Las Vegas • It was simply beautiful basketball.
Jazz point guard Trey Burke raced into the frontcourt on Monday against the Milwaukee Bucks. Seeing a closed lane, he slid off a pick from Rudy Gobert and swung the ball to Dante Exum. The rookie immediately passed to Rodney Hood, who had an open shot if he wanted it. But he passed up the good look, took two dribbles into the lane and gave it to Malcolm Thomas.
At this point, Thomas could have gone up strong, and nobody would have batted an eye. But he spotted Gobert underneath the basket, all 7-foot-1 of him, all alone. Pass. Dunk.
“We’ve made it a big thing for the ball not to stick,” Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We have to pass the ball to be successful.”
This Las Vegas Summer League has been a big one for the young Jazz players, each of whom the staff and the front office have watched closely. But it has also been big for Snyder’s new system, the new offense and new style of play that has been much talked about.
We know this much: The Jazz are aiming to be a much faster team this season, and they are aiming to be more efficient. Instead of scores in the 90s, they want scores in the 100s and 110s. It’s a drastic change in philosophy. For so long, this franchise has played inside-out, shot 2-pointers and walked the ball up the floor, with only selective transition opportunities.
No more. Now, the Jazz want to be fleet, and want to shoot 3-pointers, layups and free throws. They want to attack with the fast break, and do it frequently. It’s a change that the holdovers are starting to embrace.
“It gives you a lot more freedom,” Burke said. “You get a lot of opportunity in the offense, and you get chances to score. It’s been good for us so far. You can push the ball, and if you don’t have anything you can pull it out.”
These are the basics. The Jazz want to probe, and take the first really good shot available. They want to have multiple ballhandlers on the floor who can operate the pick-and-roll. They want to push the ball, even after made shots by the opposition.
It’s largely read and react. The big men set picks in transition and the offense moves from there.
Whatever the defense concedes, the offense should have an answer for.
“We want to be a great passing team,” Snyder said. “We feel that you can pass a basketball 100 feet a lot faster than you can dribble a ball 100 feet.”
There have been times in summer league that the offense has sung. Against the Bucks on Monday, the Jazz were difficult to stop, scoring 87 points in 40 minutes. It was much the same story on Tuesday against the Denver Nuggets. On Thursday, the offense sputtered against the San Antonio Spurs under a barrage of turnovers and missed shots.
But the Snyder offense is a big reason — beyond his obvious talent — that the Jazz had Dante Exum ranked so high on their draft board. They feel he and Burke can play together as separate attacking handlers on opposite sides.
And it’s a reason the Jazz think Gordon Hayward will make a leap this coming season. It’s a similar offense to the one that made the Atlanta Hawks such a dangerous team by the playoffs. The same offense that turned Paul Millsap into an All-Star. The same offense that made point guard Jeff Teague so difficult for the Indiana Pacers to handle in the first round.
“We have to play this way,” Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said. “We don’t have a LeBron James, or a Kevin Durant, so we have to do it within a system.”
Snyder’s system is designed to be wide open, and to surround the post with as many shooters as possible. In free agency, the Jazz have molded their roster in this form, trading for sharpshooter Steve Novak, moving Enes Kanter to power forward and bringing Erik Murphy and Brock Motum in for summer league.
Snyder wants to put five players on the floor and make music, much like the Spurs did in the NBA Finals. He wants it fast, yet efficient. He wants to be quick, but never be in a hurry.
“We don’t want to define positions,” Snyder said. “We think basketball should be position-less. We want to have great shots each time down the floor. There have been times this week where the ball has moved extremely well. We aren’t perfect, we probably will never be. But I’m pleased with what I’ve seen this week.”
Jazz summer league notables
• The offense has shined, with Utah scoring 87 points each against the Bucks and the Nuggets
• The offense has sputtered. The Jazz scored 70 points in a four point defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers, and 77 points in a defeat to the Spurs
• Rodney Hood has been the most impressive player. He is leading the Jazz with 13.7 points per game. He scored 29 against Milwaukee on Monday.
• Trey Burke has gotten steadily better as the week has progressed, leading the team with 4.3 assists per game