so far this season, currently sitting at 20-20 (.500). They’re riding a rickety roller coaster on offense, residing 21st in overall offensive rating and 12th in effective field goal percentage.
The ups and downs of their season should be nothing new. Especially when you consider the fact that, over the past few seasons, this team has epitomised what it means to be streaky, weird and downright confusing.
40 games into the campaign and they are exactly where we should expect them to be. Their Win-Loss columns make for some remarkable reading, so much so that this team could be described as perfectly balanced, in the strangest of ways. Their 20-20 overall record breaks down as follows:
8-8 at home
12-12 on the road
12-12 vs the Western Conference
8-8 vs the Eastern Conference
What’s even more impressive is the fact that the Jazz are having this perfectly balanced season, despite having the league’s toughest schedule. Their expected Win-Loss total at this stage, according to ESPN.com should be 24-16, but that didn’t take into account how opposing teams would take on the task of mitigating last season’s biggest surprise, Donovan Mitchell.
Anyone who has watched the Jazz knows Quin Snyder’s offense is built upon feeding Mitchell the ball at every available opportunity and it just isn’t working as well as it did last year.
Mitchell’s usage rating isn’t too dissimilar from last season’s, but an unaccounted factor in his performances this season, is how opposing players and teams now understand his game and can thus adequately mitigate it.
Last season, Mitchell benefited greatly from an unknown element to his game, which has subsequently disappeared almost as quickly as it appeared. The incredible moments have raised their head briefly this season, like last night in Detroit where a 7 point outburst in the last two minutes sealed a tough road win. But moments like that have been few and far between in his sophomore campaign.
Mitchell is averaging 20.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists whilst shooting an effective field goal percentage of 46.6%. Which isn’t too bad, but his player efficiency rating of 14.2 is below the league average of 15 and significantly lower than a player with his talents should be registering. It’s certainly a lot lower than many of us would have predicted, coming into this season.
Like the entire league, the Jazz appear to be diverting much of their offensive output toward the perimeter, favouring three-pointers, and it’s working to a degree with 30.6 percent of their points coming from beyond the arc. This roster though isn’t built for high volume perimeter shooting, it’s built for points in the paint (they do this really well, accounting for 45.6% of their total points) and mid-range baskets (they don’t do this well at all, with just 6.7% of their scoring load coming from here).
This team is strange, very strange. Up and down the roster you’ll notice players struggling, performing as expected or exceeding expectations. To pick some critical players, all of which can do a little bit of everything offensively:
Kyle Korver: 61.6% eFG past 10 games
Jae Crowder: 59.4% eFG past 10 games
Joe Ingles: 53.7% eFG past 10 games
Ricky Rubio: 44.7% eFG past 10 games
Donovan Mitchell: 42.9% eFG past 10 games
Highlight that final one. 42.9% from your team’s star, is not helpful.
Mitchell’s struggles can be nailed down to one specific area, the perimeter. Which, as previously noted, happens to be the key area of focus for every team in the NBA this season. To put his struggles into some perspective, the league average for a player from beyond the arc is usually around 35-36%. Mitchell’s currently sits at 30%. Some nights he’s great, others downright terrible. A degree of consistency just doesn’t appear to be there.
Against Toronto recently, Mitchell racked 19 points and recorded four rebounds, three assists and a steal over 35 minutes, but made just 25% of his attempts from beyond the arc. Last night Mitchell finished with 26 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals over 38 minutes, but again didn’t have a great night from the perimeter making just one of his three shots. These aren’t irregularities either, these are the results of increased defensive attention and increased isolation scoring from Mitchell himself; over 68.4% of Mitchell’s total made field goals made are unassisted.
For 23 games this season, Mitchell has shot less than league average on three-pointers; which can be broken down even further. Fourteen times this season, Mitchell has shot 25% or under. In seven of those, he didn’t make a bucket – 00.0%.
However despite this obvious shooting slump from beyond the arc, Mitchell’s inside game is a strong as ever, something which was evident from his scoring breakdown against Detroit last night.
this is a great shot chart from mitchell tonight. he’s so much better when he’s aggressive and gets in the paint. pic.twitter.com/5qsok51QWB— Taylor Griffin (@griffdunk) January 6, 2019
As a result, the Jazz are exactly where they need to be.
They’re still weird, they’re still confusing and they’re still, well… the Jazz.
Featured photo – via Getty Images / NBAE / Double Clutch illustration