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San Antonio Spurs' Manu Ginobili (20), of Argentina, shoots around Utah Jazz's Derrick Favors (15) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 16, 2014, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Monson: Jazz are yearning to play a beautiful game

Utah wants to emulate Spurs’ superior ball movement.

First Published Jul 22 2014 01:03 pm • Last Updated Jul 22 2014 10:53 pm

The beautiful game.

That’s the Jazz’s thing now. That’s what they want to play. That’s the kind of basketball they’re trying to adopt and embrace, even if their early version of it is ugly enough to scare the snout off a pig. And, at times, when the regular season rolls around, it will be. Comedian Phyllis Diller once said she was so ugly when she was a kid, her mom had to tie a pork chop around her neck to get the dog to play with her.

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The Jazz’s remedy is more thorough than that.

They’re re-inventing themselves, inside and out, from last year’s homeliness and through this year’s makeover. The beauty they seek goes straight to the bone. It comes straight from the Swedish Bikini Team of basketball: the San Antonio Spurs.

It can be summarized in two words: ball movement.

But it affects more than just the offensive end. It affects everything.

"The first way to play good defense," says Dennis Lindsey, "is to be well-organized on offense."

That organization requires every Jazz player being able and willing to share the ball. In some respects, in describing what the Jazz did during their summer league experience, characterizations sounded more like something out of Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense. The Jazz implemented a short-passing game, a spread offense, stretching the floor from baseline to baseline, from sideline to sideline.

"We need to keep the integrity of our spacing intact," Lindsey says.

Back to the bikini team. During the Spurs’ victorious series with the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, someone used all his fingers and toes to total up an astounding number: San Antonio averaged 97 more passes per game than the Heat. Over some stretches, the Spurs’ movement of the ball was both dizzying and wondrous. One high school basketball coach said that when the Spurs took their championship utilizing that unselfish methodology, every prep coach in America let out a shout, now having the slam-dunk evidence to present to their young teams.


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Not only is sharing the basketball a beautiful way to play the game, it works.

Schoolboy coaches weren’t the only ones watching.

The Jazz, who have plenty of San Antonio DNA anyway, came to a firmness of judgment: This was their way to play.

Yeah, they don’t have Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker or Kawhi Leonard, but the players they do have would benefit from and flourish in such a pass-first system.

"With the ball movement, we’re going to have non-negotiables," Lindsey says. "And we feel like, with our personnel, with our team, the ball cannot stick."

That’s another bit of phraseology the Jazz are favoring these days: The ball cannot stick. Quin Snyder and Brad Jones hoisted it after nearly every game in Vegas last week.

An example of the ball sticking would be flashing back to the bygone days of Al Jefferson camping out in the low post, receiving a pass from up top and then working, and working, and dribbling, and working for his own shot, while everybody else on the court — and in the crowd — reached for some fast-acting, maximum-strength No-Doz.

That was then, this is now.

"We want to play with the pass," says Lindsey. "We want five guys who are weapons to create a situation or threats to shoot it. We think that’s a good way to play basketball, a great way to watch it, and, with our personnel, the only way we can play."

The great thing about the Spurs’ version of that was this: so many of their players could shoot it. What happens if the Jazz whip the ball around and around, ultimately creating an open shot, but then that shot is missed?

"A good question," Lindsey says. "… It’s why you need shooters at every position, so they have shot confidence to take the open shot. Not taking an open shot is, in our opinion, the equivalent of not getting back on defense. That’s really what happens. You don’t take the open shot, NBA athletes on a shot clock recover, you lose your advantage, you force up something poor, without defensive balance, [there’s a] long rebound, long outlet, numbers going back at you."

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