As the Utah Jazz continue to fight for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, team management must keep one eye on the future and one eye on the present.
It goes without saying that making the playoffs, and going on a run, is important for the Utah franchise—as it is for any franchise in the NBA—but the Jazz are in a unique position where many of their players are not under contract next season.
Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams, Raja Bell, Randy Foye, Earl Watson, Jamaal Tinsley and DeMarre Carroll are all in the last year of their contract (h/t Hoopsworld.com), and Marvin Williams has an early termination clause for 2013-14.
The Jazz is unlikely to keep all of those players in Salt Lake City next season. Jefferson and Millsap are big men, and the team has two younger players—Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter—who can play their position. One of them is going to go.
Utah will also have to decide if they want to keep the Williams boys and Tinsley, who are all guards.
By using advanced statistics from NBA.com, I have found the three best pairings on the Utah Jazz. This does not necessarily mean the team will not use other combinations that work throughout the course of the season, but it should shed light on which players work together effectively—at least on paper.
Jamaal Tinsley and Al Jefferson
Helps Jefferson: Points, Free Throws, Personal Fouls, plus/minus, but decrease in Rebounds
It's kind of funny that the team’s highest-paid player, Jefferson ($15 million), plays so well with one of the team’s lowest earners, Tinsley ($1.4 million), but that’s the way it works out sometimes.
When Jefferson is on the court, Tinsley scores 8.1 points per game, which is almost a point better than his overall average (7.2), and gets to the charity stripe more often.
When Jefferson is on the bench, his point average drops to 5.4 because he shoots poorly from the field and three-point line and attempts fewer free throws.
Jefferson’s average point total raises from 18.9 overall to 22.0 with Tinsley on the floor, and he too gets to the free-throw line more often. As an added bonus, Jefferson also commits fewer fouls when Tinsley is on the floor.
In short, if the Jazz decide to keep Jefferson in the Beehive State, they should consider keeping Tinsley around also (especially at that price!).
Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors
Hurts Favors: Points, FGA, Free Throws, Rebound, but increase in Assists and less Personal Fouls
Jefferson, 28, also plays better with up-and-coming big man Derrick Favors.
Unlike his relationship with Tinsley, however, Jefferson leeches off of the 21-year-old forward rather than helps him.
The former Boston Celtic and Minnesota Timberwolf averages more points (21.8), attempts more shots from the field (18.9), attempts and hits more of his threes (0.4/33 percent) and gets to the line more when Favors is on the floor.
Favors, however, averages almost two points fewer per game when he’s on the floor with Jefferson, most likely because he’s shooting fewer shots (9.8 with Jefferson, 11.7 without).
He also gets to the line less and grabs fewer rebounds.
This all sounds bad, but what it might mean is Jefferson is doing more of the heavy lifting when he’s on the floor, allowing Favors to have an off night—as many young players are prone to do.
Furthermore, Favors also distributes the ball more and commits fewer fouls when Jefferson is playing with him. This could be because he feels less inclined to take a shot when he knows a proven scorer is on the court and is less fatigued because he can share the workload.
Jamaal Tinsley and Gordon Hayward
Hurts Heyward: 3P%, Rebounds, Assists, but increase in Free Throws and plus/minus
Tinsley is also doing a little leeching of his own.
His “victim” is not Favors, but another young player in Gordon Hayward.
When Hayward comes off the bench, Tinsley’s points per game leap from 6.4 to 8.4. He shoots three-pointers with more consistency (38 percent to 26 percent), gets to the line more often and grabs more rebounds.
Conversely, Hayward’s three-point average drops from 41 percent overall to 33 percent, and he snags fewer boards and assists less frequently with Tinsley on the floor.
It’s not all bad for Hayward, though. Both players have a plus-11.6 rating when they’re on the floor and a negative rating when the other person is on the bench. Hayward also gets the line more often (7.9) while playing with Tinsley, on average, than he does when he’s not (4.7).
The Jazz have a difficult decision to make at the end of the year.
Right now—at least statistically—it looks like they should retain Jefferson. He plays well with Favors, a budding star, and Tinsley, an inexpensive veteran player who comes off the bench.
All statistics are accurate as of January 21, 2013.
Tom Schreier covers the Northwest Division for Bleacher Report and writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.