Two ways the Utah Jazz can catch up with the West’s best

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Utah Jazz

Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gay (Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports)

At 14-7, the third-seeded Utah Jazz remain entrenched in the race for Western Conference supremacy. However, the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns are both 18-3, sitting first and second in the conference. That leaves the Jazz four games behind each: a considerable deficit, but not an insurmountable one. 

Looking at where the Jazz rank in various statistical categories in the NBA, there are two categories in which they could stand to see significant improvement. Incidentally, those two categories are closely related. To catch up with the two elite teams in the Western Conference, the Utah Jazz could stand to steal the ball more often, and protect the ball more closely when they do possess it.

Utah Jazz need to improve Steal Percentage

As it stands, the Jazz rank 17th in the NBA in steal percentage, at 7.7. Meanwhile, the Warriors and Suns both rank within the top 5: the Warriors lead the NBA at 9.9, and the Suns place fifth at 9.1.

Part of that discrepancy is by design. The Utah Jazz employ the NBA’s best rim protector in Rudy Gobert. Often, it makes more sense for them to use conventional defensive schemes that seek to funnel offensive players into his outstretched arms, rather than gamble for steals in passing lanes. Furthermore, their collective length at the point of attack between Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell is less than ideal for accruing steals.

The Jazz don’t need to rank within the NBA’s top 5 in Steal Percentage. Ultimately, they boast the fourth best Defensive Rating in the NBA at 105.6. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that two of the three teams ahead of them in that category are the Golden State Warriors (100.5) and Phoenix Suns (104.0).

Quin Snyder should not overhaul his club’s defensive schemes. They are already operating quite effectively. However, a slight shift in the game plan that encourages his players to jump passing lanes with a little more frequency may improve the team’s defense. It is a fairly accepted truism that steals are the most valuable of all of basketball’s basic counting stats.

While it may be that a backcourt of Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell is ill-equipped to accumulate pilfers (although Mitchell is doing his part, with 1.9 per game), any frontcourt combination of Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale and Joe Ingles has the prerequisite length to gamble in passing lanes. Furthermore, Gobert’s presence offers a remarkably attractive insurance policy against any failed attempts.

Royce O’Neale is already exceptional in this category. One or more of Conley, Bogdanovic and Ingles should aim to improve their output, and bump the Utah Jazz up the rankings in Steal Percentage.

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