SALT LAKE CITY — For years (and really, decades), the Utah Jazz have prided themselves on being a blue-collar team. If points were being scored, it was happening from the paint. And if defensive stops were being made, it was happening through sheer physicality.
But the Jazz have adapted, even if the foundation of the team — a focus on passing and defending — hasn’t.
As the league has become more perimeter-oriented, so have the Jazz.
Ever since the Jazz named Quin Snyder as head coach three years ago, the team has become more interested in shooting from the outside.
In 2013-14, the Jazz were 24th in 3-point shots made per game. The season after, the Jazz moved up six spots to 18th overall. In 2015-16, the Jazz were 16th, still slowly creeping up the shooting ranks. Then finally, in 2016-17, the Jazz cracked the top half of the league, making the 13th most threes per game.
This summer, though, Utah lost two of the five players on their roster with the highest likelihood to shoot the 3-point shot. Gordon Hayward (who led the Jazz in 3-point shots made in 2016-17) and George Hill accounted for 10 of the teams 26 attempts from deep on a game-by-game basis.
Based purely on the losses Utah suffered this offseason (Hayward and Hill) and the signings made — Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha and Jonas Jerebko — the Jazz are expected to make slightly over 22 threes per game, which would place them among the three-worst shooting teams in the NBA. This, of course, does not include the incoming production of Donovan Mitchell, who hasn’t recorded any statistics so thus cannot be used in the projections.
Utah’s identity — which, again, is predicated on a pass-first offense and an intense defense, particularly the rim protection provided by Rudy Gobert — won’t shift, but the team’s overall effectiveness inevitably will.
With a lineup of Hill, Rodney Hood, Hayward, Derrick Favors and Gobert (the team’s starting lineup last year), the Jazz had a spacing rating of 73.5. That rating, which Nick Sciria created to measure the success of varying lineups in terms of 3-point shooting, will dip to roughly 63.3 with the lineup Snyder is expected to trot out next season, which consists of swapping Hill out for Rubio and replacing Hayward with Hood in the starting lineup. If the projection holds true, the Jazz would go from being one of the league’s most efficient shooting teams to simply mediocre.
For the Jazz to realistically crack the top half of the league in threes made again, they will need some miracles to happen. Rubio, a historically unreliable shooter, must at least become average. Rubio made 60 threes last season, 34 less than Hill made. Unless Rubio finally fixed his shot this summer, it’s likely he won’t replace Hill’s output alone. Instead, Rubio will have to find another way with his passing.
As one of the NBA’s leaders in assists, Rubio will be called upon to create offense in Utah more than ever. The ball is going to be in his hands every possession. Finding Hood, who led the Jazz in threes attempted per game last season, and Ingles will be Rubio’s offensive priority. If the targets (Hood, Ingles, Mitchell, Joe Johnson and Alec Burks) aren’t hitting the shots consistently, the offense will have to become more complicated, since defenses will be looser on the perimeter, making life more difficult for Gobert inside.
The Jazz wanted to find a couple of players known for their ability to knock down the outside shot, but the options weren’t available. Sefolosha, Jerebko and Rubio are all somewhat versatile and have “Jazz DNA.”
However, none of them will push the Jazz enough to keep their recent trend of increased shooting going. It will be up to the players that were already on the roster, like Hood and Ingles, to make up for what the Jazz lost this summer.