Kragthorpe: Jazz may be even more entertaining than last season

The way they execute their offense and share the ball is fun to watch.<br>

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Jazz bench jump to their feet as Utah Jazz forward Jonas Jerebko (8) sits on the court after making a shot and being fouled during the Utah Jazz versus Detroit Pistons at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City Tuesday, March 13, 2018.

The system is not the same, but the way the Jazz run their plays and share the basketball reminds Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy of Jerry Sloan’s teams.

Watching the Jazz pass and shoot in the first half of a 110-79 dismantling of the Pistons also evoked thoughts of the great San Antonio Spurs teams of this century. Of the Jazz’s 34 baskets in Tuesday’s first three quarters, 24 were assisted. That’s like the Jazz of old. That’s like the Spurs of old.

The Jazz are turning into exactly what they were supposed to become under coach Quin Snyder, with his background in the Spurs organization. They won’t always score at this rate: Starting at the five-minute mark of the third quarter Sunday at New Orleans, the Jazz produced 101 points in 29 minutes of basketball.

That burst of efficiency included 42 points in Tuesday’s first quarter, their season high for any quarter and the latest evidence of why any judgment about this team in January was premature.

The Jazz won 19 of their first 47 games. They’ve won 19 of their last 21 games. That run was bookended by victories over Detroit — one requiring an unlikely comeback from nine points down in the last three minutes of regulation, the other decided after 12 minutes when the Jazz led by 21.

What this team is doing is remarkable. The way the Jazz are doing it is pleasing.

I’ll never devalue what Gordon Hayward and Joe Johnson meant to this franchise last season when they delivered a playoff breakthrough. But the truth is this Jazz team is much more fun to watch considering the way the ball moves.

Tuesday’s most memorable play came in the first quarter when Ricky Rubio drove and passed to Jae Crowder, who tapped the ball back to Jonas Jerebko for a 3-pointer. That sequence contributed to the Jazz scoring 23 points in their last 10 possessions of the quarter.

That’s unsustainable, but the style of play is repeatable. Utahns love unselfishness, and that’s becoming the hallmark of Snyder’s team. The ball is not sticking, nobody’s trying — or being asked — to get his own shot, and the Jazz have an offense to complement their defense.

“We’re trying to get better at attacking in transition, attacking when the ball changes sides and driving the ball and trying to get guys in position where they can make quick reads,” Snyder said. “As much as anything, catch it and drive it or catch it and shoot it or catch it and pass it. That’s been something that has been an emphasis all season, and guys just have to keep working at stuff, so that’s what we’re doing.”

“We’re clicking right now,” Jerebko said after scoring 16 points. “When the ball goes in, we’re hard to stop.”

That sounds like something my Swedish grandmother would have said. Jerebko’s too, probably.

“Their offense has been very efficient,” Van Gundy said before the game. “They play extremely well together, they move the ball well, they get great shots and guys have been shooting the ball well.”

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) throws down a dunk during the Utah Jazz versus Detroit Pistons at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City Tuesday March 13, 2018.

And then, to Van Gundy’s horror, the Jazz went out and illustrated everything he was saying about them. They made 17 of 21 shots in the first quarter.

“As you get winning, confidence grows and it just gets easier and easier to play,” Van Gundy said. “Right now, they’re a really tough team to beat.”

That was not the case in January, when Rudy Gobert just was coming back from another injury. But look at the Jazz now.

After Tuesday’s win, a question about the growth of Rubio (nine assists) prodded Snyder to decry the early reviews of Rubio’s play. “We’re just ready to try to analyze someone after, like, 10 games,” Snyder said. “We have to have conclusions.”

C’mon, Quin. If you take away overreacting, what’s left for me to do?

Snyder also said, “I would hesitate to say he’s finished. He’s got to keep getting better.”

That’s true of the whole team because the playoff chase in the Western Conference is just silly.

In a weird twist Tuesday, six other games in the NBA were East vs. West matchups, with five of them affecting the Jazz’s playoff positioning. Wouldn’t you know, the West won all five — San Antonio over Orlando, New Orleans over Charlotte, Minnesota over Washington, the Los Angeles Clippers over Chicago and Oklahoma City over Atlanta. None was an upset, yet only the San Antonio game was decided before the middle of the fourth quarter.

In the end, thanks partly to ex-Ute Kyle Kuzma, one result aided the Jazz as the Los Angeles Lakers rallied to beat Denver. So the Jazz find themselves tied for eighth place with San Antonio. In records, and in style, the Jazz are modeling the Spurs. That only can be a good thing.