Entering their meeting with the Nuggets on Wednesday, the Jazz are averaging 117.0 points per 100 possessions on the season.
Why is it so remarkable? It’s the best offensive rating in the NBA by a pretty decent margin.
The Hawks currently have the second-best offensive rating in the league, averaging 113.1 points per 100 possessions. The gap between the Jazz in first place and the Hawks in second (3.9) is about the same as that of the Hornets and Dallas Mavericks, who are ranked 17th in offensive efficiency.
Simply put, the Jazz are cooking teams at a rate that no other team can match right now.
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There are many things that imply that the Jazz are the offensive giants that they are: Donovan Mitchell is a bona fide star who continues to improve, they come to the free throw line a lot, few teams punish so much on the offensive glass and they move the ball exceptionally. OK, to name a few, but it all starts with your 3-point shot.
The Jazz scored 16.7 3s per game last season. That not only led the league, but it set the NBA record for the highest average of 3 points in a single season. They’re not winning that many this season (15.1), but they still lead the league while connecting with them at 36.7 percent, which ranks sixth in the NBA as of this writing.
The Jazz have at least four shooters on the floor for almost every second of every game. Mitchell leads the team in 3-point scoring (111) on the season, followed by Bojan Bogdanovic (101) and Jordan Clarkson (94). There is a small gap between them and Mike Conley (82), Joe Ingles (67) and Royce O’Neal (48), but each hovers around 40.0 percent on the season.
Of that group, only O’Neale is strictly a catch-and-shoot threat. Everyone else can throw the dribble in some way.
That makes them exhausting to defend because the Jazz have multiple players who can execute a pick-and-roll …
… as well as multiple players who can drive and kick …
… or drive and finish.
(Not enough has been said about how much Mitchell has improved as a spiker in the basket this season, but that’s a story for another day.)
The only players on the list who don’t shoot 3s are Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside, but their selection and shooting play an integral role in creating 3s looks for the others.
This work is a great example of the gravity of Gobert in particular:
Possession begins like many for the Jazz: a high pick-and-roll with Gobert as a blocker. The Hornets are a bit confused as Ish Smith was forced to pick up Rudy Gay in transition after missing a jump shot. Aware of the mismatch, PJ Washington asks them to change, and Ingles tries to take advantage of it by making a quick pass to Gay in the corner.
Washington closes Gay down before he can even think of shooting, but Ingles’s pass creates some confusion, leaving Nick Richards standing in no-man’s-land.
How does Gobert respond? Diving hard towards the basket.
With Charlotte’s two biggest players away from the basket, Terry Rozier drops to prevent Gobert from making a dunk. (This is your reminder that no one nails as much as Gobert.) The problem, of course, is that it leaves Clarkson wide open at the top of the 3-point line.
Gay hits a perfect pass and Clarkson scores a 3 on pace to close out the third quarter.
Gobert doesn’t touch the ball once and yet his fingerprints are everywhere.
Put it all together – the shooting, ball handling, throwing and shooting, quick decision making – and you get sequences like this, where multiple passes and a couple of pick-and-rolls lead to a wide open shot. wide for a 41.2 percent career 3-point shooter:
That, my friends, is beautiful basketball.
The level at which the Jazz are playing offensively this season marks a big change for them. They have long been an elite defensive team. It is their offense that has been slow to catch up.
In 2017-18, the Jazz ranked 16th in offensive efficiency. In 2018-19, they climbed a couple spots to No. 14. They made the top 10 in 2019-20 (9), only to reach the top five in 2020-21 (4). Now, they’re in a class of their own, sitting in number one spot by a mile with almost half the season in the books.
“I think it’s fun to see the way we play. I think we play the right way,” Ingles said on the podcast “The Old Man and The Three” when talking about why Jazz doesn’t get more attention.
“I’m not talking about other teams, no [playing the right way], but I think the way we play, we are not going to be isolated, we are not going to stay playing with Donovan in each and every possession. We played the right way, we won, we are not in the media for doing stupid things.
“I don’t know why, I don’t care either, but I don’t know why people wouldn’t want to talk about us. I think it would be a fun team to talk about. I think you can dissect the way we play well and it would probably help a lot of people in everyone to learn to play basketball properly. “
That key number speaks a lot of what English speaks.