It’s going to be ugly … ugly for opponents.”
Ekpe Udoh said it right.
In a league, in a conference shaping up as a beauty contest, filled with turbo-boosted offenses, with scorers galore, with guys and teams that make their money and get their wins by being all pretty, by placing a well-turned ankle, by puckering up and blowing kisses, by strutting down the runway and by letting high-arcing shots fly, the Jazz are going a different way.
The opposite way.
They will not be sweet-faced and comely, well-formed and put together. They will be Brutus at the ball. They will scare the mud off a shovel. They will look like they were painted by Picasso. They will be the NBA’s version of the old Rodney Dangerfield joke: “My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I want a second opinion. He said, OK, you’re ugly, too.”
That’s the Jazz in 2017-18.
They are a team that will feature disruption, a team that will take satisfaction and pleasure in doing the dirty work. A team that will rely on defense and worry about the other stuff later.
So pervasive is that point of view even the rookie, Donovan Mitchell, has bought in and sold his soul to the devil’s defense: “Offense is second to me,” he said. “I just focus on the defensive end. It’s not fake. It’s the real deal. It’s what I focus on.”
Somewhere, Quin Snyder is grinning wide.
On the first day of camp a few days ago, the Jazz worked on one thing: Yup, the D-word.
Snyder, though, isn’t completely devoted to just the one end, stressing also proper ball movement, setting solid screens, diving, moving and passing properly on the pick-and-roll, working up his configurations of an attack that sometimes will include gorgeous geometry, great spacing, isosceles triangles and such.
His team will need points from someone, somewhere.
But here’s what the Jazz will try to be this season: The 1985 Chicago Bears.
They will not play the 46 defense. They do not have Mike Singletary or Richard Dent, Wilber Marshall or Dan Hampton. They will not crush point guards as they come up the floor or try to knock them out of games.
But they will scare them. They will make them think twice. They will cause a bit of double-clutching.
They will feature Rudy Gobert in the middle, Derrick Favors beside him, Ricky Rubio up top, Thabo Sefolosha on the wing and Joe Ingles grabbing and poking and agitating. They will be a pain.
“Rudy’s about 8 feet tall, with the long arms,” Udoh said. “He holds down the paint and the guards compete on the perimeter. We’ll definitely be No. 1 or 2 in defense.”
There’s another analogy with the ’85 Bears, too. While that defense ranked first in the NFL, the offense wasn’t exactly explosive. It was mostly a ground attack, finishing in the back half of the league in passing.
And another: There were personnel issues that afflicted that team in the run-up to so much success. A player like Gordon Hayward didn’t bolt in free agency, but guys like Steve McMichael and Singletary were unsigned — and Hampton asked to be traded.
Most of that got smoothed out and … well, the winning came.
The Jazz won’t win a Super Bowl, they will not be one of the best teams in league history, but they believe they can win, like the old Bears did, with a whole lot of resistance. With mucking things up. With clamping down on ball handlers and shooters. With deflections. With solid rotations. With intimidating team defense. With the kind of defense that builds a reputation, a team’s identity.
When the Bears did that, Singletary said, “It was a nightmare for the quarterback. We were going to keep coming. We were going to keep you guessing and keep you thinking.”
That’s the Jazz’s plan, especially in the West, where the more glamorous teams — Golden State, Oklahoma City, Houston — will try not just to outscore opponents, but also embarrass them.
The Jazz will not foolishly and vainly try to keep up, they will focus on not allowing those sorts of teams, or any others, to get off, to get loose, to be themselves.
While Gobert has some dog in him, most of the Jazz defenders are not flat mean in the manner some of the Bears were, or, say, the Bad-Boy Detroit Pistons a few years later, looking to bump and/or kill opponents. Slowing them, to these personalities will be enough.
“It’s the one thing that stands out,” Ingles said. “We have so many guys who defensively are ready to play, so many guys. Jazz fans will love the way we play.”
Homeliness, then, is in the eyes of the beholders.
When he was quarterbacking the ’85 Bears, from his position on the sideline, noting and appreciating what his defensive teammates did, roughing up the competition, Jim McMahon said: “It was beautiful to watch.”
Not ugly, after all. Repulsive only to opponents.
Either way, the Jazz this season won’t give a rat’s rear-end whether they win pretty, or win ugly. They just want to and plan to, you know … win, more than people think they will. They’ll go ahead and yield the evening-gown crown to the other guys.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.