Expect the Utah Jazz to be the worst team in the NBA this season.
That's the opinion of the folks at EA Sports, who recently simulated the entire season with their video game, NBA Live 2005.
In that simulation, the Jazz won just 23 games, three games behind the next-worst team, the Chicago Bulls.
The Sacramento Kings won EA Sports' fictional championship, with Chris Webber capturing the Finals MVP award. The regular-season MVP went to Miami's Shaquille O'Neal.
All this information was imparted via press release just prior to the start of this real NBA season, which the Jazz opened by winning 104-78 over the Lakers.
Based on that, the Deseret Morning News decided to acquire a copy of the game to see just how it could be that Utah, which defied all predictions by winning 42 games last season, could perform so poorly as a video team.
To begin with, EA Sports isn't nearly as enthusiastic as the Jazz about Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur. Boozer received a 73 rating (on a scale that presumably tops out at 99) from the game, which put him in the same neighborhood as a guy like Donyell Marshall, who rated a 74.
And Okur rated just a 64; in fact, the core of the Jazz roster rated in the low 60s. Compare that to the Detroit Pistons, whose starting lineup included just one player Tayshaun Prince rated in the 60s, at 65. Detroit's starting-lineup average was 73.6, while Utah's was 68.6.
Bench ratings were even lower for Utah. Two of their centers, Curtis Borchardt and Jarron Collins, rated in the 40s, which essentially means they can't do anything at NBA level.
Heck, even former Jazzman Michael Ruffin received a 53 rating.
The top-rated players in EA Sports' view are Kevin Garnett, 98; Kobe Bryant, 94; O'Neal, 92; Tim Duncan, 91; and Tracy McGrady, 90.
While you certainly could argue those numbers, consider some more surprising ones: Baron Davis and Vince Carter rated 88s, while Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson all rated 85s.
Andrei Kirilenko rated an 83.Anyway, in the interest of science the News resimulated the season, and the results were similar, at least for the Jazz. Here's how it went:
November: Instead of clobbering the Lakers in the season opener (as happened in real life), the Jazz lose, 95-90, as Kirilenko suffers through a dismal 4-for-17 shooting effort.
Utah wins its second game of the season, 104-101 over the Warriors, then gets pounded twice by the Nuggets. Andre Miller scores 51 points in those two Denver wins, clearly underscoring the fact the video Jazz team can't defend point guards. Or defend at all, for that matter, as the Nuggets shoot 54 percent.
The Jazz end up going 4-11 for the month, at which point they are 25th in the game's power rankings. Kirilenko leads the team in scoring, at 16.8 per game, but shoots below 40 percent a trend that continues all season.The league's leading scorers are Ray Allen and Michael Finley, at 26.3.
December: In the first game of the month, the Sonics knock the Jazz into last place in the Northwest Division with a 108-89 pounding in Seattle. Things never get much better, though the Jazz do manage to win one more game, finishing 5-10. Kirilenko is still the leading scorer, despite shooting 24 percent from the 3-point line. Utah is 0-6 against teams in its division.
January: The Jazz put together a modest three-game win streak early in the month, knocking off the Sixers, Bulls and Bucks. On Jan. 15, the Cavaliers come to Salt Lake and the Jazz down them, holding LeBron James to 13 points on 6-of-16 shooting. Utah has its best month yet, going 7-8, but nevertheless has fallen to 26th in the power rankings. Orlando offers to trade Keith Bogans for Raja Bell. Allen continues to lead the league in scoring, while Jason Kidd is a surprising second, at 25.5.
February: This month is a disaster, with Utah losing its first seven games heading into the All-Star break. No Jazz player makes the All-Star team, but Kirilenko gets invited to participate in the dunk contest. He doesn't win. Vlade Divac, Tony Parker and Elton Brand were surprise selections to the West team, while the East squad included Antoine Walker and Raef LaFrentz. Jazz avoid going 0-for-February by beating the Clippers on the final day of the month. They go 1-10 but are still ranked ahead of Golden State, Cleveland and New Jersey.
March: This month produces another 5-10 effort. Utah closes at 22-49, 30 games behind division-leading Minnesota.
April: Jazz lose only nine games this month, but that's only because there are only 11 games on the schedule. Their 2-9 record leaves them 24-58, tied with Charlotte for the league's worst mark but still ahead of the Nets in the rankings. Kirilenko breaks his foot on April 1 and misses the rest of the season. Peja Stojakovic leads the league in scoring, at 25.9. League MVP is Walker, DJ Mbenga is Rookie of the Year, and Flip Saunders wins the Coach of the Year award.
Playoffs: Surprise playoff teams include Toronto, Washington, Boston and New Orleans, which actually manages to mangle the Spurs in five games in the first round. The conference finals features one mild upset Sacramento over Minnesota and one stunner Boston over powerful Indiana.
The Finals are even more surprising, with Boston losing the first three games, then coming back to win four straight. Paul Pierce is Finals MVP.The game then proceeds to the offseason, in which the unlucky Jazz, despite their league-worst record, get only the No. 4 pick in the draft lottery. And then they have to let Raja Bell and Raul Lopez go so they can re-sign the brick-shooting Kirilenko.
Conclusion: If you want reality, you'll have to wait until June to see how the NBA plays out. But if you want to play general manager and coach, try the game. Of course, if you're easily frustrated, you might want to make the Celtics your team or, if you have a really strong stomach, the Kings. If you take on the Jazz, expect to take a few seasons to build a contender.