Utah Jazz: the NBA’s Newest Defensive Powerhouse


Mitchell Leff / Getty Images

The Utah Jazz have quietly become the NBA’s next great defensive team. Through sound drafts and roster moves, the Jazz are loaded with two-way talent that will likely land them a playoff spot in 2015-2016 and for years to come after that. Utah went 19-10 after trading away Enes Kanter and thus allowing Rudy Gobert to enter the starting line-up effectively. Utah finished 1st in points allowed per game for the whole season at 94.9, and after the all-star break that figure got considerably lower to 89.0.

Through three games this season, Utah has only allowed 79.7 points per game while scoring 94.3 points per game themselves. Utah is first in defensive rating, first in rebounds allowed, first in assists allowed, fourth in steals, and fifth in blocks per game. Utah has done this despite star player Gordon Hayward‘s poor offense thus far, as he has only averaged 12 points per game on 35% shooting. Another struggle Utah deals with is that starting point guard Dante Exum is out for the season.

It is easy to talk about how fast the NBA is now, and that the Jazz are only so high in the rankings because of their style of play relative to their opponents, but the Jazz are playing at a historical level.

Team Per Game Opponent Per Game
Rk Season Tm W/L% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
1 2015-16 UTA .667 45.3 16.3 9.0 5.3 12.3 23.7 94.3 38.7 13.7 4.7 5.3 18.3 20.3 79.7
2 1998-99 ATL* .620 43.5 15.6 6.9 5.2 14.9 19.7 86.3 39.0 17.9 7.6 4.9 13.5 24.0 83.4
3 1998-99 MIA* .660 40.3 20.4 6.5 6.1 14.9 20.7 89.0 39.2 17.1 7.7 3.8 13.5 22.0 84.0
4 2003-04 DET* .659 42.8 20.8 8.0 7.0 15.1 20.3 90.1 40.6 19.0 7.9 5.0 16.0 22.9 84.3
5 2003-04 SAS* .695 45.1 20.4 8.1 6.5 14.7 20.3 91.5 41.1 17.3 7.7 4.6 15.3 22.4 84.3
6 1998-99 SAS* .740 44.0 22.0 8.4 7.0 15.2 20.2 92.8 42.1 18.8 8.7 4.9 14.6 23.0 84.7
7 1998-99 NYK* .540 41.2 19.3 7.9 5.2 16.1 22.8 86.4 40.8 18.5 8.5 4.3 15.3 20.7 85.4
8 1996-97 CLE .512 37.4 20.9 8.0 3.8 14.5 23.0 87.5 37.0 20.1 6.7 4.3 16.2 21.3 85.6
9 2003-04 IND* .744 41.7 21.6 8.9 5.0 14.4 20.8 91.4 40.1 20.1 7.1 6.2 15.9 21.9 85.6
10 2000-01 NYK* .585 40.2 18.5 6.6 4.2 14.5 22.7 88.7 40.1 19.2 7.3 4.1 14.8 21.4 86.1
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/1/2015.

Those are the top ten teams in opponent points per game since the beginning of the three point era. Two of those teams won championships. Two more of those teams were conference finalists. All of those teams made the playoffs, and they had opponents that dreaded playing them. It is way too premature to say that the 2015-2016 Utah Jazz are the best defensive team of the three point era or ever, but through 19 games at the end of last season and three games this year, the Jazz have clearly shown they are the best defensive team in the NBA. In 2014-2015 the Gobert led Jazz beat playoff teams including Portland (twice), San Antonio, Milwaukee, Memphis,  Houston, and Dallas. They only allowed 76, 105, 81, 75, 82, 91, and 92 points, respectively, against the best teams in the entire NBA.

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

All stats point to the Jazz being the NBA’s new defensive power house. The defensive elite in recent seasons are all fading out of that stingiest defense mold. Indiana let their big men David West and Roy Hibbert leave in an effort to play faster offensively, Chicago let go of defensive mastermind Tom Thibodeau in an effort to play faster as well, and Memphis is simply getting older; Matt Barnes is 35, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are 34, Benoh Udrih is 33, Marc Gasol is 31, Courtney Lee is 30, and worst of all, Vince Carter is 39. Memphis’ best players are about to retire. Teams like Detroit, Golden State, and most of all Utah are the new top defensive teams in the league.

The Jazz might not immeadiately become the best team in the NBA. They have a lot to learn about being elite, and leading them in doing so is an inexperienced head coach himself in Quin Snyder. Utah is promising, there is no doubting that, but they have a journey ahead of them to rule over the NBA entirely: adding offensive consistency to their defense.

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