SALT LAKE CITY — On Monday, the Utah Jazz announced that they had signed Jeff Withey, the center who last played for the New Orleans Pelicans.
At 7 feet tall, Withey will find himself in familiar company on the Jazz, who already feature two other 7-footers in Rudy Gobert and rookie Tibor Pleiss. The Jazz now join the Orlando Magic and the Los Angeles Lakers as the only teams in the NBA to feature three 7-footers.
Perhaps the most telling sign about this signing is that despite the Jazz losing Dante Exum to a torn ACL, likely costing the second-year guard his entire 2015-16 season, the Jazz are comfortable with their point guard rotation to start the year. Third-year veteran Trey Burke will be joined by rookie Raul Neto and second-year guard Bryce Cotton, tasked with managing the Jazz lead guard position. Burke is the only player of the three guards to start any games in the NBA.
The next detail to emerge, as previously mentioned, is the height Withey adds. Before Exum's injury, the Jazz were projected to have the league's tallest starting lineup, something that will definitely take a hit if the team winds up starting either 6-foot-1 Burke or 6-foot-2 Neto.
Outside of the undersized point guard position, the Jazz feature great height across the rest of the roster and measure out as one of the NBA's tallest teams on average. With data used from basketball-reference.com, the Jazz roster stands at an average height of 6-foot-6.3, good for the fifth tallest roster in the NBA. The Minnesota Timberwolves (6-foot-7.1), New York Knicks (6-foot-6.9), New Orleans Pelicans (6-foot-6.7) and Los Angeles Lakers (6-foot-6.6), round out the top five tallest teams, and all feature rosters taller than the Jazz. All of these rosters are subject to change, as players could be waived before the season begins, potentially altering these rosters that are separated by fractions of inches.
Perhaps concerning for Jazz fans, of the five tallest NBA teams, only the New Orleans Pelicans made the playoffs last season, and they sneaked into the final spot of the Western Conference playoffs, winning a tie breaker over the Oklahoma City Thunder on the final night of the regular season.
While the Jazz stack up favorably to the rest of the modern NBA height-wise, how do they stack up against their own past, including some of the best teams in Jazz history? I narrowed down this study to look at starting lineups only, as often a few undersized, or oversized backups can dramatically alter the average height of a team while having very little impact on the team's performance.
This coming season, with Burke projected as the starting point guard, Alec Burks projected to start at shooting guard and Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Gobert rounding out the frontcourt, the height of the average Jazz starter is 6-foot-6.3. Since the 2000-01 season, this lineup would tie for the fourth tallest starting lineup, with the 2003 roster featuring John Stockton, Calbert Cheaney, Matt Harpring, Karl Malone and Greg Ostertag.
The tallest starting lineup since the year 2000 appeared late last season for the Jazz, with Exum, Joe Ingles or Rodney Hood, Hayward, Favors and Gobert sporting a 6-foot-7.5 average. That lineup was a full inch taller than the second tallest lineup for the Jazz over the last decade and a half, when in 2006 and 2008 the team had an average starting height of 6-foot-6.5.
The shortest starting lineup over the past 15 years occurred in 2013, and 2001 when the Jazz starters stood at an average of 6-foot-5.1 tall. In 2013, Mo Williams and Randy Foye combined to make up an unusually small backcourt, while John Starks and Stockton made up the guard line in 2001.
The Jazz's most successful season, the 64-win 1996-97 campaign that ended with a finals loss to the Chicago Bulls, saw an average starting height of 6-foot-5.6. The 62-win, 1997-98 campaign, which replaced Ostertag with Adam Keefe as the starter at center, saw the average starting lineup shrink to 6-foot-4.8. The Jazz's only other 60-win season came in 1994-95, when the average starting height was 6-foot-5.
When the Jazz stunned the NBA by pushing the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers to seven games in the second round of the playoffs, the team stood at an impressive 6-foot-7.1 average. The lineup was buoyed by the 7-foot-4 Mark Eaton and 6-foot-11 small forward Thurl Bailey. For historical purposes, the 1974-75 New Orleans Jazz, the first team in franchise history, stood at an average 6-foot-6, while the 1979-80 Utah Jazz, the team's first year in Salt Lake City, averaged 6-foot-4.3, the smallest of any season I examined.
If one thing emerged in my research, it's that the current Jazz roster is tall, not just for the modern NBA, but historically. Unfortunately, it also appears that there is little correlation between height and success, as the Jazz's most successful roster had an average height of 6-foot-5.6, while the tallest roster won only 38 games. While the Jazz project to be tall again in 2016, height alone won't determine the team's success. It's far more likely the final record will be determined by the play of the Jazz's shortest position, the point guards, and whether they can rise to the level of their more proven teammates.