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Three Reasons For The Utah Jazz’s Struggles

Dante Exum #11 of the Utah Jazz controls the ball against Jalen Brunson #13 of the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center on October 28, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz are currently sitting at 13-15 and it’s probably not unreasonable for fans to feel let down. After all, continuity or bringing the team back was supposed to give the roster an edge and the Jazz were expected to finish pretty high in the standings.

It was only last week the team beat the San Antonio Spurs by 34, and then beat the Houston Rockets by 27. Displaying the stubborn defense fans have come to expect and for once it probably felt nice to see the ball go through the hoop more often than not.

Some may have wondered if the team had begun to figure it out.

Then the Utah Jazz’s struggles returned after another road trip. This time they lost to the Spurs by double digits, and had been down by as many as 21 in the game.

The next night, the team took on the Oklahoma City Thunder and lost by nine, but that didn’t tell the whole story. The Jazz were down by as many as 29 before coming back late in the game.

In the Jazz Notes podcast, hosts Cleon Wall and Jeremiah Jensen called it a broken record. It seems to be the same thing they discuss in every podcast.

They narrowed the Jazz struggles down to three main reasons as to why the team has struggled: defense, schedule, and on-court chemistry.

1. Defensive Struggles

Last season the Jazz led the league with their defensive rating of 102.9. It was so good that it earned Rudy Gobert Defensive Player of the Year honors.

What has happened to the team’s defense this season so far? Some of the players have cited the adjustment to the new movement rules the league implemented this year.

There could probably be a deeper dive into this but simply put, the defense just hasn’t been as good. The Jazz currently sit at 12th in defensive rating per NBA Stats at 107.4, nearly 5 points more per 100 possessions than last year.

To be fair, the Jazz may be turning a corner here. In the last 10 games the Jazz have the 8th best defense at 104.4. Still not quite elite, but it is improving.

Jensen said he also believes the Western Conference has gotten better and that has played a factor.

2. Strength of Schedule

It may be easy to find excuses, and the schedule may be merely just that. It does play a factor, however.

The Jazz lead the NBA in road games played with 18 (9-9) so far. The next closest? Seven teams have played 15. Only the Toronto Raptors (playing their 29th game Tuesday night) and the New Orleans Pelicans have played more games than the Jazz.

(ESPN RPI Rankings)

The Jazz sit at the top of the ESPN’s SOS (strength of schedule) list. For their “EWL,” or Expected Win-Loss, the Jazz are currently sitting at its expectation.

The team is also top-10 in the league in RPI (Relative Percent Index). ESPN defines RPI: “The basic formula is 25 percent team winning percentage, 50 percent opponents’ average winning percentage, and 25 percent opponents’ opponents’ average winning percentage.”

Another forum in has the Jazz with a 2.3 SOS rating (the higher the number, the tougher the schedule). The next closest to them is the Rockets at 0.8.

So it may be an excuse, but it does play a factor and perhaps to some degree the Jazz are playing to the exact level fans should expect out of the roster right now.

What fans may need to worry about is when the schedule does lighten up. Losing early like the Jazz have puts a lot of pressure to win those games you are favored in.

(Fun fact: OKC has had the easiest schedule in the league so far.)

3. On-court Chemistry

This probably shouldn’t be an issue, considering the team returned most of its roster. However, it seems to be.

“The guys have talked about that, how it’s just not clicking right now,” Jazz Notes host Jeremiah Jensen said. “The connected-ness you expected to see right out of the gate has not been there.”

Jensen and Wall said you can see that by the turnovers on the court. The Jazz currently rank 25th in the league turning it over at 15.9 times per game.

It has affected the offense as well, with the Jazz being 21st in offensive rating at 106.5. Last year the Jazz finished 16th at 107.2.

The lack of on-court chemistry has also made it very hard for the Jazz to be consistent.

Per the Jazz have the highest consistency rating in the league at 18.2. This stat measures consistency on game-by-game efficiency differential variation.

The higher the rating, the more unpredictable that team is, essentially meaning the Jazz easily can swing the other direction.

For example, the two wins versus San Antonio and Houston last week compared to the Spurs and the Thunder this week.

Can the Jazz turn it around?

The team did it last year once the schedule lightened up, but that run was probably an anomaly. It probably means re-adjusting the expectations slightly, although the Jazz under Coach Quin Snyder have always been a second half team.

Time will tell, but for this roster to make the playoffs in the stacked Western Conference, it will have to win a lot of the games where they’re favored to win. Even though they’ve done it before, it is still a tall task to do it again.

Listen to Jazz Notes for free, wherever you get your podcasts, or on the KSL Newsradio App.