Random thoughts: 1/7/2019

The Jazz starting 5 right now, and presumably Mike Conley, is unbelievably good. Prior to Conley’s injury, the starting lineup – which didn’t include Joe Ingles – was a massive +16.3. To put that in perspective, in minutes predominantly against opponents’ best five or six players, the Jazz starters have the second highest Net Rating (points per 100 possessions above opponents’ points per 100 possessions) this season among all five-man lineups with more than 200 minutes. What comes as a bigger surprise is that the current lineup, with Joe Ingles starting for Mike Conley, is first. At +19.6, the Jazz five-man barn burner is the best five-player lineup with at least 200 minutes we’ve seen in the last three seasons. In the last 12 games, it is a +28.0 over 230 minutes, which would be the best we’ve ever seen from a lineup with more than 200 minutes.

I saw some worry over Jordan Clarkson’s on-off numbers. After all, they’re settling in with Jeff Green, Ed Davis, and George Niang in the 2nd percentile among all NBA players. Worry not, with Clarkson on the floor the bench has been more than respectable, beating benches by 3.8 points per 100 possessions. The starting lineup simply being a literal flame seems to be a more understandable explanation to some odd on-off numbers. It’s not Jordan’s fault his starting lineup is +28! In fact, in the last 6 games with Jordan Clarkson, non-starting lineups are a net positive (+1.3)! Prior to the moves that were made, it was a -8.1. That’s a phenomenal turnaround, though it may be a result of playing less-difficult opponents.

Enough of lineup data, let’s have some more fun. With a win in New Orleans at the last second, the Jazz now have 14 wins (4 losses) in games that were within a possession in the last two minutes, best in the league by 3 wins. What a crazy turnaround from last year, where that record was a league worst 7-11. I feel that this has everything to do with the monster lineup closing games. Even in small sample sizes, they’re good enough to win out more often than not.

Because of solid close game play, Utah has won 2.5 more games than you’d expect a team with their Net Rating to have won. Only 4 other teams have won more games than expected than Utah. In the past 5 seasons, their “win differential”, has been 30th, 28th, 14th, 30th, and 25th. This is big news for the Jazz, since when it’s playoff time, wins actually mean more than Net Rating for predicting playoff success, despite the opposite being true during the regular season. Additionally, the bench minutes will be snipped and we’ll see a whole lot of the 6-man rotation that has been dominating teams.

I know I said enough of lineup data but the 6-man rotation (5 of Ingles, Conley, Mitchell, Bogdanovic, O’Neale, and Gobert) is up to +16.3. That’s as good as lineup data gets for 6 men. Hopefully Conley makes a seamless transition back.

Let’s talk about Donovan Mitchell’s pick and roll game real quick. He’s elite now. He knows when to kick it, is forcing himself to get to the rim, and is finding Gobert with ease in situations called for. The closest dots to his third year numbers are Luka Doncic, who is slightly to the right and down, and Lou Williams, who is slightly to the left and down. Mitchell has been about as good of a scorer as each in the pick and roll, while being a significantly more effective passer. He can still improve in deciding to pass more often and staying out of the short mid-range. But this development leaves me unfathomed to see it played out in the numbers. In his rookie year, the team was +7.8 better with Mitchell at SG than PG. In his sophomore year – when I argued against moving him to point guard – he was +3.6 better at SG than PG. This season, he has been +4.0 better at PG than SG. I’ve heard talk about whether or not he should be our full-time PG going forward… maybe it’s worth a shot.

I have a bunch more to talk about, but let’s end on Donovan’s elite mid-range numbers. He is now at 52% from long-mid. After two seasons of very good shooting (43%), he’s found another level and it’s opened up so much on the perimeter and at the basket for Utah’s offense when he’s on the court. I suspect his next development is learning how to become an elite passer out of the long mid-range, since he’s already become elite when going downhill in the pick and roll and teams are already frantic to get him away from that shot. If he can learn how to contort a defense from 17 feet from the basket as opposed to 6, his ceiling will only continue to get higher.