The Myth of Movement & the Jazz Fan Conundrum

January 24th, 2014 | by Dan Clayton
Trey Burke always chooses his routes carefully. What does his own career arc have to do with freezing temperatures and my morning commute? (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Trey Burke always chooses his routes carefully. What does his own career arc have to do with freezing temperatures and my morning commute? (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The subway, the snow and the polar vortex conspired this week to remind me about the myth of movement. And since there’s a basketball metaphor trapped inside my very chilly commute story, you get to hear about it.

I arrived in my new city1 just about the same time as a literal arctic front, which made for an interesting first week of commuting from my Park Slope pad to the office in Lower Manhattan. I’ve been around the city enough to understand how the commute works, but I’m no sage pro of the Subway yet; as it turns out, I know (as the saying goes) “just enough to be dangerous.”

So on the first morning I was due downtown, I bravely popped out into 9 degree weather and light snow and headed towards my urban chariot, the 2/3 train. When I got to the station, the electronic board told me that the nearest Manhattan-bound 2/3 train was nine minutes away. However, because of weather issues on a parallel line, they were diverting 5 trains through our station, and one of those would be coming through in two minutes2. It would make all the same stops as my usual train up until Fulton Street, at which point it would get back to being the 5 train and head up the East Side.

That would leave me one stop shy of what would typically be my spot to surface, but it would save me SEVEN WHOLE MINUTES of waiting for my train. So I hopped in.

The walk from Fulton & William over to where I would normally get off the train is not terribly far – it’s actually about (drum roll) seven minutes, according to Google Maps. But on this particular day, the seven minutes of standing on the subway platform would have saved me seven minutes of walking in that bitter cold – the wind chill off the Hudson made the “feels like” temp a subzero nightmare. By the time I got to work, my face was stinging and ice had begun accumulating on my eyelashes.

My chapped, red face lasted all day, a reminder that I had fallen for the myth of movement: the sense that any movement towards your destination is better than none. As the polar winds reminded me, sometimes the most efficient way to get to your destination requires standing still for a few minutes.

There are a lot of examples of the movement-is-best fallacy in the Jazz fan conversation right now, and as fans of a historically successful franchise, we probably all slip into that mode without thinking sometimes. Like most fans, I’m a bit conflicted about winning this year. I go into each game legitimately hoping for a Jazz win, but if they lose, I instantly switch into, “Oh yeah, draft pick” mode. I assume in that way each Jazz win is a little like the 5 train, while standing there for another seven minutes could bring the Jabari train or Wiggins train or Embiid train that’s a more direct route to where we’re headed.

But there are any number of similar 5-train conundrums with the Jazz this year. We’ve already talked about minute allocation issues that beg the question of what train the franchise is on (or if they’re all waiting for the same one), but impatient comments keep popping up from people in a hurry to get one place or another.

Last week, after the Jazz’s starting vets played a key role in propelling the team to a victory,  a couple different tweeps said different versions of: “We don’t want to see wins featuring Marvin Williams & Richard Jefferson.” That’s odd. Maybe these folks are really just mature, patient people waiting for the 2/3 train, but I read it as though they’d rather see the young guys struggle and lose than watch the team figure out how to win with some help from some older guys. That seems a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face. If the goal is teaching a young core how to win games, why should it bother us when they put the pieces together with help from a vet or two?

Of course, the vets represent their own movement paradox.Because riding a bunch of expirings to empty wins now still leaves a lot of ground to be covered on the back end of the journey. It’s why I hope everybody involved has the same destination in mind and the same plan to get there. If the desired outcome is purely about ping pong balls3, then Marvin and Richard are absolutely the 5-train scenario incarnate4. My hunch is that the desired outcome has more to do with creating a culture and teaching behaviors, and then hoping some mix of lottery luck and/or the asset cupboard gets the Jazz what they need if they accidentally win a few too many.

There are a lot of 5-train scenarios in the realm of the youngs, too: apparent shortcuts that actually cause you more pain and suffering in the long run. Many perennial lotto teams struggle with developmental angst because personal accountability isn’t necessarily linked to rotation decisions. Then there’s the patient, milk-before-meat approach that requires moving slower at first but winds up putting you closer to your destination sooner.5

Trey Burke sat and waited at first, although that was less based on a choice and more based on circumstance. Still, by most accounts the six weeks on his own proverbial subway platform helped him be better sooner. This certainly isn’t true of all players6, but for Burke, the longer route was the right route and the patience paid off.

So what do you root for when you watch a Jazz game? Just remember that if you’re rooting for a shortcut — to team relevancy, to player growth, to vet roles, to 40 wins, to 0 wins — it might not end the way you’re envisioning.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton

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9 Comments

  1. Dallan Forsyth says:

    ” If the goal is teaching a young core how to win games, why should it bother us when they put the pieces together with help from a vet or two?”

    I thought this is what they were supposed to be learning for the last 3-4 years? Isn’t that why we kept treading water to accomplish the 8th seed goal?

    • Dan Clayton says:

      I guess, but that felt different to me. Those were Al Jefferson’s and Mo Williams’ teams that occasionally won with some contributions from Hayward, Favors, etc. This is Hayward’s/Burke’s/Favors’ team that occasionally wins with contributions from Marv and Richard. If the presence of a couple of vets helps this young squad put the pieces together ahead of schedule, I have no problem with that, as long as their presence doesn’t become a crackpipe so that others don’t learn to step up more consistently.

