So much to talk about in just seven days’ worth of Jazz basketball.
This 13th edition of our weekly wrap-up covers a lot of ground, from big picture offense stuff to dealing with a star’s message about winning to welcoming Favors back to the fold. Let’s get to it.
The Jazz are a process-focused outfit, to be sure. While the rest of the world watches to see when Utah will turn the corner from a record standpoint, the staff and front office are focused on turning the corner in terms of execution, building a foundation of smart basketball habits.
Their system — or program, as coach Quin Snyder likes to call it — is about building upon a framework. In that sense, as players get more comfortable, the number of options and counters within the offense grows… even if the playbook doesn’t.
“The thing about the way we’re playing, the offense itself isn’t dramatically different,” Snyder explained last week. “The emphasis within the offense, I think, hopefully evolves and reflects who are.”
That’s definitely happening. Without introducing a bunch of new stuff as the season has gone along, Snyder has his team playing a much crisper offense. An oft-cited reason for that is improved passing1, but one that isn’t getting talked about enough: Jazz players are getting comfortable going deeper into their sets.
Even halfway decent teams can short circuit your first and second options fairly easily. The problem that plagued the Jazz last year (and parts of this season) is that they often panicked and didn’t get deep enough into their sets to exploit anything. A year ago, I pointed out how a little bit of pressure was dead-ending Utah’s plays, specifically pointing out how often the defense overplayed the swing pass and the Jazz, instead of employing the obvious counter, would just pass to the opposite wing and try something else.
Well that’s one example of something the team has started to recognize. A lot. On a number of recent occasions, Jazz wings have punished that aggressive defense by cutting hard baseline as a big comes to the elbow to relay a pass, usually for an easy bucket.
It’s something that basketball folks call “blind pig” action, and all of a sudden the Jazz are using it frequently.
“The more we see that, we’ve gotten better at that, there’s no question,” Snyder said when I asked him if this play is indicative of the types of offensive wrinkles his team wasn’t deploying even a couple of months ago. “I like that. I like that we’re getting that because it means we’re taking what the defense gives us, and it’s really just us trying to adjust to pressure.”
Again, this is just one example of how the Jazz are building their basketball vocabulary, learning how to identify a trigger and go right to the appropriate response as a group. This expanding arsenal has allowed them to, somewhat miraculously, have a top-10 offense2 despite a rash of injuries and questionable depth.
I talked to several players last week about the way the offense is developing. I was especially curious to find out if these were things Snyder waited to implement until the team had mastered the bare-bones version of the plays, or if it’s something he was asking for all along and the team is just becoming better at recognizing it in real-time.
“It’s been there all along,” Rodney Hood assured me. “We’ve been working on it non-stop. It’s just about translation. Especially being a young team, just translating it to the game floor. Coach has been doing a great job of just pounding it in our head. Now we’ve just got to take it another step as far as late game and being more precise with what we’re doing.”
Trey Lyles, one of the bigs who has been jumping to the high post to facilitate blind pig action, agreed. “I just think guys settled down,” he said. “I think it’s just us as a team noticing when teams are overplaying and just going out there and doing it without having to have coach call the play.”
Lyles then added that Snyder hasn’t just been drilling the team to death, but also consulting with them on what else they can do to exploit advantages created within their plays.
“He’s never said he didn’t want us to do something. He’s very open to our suggestions offensively and defensively. He likes us to go out and experiment and if it works, good. If it doesn’t, he’ll let us know.”
That’s a pretty cool sentiment, and reflects the Spursian culture the Jazz are trying to emulate in many ways. That’s how you push the limits of your system without adding more pages to the playbook: just get in the lab and ideate.
“I think we’re getting better,” added rookie point guard Raul Neto. “We’re still gonna have some games that the offense or defense is not as good as we want, but… everybody knows their role on the team, so that helps a lot.”
“I’m constantly thinking about that (the team’s financial set-up). Contracts are so short now. A lot of our guys are on their rookie deals, and they’ll come up for extensions. It all might determine whether or not I stay in Utah.”
