Jazz Isn't Dead, It's Undead
The German concept of the uncanny, the unheimlich, popularized by Freud but more or less traceable to the dusky origins of the German national character, describes the soulsickening coexistence of the familiar and the foreign—that which we think we know, playing home to that which we are sure we don't. The zombie; the uncomfortably lifelike robot; the ghost in the shell. Enter the Utah Jazz.
These two statistics pretty much sum up the pride of the NBA's whitest fan base (apologies, Oklahoma City): They have the second-best overall points differential in the West—they win the average game by 5.7, compared to the Lakers' 6.0—and their starting five has the worst per-possession scoring differential in the entire league.
Yes. The starting five of Williams, Matthews, Kirilenko, Boozer, and Okur scores 1.03 points per possession, and gives up 1.24, a what-the-shit differential of -.21. By comparison, New Jersey's starters get dusted at a respectable -.07. In other words, at Utah's pace (a roughly league-average 95 possessions per game), that's a team that loses its average game by 20. Meanwhile, the overall performance of the Jazz is ass-kicking. I'm trying to think of an equivalent in some other discipline, and failing. It's sort of like if it turned out that Dan Brown wrote Midnight's Children. No? How about: it's like if MGMT became one of those bands that goes around pretending to be Yanni. Actually, those bands are awesome.
Now swap out Mehmet Okur for Paul Millsap. The per-possession differential goes from -.21 to +.19. Does this mean the problem is an enormous Turkish man with an aggressive diskothek haircut? No, it does not. Swap Okur back in and take out Boozer, and the differential jumps even further, from +.19 to an insane +.28. Does this mean the problem is a moody, hulking Alaskan who was born in Germany? I mean, probably not.
Actually, the problem is this: What does it mean to have a successful team whose starters get shellacked every night? Is it a conscious strategy by Sloan to have a team that starts slow? Does Sloan even have conscious strategies at this point? Is there a human soul behind those icewater eyes?
One more thought: if the Thunder wrest the 5-seed back from the Spurs, the Jazz get a first-round matchup with a mediocre starting-five differential: (+.02), a reason to think Oklahoma City might be one and done. Either way, it's the whitest combined playoff-round fan base ever assembled, and it's just kind of a shame Indiana couldn't have been involved.
And one more completely unrelated thing: While researching this column, I came across Miami's three most-used five-man units, and they look like this:
Alston/Wade/Richardson/Beasley/O'Neal: -.02 per-possession differential
Arroyo, you beast. You uncanny beast.
image credit: IronRodArt