Thursday, February 9, 2012

making friends

today's post inspired by lagwagon.

when i started blogging about the jazz roughly 14 months ago, i wasn't exactly sure what my angle was going to be.  i had tried out for one of the jazzbot positions and made it through the preliminary round of submissions.  when i was interviewed on the phone in the second round, derrick asked me a question:  "what will set you apart from the other jazzbot writers?"  even though it was a pretty simple question (and one that i should have anticipated), i didn't have are ready answer.  i vaguely remember sputtering out something about having a fan perspective from another large-market team's home base and being a second-time-around jazz fan.  i solidly remember not being offered the jazzbot position, and it didn't take me long to figure out why.

this blog has been, for the most part, pretty scattered in its focus.  it's more of a diary of my experiences and unfiltered thoughts on the jazz than any of the publishable-quality posts you see at the premier jazz blogs (namely SLC dunk and salt city hoops, along with the jazzbots and jazznots at utahjazz360).  i don't have much of an end game in mind, and while i've dabbled in some stat work, i'm coming to terms with the facts that (1) i'm not great with math or excel, and (2) my understanding of the game of basketball itself is, shall we say, less than perfect.

fortunately, the experience hasn't been a wash.  somewhere along the lines i figured i could fuse my experiences as an aspiring punk rock musician with my passion for LHM-related basketball, and it's clicked for me today why that parallel seemed so obvious and easy.  while i've been trying to make this blog something people will be willing to read without smashing their monitor in disgust, i've also had the pleasure of being welcomed into the jazz fan community with open arms via twitter.  for those of you who are/were a part of a serious underground/counter-culture movement or scene, you know how rare it is to find community in something that seems, facially, universally accessible and bereft of deeper meaning.  i had that kind of connection through music in high school and college; i'm finding it again through the utah jazz.

it's eerie how similar the larger families of punk rock and jazz basketball are.  effectively, once you know a few of the buzzwords and how to swing the lingo around, you're in.  with punk rock, it was appreciation for bad religion and the descendents that got me past "poser" status when meeting other band kids, even though we were all photocopying green day and nofx song structures.  as i grew older and started meeting people with more sophisticated tastes, referencing the fugazi catalog and understanding the relationships between fat wreck chords artists more or less guaranteed you an inner-circle spot among active SLC punk rock musicians, even if i was more into social distortion-inspired pompadours than circle jerk bondage pants.  ultimately, opening for guttermouth (or whatever other 40-somethings pass through the shittiest dive in salt lake) seals you as a member of the fraternity of serious punk rock fans, and you get that badge forever, even if you take your gauges out, get married, and move to new jersey for law school.

i'm seeing the same pattern happen to me within the jazz fan community; going from a guy who watched deron's first few seasons with something between hope and disinterest, and having that blossom into having things like an autographed millsap jersey on my wall, and actually making new friends.  i've been fortunate enough reconnect with a cousin i hadn't seen in well over a decade, score amazing tickets to some of the year's best (so far) home games, and feel like i'm a part of something that shouldn't matter because it's "just a business."  but that's the fun thing about this jazz team and supporting it--it's not just a business.  it's a team that, despite its early stumbles, is showing willingness to back each other universally and fight hard when it has to.  that kind of camaraderie is something i've missed since leaving my last band almost four years ago.

maybe this jazz team doesn't make the playoffs this year, and maybe they don't win another game on the road for a month.  maybe millsap and CJ, the two longest-tenured jazzmen on the roster, get traded for an old man from boston with an outside shot.  i don't know how things are going to play out.  but, i do have to say, just being a part of it, with a bunch of other people who also simply love being a part of it, has been pretty amazing so far.

Monday, February 6, 2012

cool kids

today's post brought to you by screeching weasel's timeless classic.

 the hubbub on the intarwebs over the last few days regarding which jazz players will go to the all-star game seems to converge on two points.  first, jefferson isn't going to go and millsap is a bit of a longshot.  second, at least one of the jazz rookies/sophomores should be in orlando come the final weekend of february.

but there are questions within that second point, as the annointed youth isn't being discussed as deserving a trip to florida to play in the actual rookie-sophomore game.  rather, jeremy evans has illustrated his dunking prowess time and again, to the point of garnering national attention and inspiring an online campaign furthering his inclusion in the dunk contest titled, fittingly, #LetJeremyDunk.

despite the momentum behind jeremy "elevator" evans (i refuse to acknowledge this "human pogo stick" moniker), some of the jazz faithful have been wondering whether some of the ESA's other underclassmen should be making an appearance in the Rising Stars Challenge on the first night of all-star weekend.  while i think gordon hayward probably should be in that game, i'm not sold on any of the other junior jazzmen as shoe-ins.  but the ongoing conversation did get me thinking about what the can't-rent-a-car-yet jazz players have been doing so far this year.

the stats in the images below represent the basic production numbers from the rookies and sophomores on this year's jazz squad:  gordon hayward, derrick favors, enes kanter, alec burks, and jeremy evans.  the top matrix in the image below shows the total numbers put up by those five per each game, and the second grouping has those numbers averaged out in a few different ways.

my initial idea was just to look at the rookie/sophomore player production from the first half of the existing season against the second half, and those numbers aren't terribly encouraging by themselves.  the only categories to see improvements by the jazz youth are points per game and steals.  fouls committed dropped nearly a whole foul per game, but that could be attributed either to smarter play or softer defense--a determination i'll have to leave to the synergy crowd.  all other basic categories (field goal percentage, rebounds, assists, blocked shots, blocks allowed, and assist-to-turnover ratio) have seen a slight decline from the utah youngsters.  the only stat not to make any change at all as been turnovers, with the rookie/sophs averaging 4.36 on the season and in both the first and second half of games played.

but there are some serious signs of good things from the the youth on the roster.  the youngest jazzmen actually play arguably better offense on the road, with increased points per game despite a lower field goal percentage--a pair of stats that means gordon & co. are driving and picking up fouls while they're out of town.  similarly, the kids up their assist game on the road by 1.5 per game, get more steals, turn the ball over  40% less often, with the resulting road assist-to-TO ratio sitting at an impressive 1.9 versus 0.75 at home.  it seems likely to me that the starters and vets on the team are making the bigger plays at home, whereas the young guys are gritting it out in garbage time on the road.

which, by the way, is fine with me:  if the bulk of away-game playing time our young guys see is in down by 20 in the fourth, and they still come out strong, so much the better.  in april of last year, the only hope we had as jazz fans was that the team would improve and build.  at this point in the season, the youth on the roster remains committed to playing 48 full minutes, even if they're actually only playing 4 late in the game.  the two biggest W's at the ESA (that i saw in person) in terms of lop-sidedness this year were the january 10 cleveland game and the january 17 clippers game.  both of those games showcased a second unit from the visiting team more or less give up somewhere in the fourth.  the jazz's rookie/soph road numbers do not reflect that kind of attitude.

the rest of the numbers require a more in-depth analysis than i have time/talent for.  but for those of you who are keeping tabs on the long-term future of the jazz, these numbers might be a fun start for you.  i'd be happy to email the spreadsheet to anyone who wants to play with the numbers themselves, just leave a note in the comments.