NBA: Assistants work out key details to keep Utah Jazz on their toes
Jazz assistant coaches Sidney Lowe, Scott Layden and Jeff Hornacek often are noticed only when head coach Tyrone Corbin picks up a technical foul and continues to fire away at referees.
The diligent work of Utah director of basketball operations Richard Smith and manager of player development Michael Sanders is even less documented.
Jazz video coordinator Jefferson Sweeney? Completely off the public radar, despite spending 12 years with the franchise and working his way up from an EnergySolutions Arena security guard to the organization's best-kept scouting secret.
All have played crucial roles in Utah's surprising 8-4 start, though. And each has been essential to the Jazz's initial success during a lockout-shortened 66-game season one that's already seen the team play six back-to-backs, including three home-and-away sets.
Player reports, personnel evaluations and intricate video edits highlight the best of their work; old-school dry-erase board diagrams and modern technological wizardry capture the gamut.
Every bit of information is funneled into two final sources: Corbin and Utah's 13-man roster. All of the effort is designed to produce the only thing that ultimately matters in the NBA: winning games.
"They actually do a really good job of keeping us informed and up to date," said Jazz guard Raja Bell, a 12-year veteran who has played for seven teams. "If you want something, it's there. Then it just comes down to each player and how they want to use it."
Final cut • Right now, Sweeney's biggest obstacle is getting Utah's players and coaches to download a $2.99 application.
Paul Millsap, Corbin and Sanders have it. Others don't. Once it's acquired, the AVPlayerHD app turns iPhones and iPads into NBA libraries.
Before a Jazz game, Sweeney edits. During a game, Sweeney does the same, digitally cutting, splicing and documenting another contest for Utah's archives.
As soon as a game is complete, Sweeney dumps the contents offensive plays, defensive sets, shot selection and more onto a hard drive, then immediately syncs up the Jazz coaches' laptops.
He does the same for Millsap, downloading a raw game file onto the forward's iPhone.
Meanwhile, Utah players such as C.J. Miles prefer iPads, soaking up footage during pre- and postgame plane rides.
"Everyone learns in a different way," Sweeney said. "That's one of the tricks, is to try and find out how a guy learns and being able to provide that avenue for that player."
Sweeney's world opened wider in October, when Utah upgraded from an outdated editing system to Mac-based units that run Sportstec, which Sweeney estimated is used by about 20 NBA teams.
A year ago, the Jazz would upload scouting footage for an entire East Coast trip onto a single DVD. If a team started running different sets while Utah was on the road or an opposing player was lost to injury and a backup was substituted, the Jazz were immediately behind the times.
Now, Golden State guard Stephen Curry suddenly being replaced by Nate Robinson is a no-brainer. By the time Utah took the court against the Warriors during the evening of Jan. 7, the team had already studied a four-minute clip of a Curry-less Golden State squad in a morning coaches meeting at the Jazz's hotel.
Sweeney will make a similar last-minute edit Tuesday if Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul is held out due to a strained left hamstring.
"[Sweeney] who's a very modest, humble, understated guy really is a dynamo as far as getting us the right things we need to present to the players," Layden said.
Less is more • Jazz assistants and player development personnel soak up everything Sweeney produces, at times putting in personal requests for specific footage.
But much of what Utah's secondary coaches provide to players is as old school as the nature of their jobs, and has gone unchanged during the transition from Jerry Sloan to Corbin.
"It's still just basketball," said Smith, whose in-game charts track offensive positioning and shooting tendencies, with origins that trace back to former Utah coach Frank Layden's reign during the 1980s.
Sanders balances modern with vintage. He lives in the computer age and dropped the $2.99 for the app, but also relies on an in-game formula that's composed of some of the premier Sloan-isms Utah's former coach swore by.
Hustle stats blocked shots, steals, deflections, charges, loose balls are written down by Sanders as players run the court, then factored into minutes that produce a percentage. Numbers are relayed to Corbin during game breaks, letting the Jazz's second-year leader know if an athlete is falling short of expectations.
Asked about the complexity of his math, Sanders laughed. The numbers are proven and legit, designed to measure everything from a player's intensity to team defense. The origin's a little suspect.
"One thing about this game, everybody steals from everybody," said Sanders, who joined the staff in December. "You've got to be like a little sponge. â¦ I was able to get my hand on the formula."
Jazz assistants Lowe, Layden and Hornacek have devised their own formula. Breaking down the NBA's 29 other teams into three groups, the coaches divide primary scouting duties.
Hornacek took Cleveland, learning everything possible about the Cavaliers before Utah's 113-105 home victory Jan. 10.
Ideally, he would've pored through video clips and dissected Smith's scouting report on rookie point guard Kyrie Irving. But during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, Hornacek said a brief, concise message is a powerful one.
Thus, the ex-Jazz sharpshooter examines big-picture tendencies and looks for holes. How does a team defend the pick-and-roll push it or go over the top? Which plays are called the most for whom, and how does an opposing coach prefer to start quarters? Forty-eight minutes of basketball and years' worth of archives are condensed into bullet points for everyone from Millsap and Bell to Enes Kanter, then drilled in during pregame shootarounds.
"With the amount of games and the compressed schedule, you can't show 25 things," Hornacek said. "You try to pick the main things, and you're basically playing the percentages."
All as one • Playing the percentages: That's exactly what Bell said the Jazz did after edging the Warriors, 88-87, Jan. 7 in Oakland, Calif.
With Utah holding a one-point lead and Golden State holding the ball, Bell listened to Lowe and Hornacek advise him how to defend Monta Ellis. When Ellis drove right and threw up a last-second fadeaway that clanked, Bell credited the Jazz assistants for walking him through the play during a timeout.
Some NBA coaches would want all eyes on them during a crucial late-game situation. Corbin has long preached all-in, though, and he spent the NBA lockout allowing his three sidemen to throw ideas against a wall and see what stuck before revamping Utah's offensive and defensive systems.
Now, the Jazz are 8-4, and the team's early-season run has partially been fueled by little-known coaches and basketball operations personnel who gladly trade individual egos for team wins.
Corbin praises his assistants as soon as their names are mentioned, while players keep asking Sweeney for more footage.
Lowe has been in the organization for only three months. But anytime he talks to longtime NBA friends, he says the same thing: The small-market Jazz do what's needed to compete with the biggest and best.
"It's great working with Ty, because he gives you responsibilities. He doesn't just dictate all the time," Lowe said. "Obviously, it's ultimately his decision on things. But he allows us to coach, he allows us to help. And that's what he brought us here for."
Clippers vs. Jazz
P Tuesday, 7 p.m., TV • ROOT Sports
Clippers vs. Jazz
P At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • 7 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM
Records • Clippers 7-3, Jazz 8-4
Last meeting • Jazz, 103-95 (Dec. 29, 2010)
About the Clippers • Guard Chris Paul (strained left hamstring) is questionable vs. the Jazz. â¦ Blake Griffin leads in average points (23.1) and rebounds (11.1), while Paul leads in assists (8.4) and steals (2.8).
About the Jazz • Derrick Favors (sprained ankle) is doubtful vs. the Clippers; Josh Howard (strained quadriceps) is day-to-day. â¦ Utah entered Monday fourth in the Western Conference and second in the Northwest Division.