Utah Jazz: Where Do They Currently Stand in the Western Conference?


Gordon Hayward is a good player, but he and the Jazz won’t be going far together. (Photo Credit: RMtip21, Flickr.com).

When the Utah Jazz held onto Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson at the trade deadline last month, I was shocked. Why?

Because the Jazz aren’t going to win the NBA Finals this year. The Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs are among an elite band of teams with realistic championship aspirations and that’s because they have stars. Having Millsap and Jefferson isn’t enough. The Heat have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Thunder have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Spurs have Tony Parker (once his ankle heals), Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

Right now, Utah is eighth in the Western Conference and gearing up for a first-round battle with the Spurs, Thunder or Clippers. It’s extremely unlikely the Jazz will beat any of those teams, as they would have to win four out of seven, with at least one of those wins coming away from home. The Jazz aren’t stacked and they have flaws which can be exposed.

The Jazz are 11th in scoring and 13th in rebounding, both decent numbers. However, they have a point differential of zero, meaning they score and allow 98.7 points per game (PPG). They are ranked 17th in opponent points, but ninth in assists. The stats seem to say that the Jazz are an average team and the stats don’t lie in this case.

A record of 32-29 is average and that’s the record the Jazz “boast” right now. The Jazz have lost five of their last six games, including a heartbreaking 109-108 overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday, March 4. They are 4-7 in their last 11 games and were beaten by the lowly Sacramento Kings 120-109, which is certainly not going to boost their resume.

We all know that almost anything can happen in a regular season game. In fact, in one game during that 10-game span, the Jazz destroyed the Thunder 109-94. However, losing to the Kings and losing seven of 11 is never great and it’s something that elite teams just don’t do.

But that doesn’t apply to the Jazz. They aren’t an elite team.

Jefferson definitely presents a strong case for being a star. He is 14th in estimated wins added (EWA) with 9.7 and his 21.01 player efficiency rating (PER) places him 21st in the league–well above the league average of 15. Millsap is 25th in PER with 20.68 and he has added an estimated 8.1 wins. His stats are not superior to Jefferson’s, but he is a good player.

However, outside of those two, the Jazz don’t have much at all. Derrick Favors could be a budding star, but he is blocked by Millsap and Jefferson and unlikely to do much as a young player in the playoffs if the Jazz make it there. Gordon Hayward is averaging 14 PPG, but he isn’t rebounding or passing and has a 16.9 PER, which won’t set him apart from many players.

The NBA is a league ruled by stars and at least one star is needed for a championship run. However, depth is also crucial, and the Jazz don’t have any of it. Trading Millsap for backcourt talent before the trade deadline would have been a smart move, because Favors could have received some playing time down low with Jefferson to gain valuable experience. However, now, the Jazz are missing a good point guard that can feed Jefferson the ball.

Stars aren’t typically effectively without supporting talent. James might have something to say about that from his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he has still been much more effective with the Heat, where he has Bosh and Wade. Jefferson isn’t at James’ level and can’t work without supporting talent, and while he has Millsap, it’s not enough.

Utah has good players and a team good enough to make the playoffs. However, they failed to make the right moves at the trade deadline and they are now treading water. There isn’t enough depth and experience there and it’s almost guaranteed that the Jazz will bow out in the first round (if they even make the playoffs). If the right moves are made and Jefferson is retained as a free agent this summer, the Jazz can head in the right direction.

But right now, a championship is very far from coming to Utah.