Jazz coach Quin Snyder is sometimes described as intense. His terrifying glare, fit for the Halloween season, is only one of the reasons why. In 2014-2015, Snyder’s first season as an NBA coach, we saw him vary his approach with his young team. One game he emphatically suggested they “wake up”, and during another he stared at them in silence for an entire timeout. Jazz guard Rodney Hood said his coach’s temperament has shifted slightly since then, “He’s… I wouldn’t say relaxed, but he’s a lot more confident in us.” And for good reason. The Jazz have improved under Snyder, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. Other basketball minds are impressed with Snyder’s work and they don’t hesitate to gush a bit.
“He’s brilliant,” says Kobe Bryant, who includes Snyder in his club of self-described “basketball nerds.” The two got to know each other when Snyder was an assistant coach for The Lakers from 2011-2012. Bryant said Snyder was constantly picking his brain about defensive schemes and the triangle offense.
Jeff Van Gundy, former NBA coach for over 10 years, also had high praise for the Jazz coach in a conversation with Zach Lowe, “Quin Snyder may be the most, or one of the most, underrated coaches in the league.”
In a recent poll ESPN NBA writers acknowledge Snyder’s coaching abilities too. He received the second-most votes for the 2016-2017 Coach of the Year prediction with five, behind Boston Celtics’s coach, Brad Stevens, who received six votes.
What makes a coach good, anyway? Wins versus losses? Development? Curated team culture and identity? There are so many factors that contribute to a team’s success, but often when the wins don’t come as quickly as expected the coach is the first thing to go. Whether or not this is the right move is often debated. Regardless, a coach is usually most often judged by their team’s win-loss record. Put simply, if you win more than you lose, you stay on. Let’s take a look at what Coach Quin’s win-loss column says about him thus far.
The Race to Break .500
Jazz fans have sometimes unfairly expected Snyder to produce longtime-tenured-Jerry-Sloan-type results in his brief time with the team. We forget how spoiled the Jazz were to have that caliber of coach take over right as Hall of Famers John Stockton and Karl Malone emerged as all-stars coming into their prime. We also forget that this was not Sloan’s first stop on the NBA block. He spent a few years coaching in Chicago as well. It isn’t fair to judge Snyder’s first two years as an NBA head coach against Sloan’s fourth and fifth years, when he landed the gig as head coach of the Jazz. Call me crazy, but I am going to compare Sloan’s and Snyder’s first two years as NBA head coaches and include up-and-comer Brad Stevens in the mix too. The comment section will probably blow up if I don’t say this so, here it goes: I’m not suggesting Quin Snyder is a better coach than Jerry Sloan. I know, I’m writing in Jerry Sloan for president too. I think we can all agree that having only coached for two years, Quin Snyder’s sample size is teeny tiny and Jerry Sloan is a legend (see his career win percentage below). That said, Snyder’s early results look good.
Kind of surprising, right? Among very good company, Quin Snyder leads the race in the first two years of his NBA coaching career with a win percentage of 47.6%. Jerry Sloan is close behind with 45.7% as Brad Stevens brings up the rear with 39.6%. Again, lots of factors playing into these numbers, but it’s interesting to see how it shakes out. After two years coaching Snyder also has the edge over Stevens in career win percentage with 47.6% over Stevens’ 45.9% over three years. What’s not obvious here, though, is the third-year leap Stevens had with the Celtics last season, finishing with a 48-34 record. That kind of dramatic improvement makes him an excellent candidate for Coach of the Year if he can keep the upward trend alive.
If the Jazz notch 46 wins this season Snyder’s career win percentage will break .500. Stevens needs 52 wins to get above a career .500. Early projections say both the Jazz and Celtics can do it. ESPN’s Zach Lowe is high on the Jazz, predicting they will get 50 wins this season. Van Gundy, on the other hand, says “that’s a lot of wins, 50 is a lot of wins…” I think the Jazz can get 50 this year, but they’ll need to find some finish. Before the season started I couldn’t fathom that any of those wins would come against the Spurs or Warriors, but the Jazz have already proven me wrong there, so who knows. The wild offseason shuffle has me confident they can stay competitive with just about any team.
