Utah Jazz preview: Defense the focus this season
Before becoming the general manager of the Utah Jazz was even a dream, Dennis Lindsey played college basketball at Baylor for the nephew of a guy known as the "Iron Duke of Defense."
Along the way to Salt Lake City, Lindsey's path crossed with Jeff Van Gundy, whom Lindsey calls "one of the greatest defensive coaches ever," and championship coaches Rudy Tomjanovich in Houston and Gregg Popovich in San Antonio.
So it should be of little surprise what Lindsey's first order of business is as he molds the Jazz.
"The programs that I came from, all the way up from high school and my playing days in college to when I coached, we always had a defensive emphasis," he said. "It's something that I believe in."
The Jazz reached the playoffs in 2012 and then narrowly missed the postseason last year, despite having a winning record. In each year, however, the Jazz ranked 21st in defensive efficiency.
Want to be a championship contender?
"The average of champions in the NBA is around fifth," Lindsey said.
As the Jazz try to build their team of the future, the team's general manager sees things all over the league he would like to mimic in Utah. There's Indiana's shot-blocking at the rim, some of the schemes Popovich uses with the Spurs, Chicago's intensity and fundamentals.
"Like most programs, you like to look at what other teams are doing and pick at it a little and steal some concepts," Lindsey said. "We're like everybody else. Nobody's really reinventing the wheel."
The Jazz believe they have the defensive anchor for their young team. Earlier this month, 22-year-old Derrick Favors signed a multi-year extension worth a reported $49 million over four years.
"Very rarely will you get a 6-10, 260-pound young player saying, 'Hey, I'm a defender. I'm a rebounder. Build the defense around me. That's what I want,' " Lindsey said. "So if he can be our Bill Russell, we'll be very, very pleased."
Favors' size and athleticism should immediately help the Jazz's defense, which suffered greatly at times last year with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap on the floor together.
"At times we struggled, especially [with] pick-and-roll defense because of rotations, because of on-the-ball speed," Jazz coach Ty Corbin said, "and we paid for it."
At practice, Corbin preaches defense to his young team, the importance of intensity, focus and fundamentals. He drills his players on how to handle the pick and roll, how to improve rotations and defend on the weak side of the floor. He emphasizes positioning, awareness and communication.
"For the most part, it's just trying to get us all to be on the same page at the same time," forward Gordon Hayward said. "You've got to have all five guys doing their job and doing the right thing each play. If one person messes up, they can get a wide-open layup, a wide-open shot."
The Jazz want to get stops so they can get out and run, and score in transition.
The team's offensive inexperience is another reason the Jazz are stressing defense early this year.
"We don't have the offensive talent and experience we had last year," Lindsey said. "So if we're going to be challenged offensively for a while and find ourselves, we have to get better defensively."