Carlos Boozer is playing the best basketball of his career especially offensively. Deron Williams is more confident than ever and proving on a nightly basis that he's one of the best point guards on the planet.
But Andrei Kirilenko has been the key to the Utah Jazz winning or losing so far this year.
More specifically, Kirilenko's passing seems to have a major impact on the Jazz's success.
Of course, the stat geeks at BYU could have told you that would be the case.
As reported a last week in the Deseret Morning News, two BYU statistic professors and a graduate student evaluated the value of 13 box score statistics across the five player positions for an entire NBA season to see how much each contributed to winning games. The findings from the study have recently been published in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis of Sports.
Interestingly, of all the combinations of stats and positions, the BYU study found that assists by small forwards contribute the most to a team's likelihood of victory. Not points by power forwards. Not rebounds by centers. Not steals or assists by point guards or three-point shooting by shooting guards or anything else.
Nope, the single stat and player position combo that correlated to NBA victory was assists by small forwards.
That's where Kirilenko comes in. Utah's enigmatic small forward has been the poster boy for the BYU study's findings.
While it's only a 10-game sample, the Jazz's winning or losing through Friday's loss at Cleveland has followed a simple pattern:
In games where Kirilenko dished out five or more assists the Jazz went 7-0.
In games where A.K. had four or fewer assists the Jazz were 0-3.
To his credit, Kirilenko has been doing a lot more than dishing out assists this season in helping the Jazz to a 7-3 start not the least of which has been keeping his mouth shut about wanting to be traded since training camp began. He's also been scoring, rebounding, blocking shots and getting steals with regularity.
Those stats have been great for Utah and have shown that Kirilenko is playing his best all-around basketball in years maybe ever. But it's the assists that have been the best barometer of the Jazz's success.
A.K.'s scoring is average 11.1 points per game, with a slightly better 11.4 scoring average in Utah wins. But he is still averaging 10.3 points per game in losses.
By comparison, Kirilenko is averaging 6.7 assists per game in all, but in the victories, he's dishing out 8.3 assists with only 3 assists per game in the loses. His three lowest assist totals were all in games where the Jazz came out on the short end of the final score.
Kirilenko seems to be having much more fun playing this season than last. Plus, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan has been effusive in his praise of the sensitive Russian.
A.K. may still want to be traded. If so, the good news for the Jazz is that every stat-filled game he plays increases his trade value.
Then again, if Kirilenko continues to dish out assists like he has been, the Jazz would be much better off keeping him around. After all, he's currently second in the NBA for assists by a forward trailing only the incomparable LeBron James.And, as the BYU stat professors will attest, there is nothing better than small forwards being good passers.