The Whiteboard: Utah Jazz offense is operating at historic efficiency

The Whiteboard, Utah Jazz

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Over the past few seasons, as teams have adopted extreme shot selection patterns and become increasingly intentional about promoting efficiency we’ve seen several historic marks. A team’s offensive efficiency, in a general sense, is shaped by the era in which the team played but it’s worth pointing out that 13 of the top 20 team offensive ratings in NBA history have come within the last four seasons.

We’re currently in an area of extraordinary offensive efficiency and still, this season’s Utah Jazz have made themselves an outlier. On Wednesday night, the Jazz hung 136 points on the Timberwolves, the eighth team this season they’ve scored 120 or more.

Through 24 games, the Jazz are scoring an average of 117.1 points per 100 possessions, per Basketball-Reference. That’s the eighth-highest mark of all-time but all seven of the marks ahead of them are from last season, a year in which the league average offensive efficiency was 112.3 points per 100 possessions, nearly two full points higher than any other season since the NBA-ABA merger. But the league average offensive efficiency has fallen this year to 108.9 points per 100 possessions — generally, offenses are performing worse.

But not the Jazz. Their offensive efficiency has actually improved from last season by more than four points per 100 possessions and is 8.2 points per 100 possessions better than the league average. That means they have been, relative to the league average, the third-best offense in NBA history, behind the 2003-04 Mavericks and the 2004-05 Suns.

I find this particularly fascinating because those historically elite offenses were generally powered by transformational offensive talents like Steve Nash or Dirk Nowitzki. Even if you look at teams just below the Jazz’s offensive mark relative to the league average, you find offenses powered by Hall-of-Famers like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. All due respect to Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley, but the Jazz don’t have any offensive players even close to that tier.

So while this Jazz team may not be the best offense of all time, they have a legitimate argument as the best “better than the sum of their parts” offense of all time.

What makes the Utah Jazz offense so special?

In a recent edition of The Long Two, Ben Ladner went deep on how the Jazz offense is hitting another level this season:

Once Utah gets an advantage, it is one of the best teams in the NBA at moving the ball against scrambling defenses. An initial opening, usually created by a Gobert screen, forces the defense to rotate; the Jazz find the open man; the defense rotates again; on it goes until, eventually, opponents can’t keep up. Utah leads the NBA in 3-point attempts and is tied with Miami for the highest share of corner 3s — a reflection of crisp ball movement and sound floor spacing.

The two players who lead the Jazz in shot attempts are Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson. Mitchell is shooting just 34.1 percent on 3-point attempts this season and Clarkson is shooting under 40 percent from the field overall. But they work as primary creators because of how well the team, collectively, manages the cascade of defensive breakdowns that ensue.

Five different Jazz players — Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale — are shooting 40 percent or better on at least 4.0 3-point attempts per game. And five different Jazz players — Mitchell, Conley, Clarkson, Bogdanovic and Ingles — are averaging at least 4.0 drives per game and shooting at least 49 percent off those drives. As Ladner showed, Gobert’s gravity in the paint is so powerful and the Jazz always have four weapons around him who can take advantage by dribbling, passing or shooting.

The real test will, as always, come in the playoffs where the Jazz have struggled to match their regular-season dominance over the past two seasons. But this iteration of the team is perhaps better than any we’ve seen before thanks to a deep and versatile offensive attack that no defense has really been able to slow down yet.

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