SALT LAKE CITY — There are just 21 games left in the NBA regular season, which means we have 61 games of information about this Jazz team. I thought I'd take a look at some of the most common things I hear about the team that just don't stand up to scrutiny. All stats from NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
The Jazz can't blow out teams
The Myth: The Jazz don't blow out teams. Instead, they let opponents come creeping back into the game.
Why it exists: Comeback losses to Sacramento and Dallas, a stretch in December where they did this regularly.
The reality: Every team does this.
The Jazz's margin of victory in wins is second in the league, only behind the juggernaut Golden State Warriors. And the Jazz are actually the very best fourth-quarter team in the NBA, outscoring opponents by 2.49 points per game in the final quarter on average.
The Jazz have four losses after leading by 10 or more points this season, only five teams have fewer.
By the way, there's a rubber band effect in the NBA. One of the biggest influences on how the rest of a game will play out is not necessarily the quality of the two teams, but what the score is. Check out this graph from Jeremias Englemann, one of the fathers of ESPN's RPM metric:
Teams fight harder when they're behind, and referees give them more whistles. In other words, the fact that this happens to the Jazz isn't much of a surprise when it happens to all teams.
The Jazz don't get foul calls
The Myth: The Jazz are consistently at a disadvantage when it comes to the whistle.
Why people believe this: Gordon Hayward is the league's most disadvantaged player in the league's last 2-minute reports. Some sketchy calls in the NBA Finals 20 years ago. My study that showed the Jazz were last in the league in call margin last season.
The truth: This one's a little nuanced. I do think that if the NBA referees were perfect robots that held teams to the rulebook as they should, the Jazz would probably get more calls than they do.
But it needs to be acknowledged that the Jazz are actually one of the league's best teams at using the whistle and the free throw line to their advantage. The Jazz have the fifth best free-throw rate in the league, behind the Clippers, Raptors, Rockets and Thunder.
But they send their opponents to the line the sixth-fewest times in the league, behind the Hornets, Bulls, Cavaliers, Hawks and Pelicans.
In the end, the Jazz average going to the FT line about three more times per game than their opponents, which is a big and helpful difference.
The Jazz are bad in transition
The Myth: The Jazz are bad in transition opportunities.
Why people believe this: The Jazz are last in the league in pace and second to last in the league in fast break points. There were a lot of really bad fast breaks run last year, when the Jazz had major point guard woes.
The truth: It's not that they're bad in transition; it's that they're picky in transition.
Yes, the Jazz could probably run more, taking more opportunities to push the ball up the floor and get easier shots. But they're actually second in the league in transition efficiency, scoring 1.22 points per transition possession, only Golden State does better. They're also sixth in the league after any kind of turnover by the defense, better than their 13th overall ranking.
Interestingly, there's not a correlation league-wide between teams that take the most transition opportunities and teams that are efficient at it, or vice versa. Just look at both ends of the spectrum: The Warriors run most frequently and are the most efficient at it. Meanwhile, the Jazz and Mavericks run the least frequently. The Jazz are the second most efficient team, and the Mavericks are the third least efficient team in these scenarios.
The Jazz work on their early offense a lot in practice, and it seems to be paying off in this area.