Despite their recent loss to the Dallas Mavericks, it’s hard to overlook how well the Utah Jazz have played up to this point in the season. One of the keys to their success, which has been something that the team is truly focusing on, is defense.
Coming into the season a lot of the analysts spoke about the upgrade that the Jazz made on defense by getting Raja Bell and Al Jefferson to replace Wesley Matthews and Carlos Boozer respectively. Although Wesley Matthews was an excellent defender, Raja Bell’s perimeter defense is well-respected around the league, and he brings an attitude that a good defense needs to have from one of their main stoppers. As for Al Jefferson replacing Carlos Boozer, Jefferson is a clear upgrade over the offensively-focused Boozer as the numbers have already indicated.
Being able to get an upgrade for your perimeter defender and interior defender is something that can change the psyche of a ball club, and the approach that the team follows and focuses. Because the Jazz have guys they can rely on to play good defense, Jerry Sloan can now shift his team’s attention to defensive commitment, which is exactly what he has done. Do you think that it’s a coincidence that the Jazz are the only team in basketball to hold their opponents to under 43% from the field? No way! The Jazz are stressing defense, and the results are visible.
This shift in defensive focus is extremely important if the Jazz are looking to take the next step as a legitimate contender in the Western Conference. Good teams can get by with great offenses, but great teams need great defenses to be elite. If you are in the NBA, you can obviously get the ball in the hoop. It is preventing others from doing that which really separates the men from the boys in this league.
The reason why defense is so much harder than offense is because it takes a total team effort in order to be successful. Where top offenses can get by with an extraordinary point guard and big man combo, defenses need to be synchronized and aware of all of their teammates at all times. Sure, there are defensive stoppers and superb shot- blockers who can change a defense dramatically, but there’s only so much one man can do for an entire defense. Ultimately if the team doesn’t play defense as a unit, and they don’t take pride in stopping their opponents, they will not be an elite team in the NBA.
In the case of the Utah Jazz, we are seeing that shift from good to great taking place. It’s still early and there’s a lot of time left to go, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. Just imagine where this team can be by the end of the season if they keep progressing forward. If that ends up being the case, hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy will not be such a far-fetched idea for this team.