Admittedly, this post would have packed a lot more punch had the Warriors won last night. But throughout this postseason, I’ve been thinking, What can the Jazz learn from this Warriors team? This team has been assembled differently from many title teams. They have a handful of end-of-the-bench players who were cast off from other teams for one-dimensional play, but have found a place where they thrive alongside a transformational talent like Steph Curry.
And while talk about the Warriors might make some Jazz fans tune out, I think there’s a lot that the Jazz can learn, and significant validation that they’re already on a really great path.
Having a humble superstar-leader can make all the difference.
Steph Curry is sometimes the least-paid player on the floor for the Warriors, but it’s part of what makes their team work. If he pulled attitude behind the scenes, or made demands about “I’m getting paid.” (see Boozer, Carlos), it wouldn’t work. Also, his willingness to take a contract that was reasonable—although the contract still seemed a bit scary at the time for Warriors fans given worrisome ankle injuries—is what paved the way for them to pay significantly for other big pieces: Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, etc.
If you haven’t checked out the recent Bob Meyers podcast on The Vertical, it’s really good. His discussion on Steph and his humble leadership was eye-opening.
He’s said he doesn’t care who wins the award for Finals MVP as long as it’s someone from their team, because that will mean they have won. When he says it, I think he means it. I don’t know that I’d believe it from many other superstars, ever. Would you believe it if Michael Jordan said it?
Do the Jazz have a humble superstar-leader? Right now, they have a humble (near)superstar-leader in Gordon Hayward, and someone right behind him in that category with Derrick Favors. Dante Exum has the humility that fits that mold, but we’re still far away from knowing how good he can be.
Find willing trade partners:
In order to sign Andre Iguodala in 2013, the Warriors needed help from the Jazz to complete a salary-dump trade, unloading the $24 million owed Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush, and Andris Biedrins in exchange for several draft picks. The Jazz were in asset-accumulation mode, and jumped at the chance to get a couple of first round picks. One of those picks, the 23rd overall in 2014, yielded Rodney Hood, and the other will be conveyed next June. The Jazz also landed a couple of second round picks from the Warriors in the deal1.
Over the next year or two, the Jazz may be in a position where they may need to trade salary in order to sign a player they think can help take them to the top. Nobody imagined in 2013 that the Warriors had just signed the eventual 2015 NBA Finals MVP. And while he’s not a superstar, he’s a do-everything, defensive player that great teams rely on deep into the playoffs.
The Warriors knew the power of a high draft pick. Harrison Barnes may not have been the superstar some expected him to be out of high school, you can’t deny that he’s been a vital piece to this team, the sort of player who blends in and does what needs to be done: a key three-pointer here to put the team up, as he did in Game 4 of the Finals, or stretching the defense because of his passing ability.
Have the Jazz done this? There have been some (many?), present company included, who thought the Jazz could have tanked a bit more strategically in the past. But with Ty Corbin as the coach during the tank-possible years, the Jazz were still going after wins. They ended up with Exum with 2014’s fifth overall pick, which might be turn out to be a great thing. Is that enough of a strategic tank job to allow Utah to get to the top?
Here’s another point to having good rookie contracts on your books: with the salary cap rising dramatically over the next few years, having rookie-scale contracts becomes even more valuable, especially if the player is a good contributor.
Have shooting and passing:
When the Warriors have their death lineup out there, 1 through 5 can shoot, and 1 through 5 can pass. That’s pretty incredible. When Bogut’s out there2, it’s not quite the same, but he is a very good passer and a phenomenal screener—a vastly underrated skill.
It’s no surprise at this point how good the Warriors’ shooters are, anchored by perhaps the best-shooting background in history in Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. That won’t be easy for any other team to duplicate. Can the Jazz find shooters on the free agent market, or through trades, that will help them become a better shooting team? Or through the draft? That’s an area where the Jazz need to make dramatic improvement.
Seeing how quickly the ball flies around the court whenever the Warriors play has me completely jealous. I’d love to see the ball move that quickly on the Jazz. Utah has big men who are improving their passing game—and who seem to want to become better passers—and I have high hopes that Lyles can become a great passer, just seeing how fluid he is and how much he seems to get the feel for the game; his court awareness if very good. They have very willing passers in Hayward, Hood, Exum, Neto, and others, but while the Jazz ranked highly in passes made this season, they didn’t rank as highly in assists. The passes need to made with purpose. That was a focus of Quin Snyder when he first came to Utah, so I have high hopes that passing with purpose will become a trademark of this team moving forward.
Have joy and fun in playing.
The Guardian had a recent article on how the Warriors have found a joy in playing; I found the article fascinating. The Warriors keep it loose, they keep it fun, they keep it light, but they don’t lose their competitive edge. It’s a delicate balance, yet they manage to toe that line with grace.
You hear the word “joy” a lot around the Warriors, who are two wins from a second straight NBA title. This is not a common sports term. The longstanding narrative says championships are earned through a relentless fire, not morning playtime. What was it Vince Lombardi once said to his Green Bay Packers? “The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.” The Warriors set an NBA record for victories this year, winning 73 of 82 games. By that imperfect measure they are the best team in NBA history, but they rarely speak in war metaphors. Their motivation is not the fear of losing, but the jubilance of winning together.
Is this something the Jazz can do? Not that all great teams have to have this same joy that the Warriors do, but it certainly makes for an entertaining product to watch. We know the Jazz have a lot of ballers on the team, guys who are gym rats and who love to play: Hayward, Favors, Rudy Gobert, etc. I love seeing when the personalities of the guys come out a little bit—like Rudy with his salute, Gordon after his game-winning shots, Joe Ingles with his goofy smile. Seeing who these guys are, enjoying playing the game, enjoying playing together, that all makes it a lot more fun.