How is Quin Snyder doing and what else will he need to do to secure those wins?
During Snyder’s first couple years coaching the Jazz they’ve been known to hang with the Warriors one night and then get blown out by a lottery team the next night. After these drastic differences in play the media would inevitably ask Snyder about starting lineup changes or inquire what detail could have gone better. Ever attentive to detail, he would reply thoughtfully and then emphasize that the team, staff and fans needed to “trust the process,” himself included. No player has been asked to trust the process quite like Gordon Hayward. After years of being the first offensive option, sometimes the only option, he has been frustrated at times. In Snyder’s system he has found help in Hood, Favors and Burks, and now he has the help of Hill and Joe Johnson too. Snyder says he doesn’t like to put a “ceiling” on his expectations for his team, but also wants them to realize they have to stay humble. Hayward has decidedly bought-in to this mindset.
On his blog he recently wrote, “We’ve all gotten better… and we’re all improving each year. Some media members are coming around and they think maybe this might be our year.But for me, we still haven’t done anything. Nothing has changed. We have a lot to prove to people, and that’s the feeling across our team. We still have a long ways to go.”
The front office has literally bought-in, locking up Snyder two years early with a contract extension through 2021, a rare move in the revolving-door-style NBA. More than a mere gesture, this extensions shows that top brass like what Quin Snyder is doing and they want to assure the players he’ll be around. They have also provided more options for Snyder’s arsenal with the addition team-first veterans Joe Johnson, George Hill, and Boris Diaw, who are catching the vision early. This gives Coach Q even more confidence, but, as always, he doesn’t lose his intensity.
“I was pretty animated after our last preseason game,” Snyder said, “because I felt like we weren’t paying attention to a lot of the little things defensively. I think some of our veteran guys, to their credit, are letting me coach them.”
And the players appreciate the coaching. Derrick Favors said, “Quin did a good job coming in and stressing defense, stressing playing with pace, (looking to) pass. Basically he made all of us just really buy into moving the ball and sharing the ball, playing unselfishly, and on the defensive end just helping each other out and always having each other’s back and just playing as a team.”
Good defense speaks volumes to Snyder. It’s a big part of his coaching decisions. Just ask poor ol’ Trey Burke about that. Yet defense means more to Snyder than simply stopping the opposing team.
“When a team plays defense together well, it’s an indication they trust each other,” Snyder told former Jazz CEO, Greg Miller.
Earl Watson’s Suns are using high fives to measure team unity this season, but defensive rating may be a better unity metric for the Jazz. Since Snyder took the helm, the Jazz have had stretches of excellent defense, peaking after the All-Star break in 2014-2015, with the league’s top defensive rating. They have yet to see those kinds of numbers again, but will need that kind of lock-down defense to close out games that got away in seasons past.
A big part of such an effective defense is talking on the court. Snyder has made it clear nothing makes him more upset than his team not talking to each other. Joe Ingles admitted that two years ago, he and Steve Novak were probably the loudest on the court, mostly because other members of the team are more naturally reserved, especially Favors and Hayward. Since then, the Jazz have lost Novak, but have gained a chatty Boris Diaw, who has already had a notable impact on Rudy Gobert’s spacing and confidence on offense by communicating where he needs him to be to make the assist. George Hill has also taken his veteran role as a strong defender and mentor to Dante Exum, while Hayward and Favors have gotten more comfortable communicating. Snyder does a good job of explaining roles to his guys and making his expectations clear.
Per former Jazz point guard, Trey Burke, “We know his standards. We know what he expects on and off the court in practice and in games.”
He expects constant development, but he doesn’t leave players to their own devices. At his core Snyder is a development coach, which has made him a great fit for the Jazz right now. Most practices Snyder is in a t-shirt and shorts ready to demonstrate. Hayward and Exum say Snyder has personally helped them refine their footwork. A “player-friendly” coach, as described by Jeff Withey, Snyder has never been afraid to play D-League guys their first day with the team and makes it a point to individually encourage players who have an off night. It’s no wonder they listen to him.
Once the floor of The Viv is alive with chatter and the Jazz’s defensive rating dips below 100 again, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more of this look, a lot more W’s in the books—maybe a Coach of the Year trophy too.