1. The Jazz’s excellent defense gave them the win in their first preseason game.
The Jazz did well at virtually all facets of defense tonight, implementing their new-look scheme quite well. They allowed Portland just 73 points on 34.6% shooting, including just 15.8% from three. Though they each had limited playing time, none of Portland’s starters scored in double-figures.1 Even better, in a significant turnaround from last year, they forced Portland to turn the ball over 22 times, a higher total than the Jazz forced in any game last season. The Jazz even rebounded well defensively, allowing just 11 Portland offensive rebounds while collecting 40 defensive rebounds.
I asked Quin Snyder about the above, and he downplayed it, saying “There’s a realistic view that they played their guys 20 minutes.,” but added “That’s not to take away from our guys’ effort defensively, there were stretches when we really did what we want to do, particularly in the 3rd quarter.” Of course, it’s also just preseason. Portland coach Terry Stotts chalked it up to “just being a little rusty in the first preseason game.”
That being said, giving up 73 points in 100 possessions to any collection of NBA-caliber players is good, and, for the entirety of the 1st quarter and more than half of the third, the Jazz put together a solid defensive performance against Portland’s starting five, one of the top offensive units in the NBA last season. Just analyzing those nearly 20 minutes, the Jazz still played well defensively, forcing 12 turnovers, allowing only 4 offensive rebounds, and forcing Portland to shoot 45%. Visually, the Jazz did well in their goals of playing better transition defense (only 10 Portland FB points allowed off of 21 turnovers) and playing much better pick and roll defense.
I was optimistic about the Jazz’s defense at the beginning of last preseason, with a change in the Jazz’s defensive personnel down low. That turned out poorly. While the dividends were good so far tonight, I have to remind myself that it’s just one preseason game.
2. Enes Kanter was much more of a perimeter player.
Earlier this summer on Twitter, I bet Jazz fan and Purple and Blues writer Clint Peterson that if the Jazz started both Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, Favors would be listed as the PF and Kanter the C. After all, in their 27 starts together last season, that’s the way it had always been displayed. Why would it change?
I was wrong.
Enes Kanter was tonight’s Utah Jazz power forward, and Derrick Favors the Jazz’s center. The difference showed on the floor: Enes took two 3-point shots in tonight’s game after taking only two in the last two seasons. He made one. He also displayed more of a shifty face-up game than he’s displayed thus far, and even led a fast break at one point. These face-up forays were not particularly successful, but it shows a change from how Kanter’s been utilized in the past.
Kanter said it’s “definitely”2 a change. He talked about how he’s making the spacing work with Favors: “The whole training camp we worked on it. When I’m outside, he’s inside. When he’s the roll guy, I’m the pop guy. It’s really working out.”
The spacing looked good, and while the offensive output wasn’t otherworldly, the Jazz seemed to get open looks from their big men from both inside and out.
3. Quin Snyder’s thinking about things analytically.
The Deseret News’ Jody Genessy asked a question to Quin in tonight’s press conference about whether we should read into Trevor Booker’s status as the first man off the bench tonight, and while Snyder’s answer was essentially “Dude, my rotation isn’t set, it’s the first preseason game”, he snuck in a piece of analytics that about Booker that reveals some of how he thinks:
“He did some things tonight that I really like. He got up and contested a shot, which may sound simple, but there’s a 7% differential when you contest shots versus open shots. In this case, it was a three-point shot, he ran him off the line. Those are the things that for everyone on our team, if we can do those little things and give effort in those areas of the game, we’ll have an opportunity to compete.”
When Snyder was hired, he downplayed his analytical knowledge, saying “I don’t have the command for it that I would like to have,” but said he wanted to improve: “It’s something that I look forward to having the chance to learn from from the people here in management and our scouting staff. There’s an advantage to be gained. And any way you can gain a competitive advantage, you want to try to do it.”
It seems like Snyder’s taken advantage of the opportunity, and just hanging around the team, I’ve noticed that Snyder seems eager to learn about how he can use analytics in his coaching. I might quibble with the exact number (both this study and this study give a difference of about 12%), but the approach is absolutely sound and encouraging. Snyder’s quote reminded me of one from another successful first-year coach from last season: Jeff Hornacek. The Jazz would be thrilled if Snyder can replicate Hornacek’s success with a young starless team in Utah.