Hayward in a Zach Lowe feature, with a quote that freaked out some Jazz fans.
Great, great work by Lowe in a column that ponders how the Jazz respond to a hiccup in their return to relevance.
Some fans panicked about this quote and fired up the Trade Machine to find Hayward deals. They shouldn’t. Here’s why. 1) Quin loooooves him. 2) Gordon has to say that. This is his first chance to be a star free agent with leverage. So of course he’ll use that unique position to put some pressure on the Jazz. 3) You don’t get to greatness by being paranoid about who’s looking for a backdoor to sneak out of. At some point, you have to believe in what you’re building and believe that the right type of player will want to be involved if you can articulate your vision the right way. I absolutely think Hayward is that type of guy.
And for anyone getting PTSD flashbacks to the Deron Williams saga, I’ll just say this: Hayward and Williams are completely different people. Without pretending to know how either one thinks about this sort of thing, I’ll just offer that they are very different human beings. By all accounts I’ve heard, Gordon believes in the program and especially in Snyder.
That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll stay, mind you. At the end of the day, he wants to win. That’s fair. Honestly, fans would have more reason to be concerned if he had said something different, like, “I’m going to get paid either way.” Step back from the ledge for a minute and realize how cool it is that your team’s star wants to be part of something great.
Then hope that the front office can do what’s necessary to make that possible.
Derrick Favors is back after suffering a month’s worth of back and hip problems. Two games in, Fav is averaging 13 points in 20 minutes, mostly from point-blank range on pick-and-roll dives.
I still always insist that the best way to utilize Favors is to let him catch below the FT line with his momentum going to the hole. In those scenarios, he almost always scores or gets to the line. Here’s one such play from the win on Wednesday.
The Jazz start in what looks like horns for Chris Johnson, but that’s really just disguising what’s going to be staggered screens for Hayward. Trey Burke comes to fake a screen for Hayward, but right then Rudy Gobert flips and Hayward bursts off of his screen, then around Favors’ as he takes the dribble hand-off. By now, PJ Hairston has no chance, so Fav’s guy has to help. And Hayward has been picking teams apart on plays like this all year. Look at where Favors is when he catches the bounce pass.
Gobert helps by standing just far enough out to keep his defender occupied. If his man had gone earlier, Rudy is close enough to be a lob threat. And Burke is an option because he has spaced all the way to the three-point line.
On the heels of Neto’s selection to the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge international squad, that’s the number of international rookies and sophomores who have played at least 20 games this season. Of those 19, Neto is 9th in minutes played, 2nd in assists, 3rd in 3pt%, 10th in points and 12th in Win Shares3.
Hood also made the Challenge’s team of U.S.-born young guys. By at least one measure he’s been the second best American rookie or sophomore this year, behind only Karl Anthony Towns. Wow. Hood is playing even better of late, averaging 18.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists on 47% three-point shooting in January. We’ll spend a lot more time on Hood in an upcoming SC7.
Jazz 108, Lakers 86 – Hayward
There was a lot of love to go around this time, with seven guys reaching double figures. But this was still an easy pick for G-Time. Gordon carried the Jazz early by scoring, with 10 first-quarter points that helped the Jazz erase a double digit deficit. And then when the Nets adjusted to him, he expertly decimated their defense with one good basketball decision after another. The total damage: 21 points (on just 12 shots) to go with 4 boards and his third 9-assist game of the month.
Jazz 102, Hornets 73 – Hood
The Jazz took control of this one with a 14-2 run4 in the second quarter. Hood had a hand in almost all of them: two free throws, a three-pointer, and assists on two Gobert alley-oops and a Joe Ingles three. His final numbers (24-4-4) included scoring and creating in a number of different ways. Hayward (a “quiet” 22-7-5) had another really nice night, Trey Burke had all of his 11 in the second-half run that sealed it, and 10-day call-up Erick Green debuted nicely.
The homestand marches on for Utah, with three games at The Viv5 in the next seven nights:
How awesome is this? Congratulations to the Ingles crew, which just got twice as populous.6
— Renae Ingles (@RenaeIngles) January 27, 2016