      For the game in question (i think the comments I’m referring to were after @Det), Trey doesn’t rack up a career high in assists if he doesn’t have guys making shot at the other end of his passes, and that night it happened to be Marv & RJ. I have no problem with that. Trey and others can’t develop as winners if they’re surrounded by crap players who can’t help them win.

  2. utah jazz needs acoach that believes and can teach defense!

  3. Viktor says:

    Here’s what my biggest problems are with RJ and Marvin playing.

    The more Marvin plays, the less Favors and Kanter get to play together. We still haven’t found if they can coexist. Kanter seems to think so, he’s said so in interviews. The problem is that the most time they’ve played together was when Trey was out. Having a competent PG (no offense JL3 or Tinsley) makes a huge difference on whether or not they can play well together. Favors and Kanter not playing together also gets in the way of Gobert’s playing time (how many DNP-CD’s in a row did he have? A dozen? More?).

    The more Richard Jefferson plays, the less Burks and Gordon get to play together. They play really well together, better than either of them with RJ. RJ isn’t a bad player, I actually like him. I would just like him more a supporting off-the-bench player, which I think is what all of us were expecting him to be. We were surprised (but not so pleasantly). I recognise RJ’s value as a vet as well. I often see him offering advice or words of encouragement to the younger players. He doesn’t need 30mpg to do that though.

    My goal for this season isn’t to get ping pong balls. Anyone who thinks this season is purely for the draft, is misguided. That would be a really nice prize to have as well, but the team’s goal is development (and discipline and defence). I don’t think we’re keeping RJ after this year. Why is he getting so many minutes then? Minutes which could help us figure out how to play Burks and Hayward together more effectively? Minutes that get in the way of the rotations that we’ll be using in future seasons? Why is Marvin getting so many minutes when literally everybody (except Ty I guess) thought that Favors/Kanter was the ideal? What happens to Gobert’s development as a result?

    I want to see our young guys play more because not only can they learn more from it, but the team can learn more from it.

  4. Pingback: Court Vision: The education of Sacramento Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins | The Point Forward - SI.com

  5. cw says:

    Your subway train/jazz draft analogy is mismatched. A closer analogy would be if you get to the train station and are worrying which train would get you their faster when you realized you had no money for the fare. How this relates to the Jazz: the championship is the destination, the fare is the the first team all-NBA player a team has to have to win a championship. No championships without the fare. So the first thing to do in the station is to figure out how to get the fare.

  6. Clint Johnson says:

    Every game this season, win or lose, leaves me feeling slightly corrupted. There is nothing clean feeling about this season for me, in that I am torn about every game outcome and uncomfortable about it. Part of me is excited by losses, and that doesn’t feel good; a portion of me regrets wins, and I’m ashamed of it. I still enjoy the game and this team, but I’m eager to reach next season, whatever the outcome of this year, and a hopeful return to the purity of aching for every single win wholeheartedly.

    And remember as you’re freezing, Dan, you come from SLC. If you made it here, you can make it anywhere!

  7. SFC Lance O'Neil says:

    I look at every loss this year as a good thing. I am all for the lottery and the highest pick possible. But playing the vets is crazy, unless it’s not (give me a second.) Every shot Richard Jefferson takes, every minute Biedrins plays, every play Marvin runs into, is one less play for Burks, Burke, Heyward, Favors, Kanter and even Gobert. That is crazy! Unless…
    Unless the point of playing Jefferson, Marvin and Rush is to trade them before the deadline for something. Second round picks, young guys that might blossom, etc.
    But if the Jazz stand pat at the trade deadline like last year, then it’s nuts. I’ve read the offers for Millsap and Al Jefferson weren’t good, but even a second round pick for eash was worth more than missing the playoffs and a bad draft pick (which, luckily the Wolves were willing to turn into a solid pick.)
    Hopefully the Jazz keep losing, end up with a top 5, get some extra assets, and can really be a contender in the next few years.

  8. Clay Moore says:

    Trey Burke’s broken finger might be the best thing that could possibly have happened to the Jazz this year.

    The Jazz’ 1-14 start (as horribly painful as it was to watch), gave us a season opening “handicap”, which actually gave the Jazz room to steadily improve from game 15 on, while still retaining a place in the lottery. I strongly believe that this team benefits far more from steady improvement (which we have seen since Trey got healthy) than from more ping pong balls. That broken finger helped us have both development AND a lottery pick.

    Even if this trend means we land something like a 6th-9th pick, given our already outstanding young talent pool, progress up the team development curve this year will be far more valuable than the difference between our pick and a 1st-3rd pick … which still carries its own risks. Development as a team, especially in learning to close out and win games is far more important than adding individual talent.

    Consider the different development paths for Michelle Wie and Tiger Woods. Michelle Wie, a unique talent, arguably on par with Tiger Woods at the same age, chose to venture off into the pro tours, while Tiger stayed in his age group competitions and LEARNED HOW TO WIN AND DOMINATE. Michelle’s career has since turned decidedly unexciting, while Tiger absolutely dominated for years. Truly and deliberately tanking this year for a chance to draft a theoretically all-world talent would involve skipping an opportunity to LEARN HOW TO WIN. It would be like the very risky shortcut that, in my opinion, Michelle Wie took, with a fairly ho-hum outcome.

    All constructive thoughts welcome …

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