For two and half decades Utah Jazz fans were spoiled rotten. But the rules of the game have changed, and the game has evolved with it. It’s time to update the way we think about the NBA game and the Utah Jazz along with it.
When you had the best “pure” point guard and power forward for over 20 years it’s easy to get stuck in circular thinking that says that’s the recipe for success. Many Jazz fans have become somewhat obsessed with recapturing that magic, or at least haven’t been able to update their brains to think beyond specific positions, particularly point guard.
“We don’t want to define positions,” Snyder said. “We think basketball should be positionless. We want to have great shots each time down the floor. ” -Salt Lake Tribune
This line of thinking is repeated — repeatedly — from new Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder, as if he’s trying to help you remember it, because it hasn’t sunk in yet with the Utah masses who are used to the conventional thinking that you must nail down a starter and primary backup at each of the traditional positions in basketball. Those days are long past.
Jerry Sloan was a big fan of player matchups and defined NBA positions as: Guards, Wings and Bigs. Quin Snyder, with his San Antonio Spurs pedigree takes it a step further with: Frontcourt and Backcourt.
Right from the start Trey Burke and Dante Exum welcomed each other as teammates that will often play the same position. Right from the beginning Quin Snyder insisted his system will allow both to be on the floor together at the same time, at times. Why is it bloggers, their commenters and Jazz Twitter at large insist they cannot coexist, that Trey Burke must be moved or benched to make room for a player that is, quite frankly, years away yet?
The Snyder system is based on something the San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and a few others have realized before anyone else: The ball must never stick, meaning that basketball has to keep moving. To do that you have to have multiple ball handlers, athletes and intelligent players, ones where high character helps in that they’re more willing to sacrifice statistics to help the team cause.
One of the first things a good coach will teach you is, “A passed ball moves faster than any defender is possibly able.” In winning their fifth NBA title the Spurs used this philosophy to it’s ultimate pretense with the right players in roles they understood and were willing to fill. As good as the Heat and Erik Spoelstra’s defense is, it was unable to overcome ball movement at a level as elite as we’ve ever witnessed.
Snyder is already tired of hearing the line of questioning concerning Burke vs. Exum. He sees the modern NBA where you must have multiple ball handlers to overcome today’s rules and the stingy defenses schemed as a result of them.
“I was waiting for the Dante, Trey question. It usually comes later…” -Quin Snyder via NBA.com, at Summer League
“You have to have a good backcourt — with ball handlers — to beat the top defenses.” -Clint Peterson, Draft Night at EnergySolutions Arena
In other words, the traditional “pure point guard” is a thing of the past. Steve Nash might have been the last, although the Memphis Grizzlies’ Mike Conley could make a valid argument here. But by and large, if you want to succeed in today’s NBA you need combo guards and ball-handling wings, whether slashers like Tony Parker and Manu Ginolbili, or ones that can stick the three.
After so long, Jazz Fan seems to largely be still operating under the assumption of “one or the other” when it comes to capable players in the same position. Snyder’s offense largely eliminates this entire argument. He’s all about matchups and pushing the ball looking for a quick, easy look first, something Trey Burke and Dante Exum are capable of, especially if the Jazz can force more turnovers creating transition opportunities — an area of defense sorely lacking in Tyrone Cobin’s slower-paced sets, as an aside.
It’s a new era in the NBA and Jazz basketball. Trey Burke’s biggest strength is pick-and-roll, and Corbin’s offense didn’t use the PnR much. Quin Snyder showed up to his inaugural Utah Jazz presser with FOURTEEN PAGES of pick-and-roll stuffs, what the offense will settle into if they don’t find a good look quick, a la Seven Seconds or Less.
Burke and Derrick Favors, or even Enes Kanter or Trevor Booker will thrive in the PnR game in this all-new system. And Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey has filled the roster with ball handlers who can initiate the PnR if a defense keys in on a certain player, from Burke to Exum to Gordon Hayward, and even Rodney Hood, who showed he’s much more than just a shooter at the Las Vegas Summer League.
As it stands, Trey Burke and Gordon Hayward — two players who have inexplicably attracted Jazz fans’ ire of late — are the best PnR initiators on the roster. And both are literally years ahead of Exum in the NBA game at this point, Hayward just reaching veteran status with a new contract not on the rookie scale, and Burke having played against a slew of NBA players now in the NBA and with 2,262 minutes under his belt against the best of the best the game has to offer in only 70 games.
Did we already forget Trey Burke had the 8th-best assist to turnover ration in the entire NBA, as a rookie? That’s not the kind of player you kick to the curb with a SportsCenter ticker trade.
And he didn’t shoot as poorly as your mind’s eye may recall either, at 33% threes. If Burke manages to reach the good/bad line of three-pointers at 35% 3FGs next season he’ll be a 34% career 3FG% shooter — something that took John Stockton 13 years and a shortened three-point line to accomplish.
It’s a little early to judge the new Utah Jazz offense with an all new roster, system and coach. And it’s far too early to be calling anyone a star, trade piece, bench rider or a bust when we have yet to see it in action. Time to pump the brakes a bit, gang. Let’s see what we have before passing judgement based on an antiquated system and archaic way of thinking about the game.