1. The young Jazz came out of the fire alive.
And perhaps a bit more seasoned, too. The first test came in the 1st quarter, when an experienced Clipper defense forced the Jazz into their 3rd and 4th options in sets, leading to more post-ups, long two-point shots, and turnovers than the Jazz would like. In the first 5 minutes and 26 seconds, the Jazz had 2 turnovers and shot 2-8 overall. Perhaps worse to Quin Snyder: they weren’t playing with pace. The Jazz’s first 10 possessions took an average of 17 seconds each, too long for the Jazz’s liking. Snyder responded with a timeout.
On the other side of the timeout, the Jazz went on a 32-13 run in the next 11 minutes, including a nearly 6 minute stretch in the 2nd quarter where the Jazz’s defense allowed 0 points. While the latter streak happened against the Clippers’ iffy bench, the first segment featured Chris Paul and Blake Griffin being stymied by the improved Jazz D.
Then, in the 3rd quarter, the Clippers made a run with their starters. Paul, Griffin, JJ Redick and Chris Douglas-Roberts played all 12 minutes and cut the Jazz’s lead from 17 to 7. Despite the decreasing lead, the Jazz got valuable experience for their rookies: Paul was guarded by Dante Exum, and Hood guarded Redick. To be honest, both struggled keeping pace, but there’s no better time to learn than in preseason with a big lead.
Each of them commented on what they learned from their stretch of guarding some of the NBA’s best:
The result was positive night of learning, and the Jazz came away with a win in a game Griffin and Paul played nearly 30 minutes. That’s a great result for this team.
2. The Jazz are taking the concept of spacing to new levels.
The Jazz took 30 3-point attempts tonight, which would have tied for the second-most amongst all 82 games for the Jazz last season. Perhaps more interesting is how the Jazz’s big men got into the act: Trevor Booker’s 2 made 3-pointers tonight exceeded his previous career total of 1 made 3-pointer in 4 years of play, Enes Kanter’s 3 attempts tonight1 equals his career total, and even Derrick Favors took a corner three, just the second corner 3 point attempt of his career. It felt like LMFAO should have been the background music of tonight’s game.2
When asked if he likes the 30 3PAs, Quin answered:
“I like them when they’re good shots. Our spacing was good. It takes time to understand the importance of spacing. It doesn’t seem always for players like it’s that big of a deal. You know, whether you’re 6 feet to your left. It’s like ‘It’s 6 feet’. No, it’s the difference between someone being able to see you, changing the angle on a closeout, being able to drive again, it’s just a huge thing.”
Then, I asked him about if he likes the big men shooting 3s:
“If we go back and look at the long twos, and it’s a foot further out, why would you not? I think we make too much of the idea that it’s all of a sudden [a big deal] that our bigs are shooting threes. Trevor’s been a jump shooter, he’s been a mid-range jump shooter. That just doesn’t make as much sense provided that he can make the 3. I want them to shoot them from the corner, that’s the shot I’d like for them to hit.”
While it doesn’t seem like a big deal to Snyder, the issue of big men taking threes matters to Jazz fans because of what the players were told last year. In particular, Enes Kanter has hinted for years about his serviceable 3 point shot that Ty Corbin expressly prohibited him from taking.3 Quin Snyder seems to be taking a more common-sense approach.
3. Through 3 preseason games, a faster pace and better defense.
Through 3 preseason games, the returns on the Snyder changes are very positive. The Jazz are averaging 98.5 possessions per game, a pace that would have been 3rd highest in the NBA last season. Furthermore, they’ve allowed just 267 points in those 295 possessions, good for a 90.5 DRTG, which would have been the best in the NBA last regular season.
Now the caveats: it’s just 3 games, and furthermore, they’re just preseason games. Neither Portland nor Los Angeles have good benches, and naturally, they’re played more in preseason than in regular season action. Moreover, boy-oh-boy 3 games is not a large enough sample size.
We’ve even seen this from the Jazz before: last season, the Jazz went even faster at 101 possessions per game, and had an excellent 98 DRTG. They then promptly put up a regular season in which they ranked 26th in pace and 29th in overall defense.
With all of the changes, it’s really hard not to read too much into these last three games, and they are really encouraging. But when that difficult November regular season schedule hits, the Jazz could be in for a rough patch of learning quickly. The Jazz coaching staff and front office are looking to how the young team responds to the early trial by fire, especially on the defensive end.