Before you build a house, you might want to inspect the foundation.
That was essentially the goal of the Jazz’s first practice on Tuesday as training camp began in earnest: make sure that the Jazz established an identity that will serve them well throughout the long NBA season. So, coach Quin Snyder started to set those markers.
“Last year we went into the season wanting to know more of who we are,” Snyder said. “Now, its more of ‘who do we want to be?'”
That’s not to say that the Jazz are going to be very different schematically from last season: through the process of exploration in 2017-18, they found that they could be an elite defensive team. They found that their offensive “blender” could cause teams problems, and when it didn’t whir quite right, that they could count on Donovan Mitchell to slice opponents up anyway.
They also found that they could count on a work ethic to improve throughout the season. So while the Jazz won’t play very differently from last season, they hope to make major gains through minor steps forward throughout the roster.
If we’re talking about offensive rebounding, [Derrick Favors] can get another one, Rudy [Gobert] can get another one. Jae [Crowder] can get another one," Snyder said. “Turning the ball over, Rudy [Gobert] can turn it over .5 percent less. Ricky [Rubio] can turn it over .3 percent less. All of a sudden, you’re shaving your turnovers down.”
Those examples aren’t accidents: they’re two ways the Jazz think they can improve this season. Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey noted how European teams “crush” switching defenses — like the ones Golden State and Houston deploy — through offensive rebounding. The Jazz think Favors and Gobert can lead an above-average offensive-rebounding attack, after ranking 17th in the league a season ago. With regard to turnovers, the Jazz were even worse, 24th. But, as Snyder noted, improving by one percentage point would make the Jazz about 12th in the league, and might mean a few wins by itself.
And while the Jazz were pretty good about their shot distribution last year, they want it to improve even more: taking more threes and more shots inside the restricted area. Again, that’s a matter of degrees: just turning a couple of mid-range shots into threes per game could win the Jazz a game over the course of a season.
So while the Jazz were happy with the end to last season, training camp will still be about striving for more. “We can have continuity as a foundation, and still look for an upside in improvement,” Snyder said.
Ex-Jazzman Raul Lopez joins coaching staff
When Igor Kokoskov was hired by the Phoenix Suns as their new coach, the Jazz lost one of their most valuable player development assistants. Kokoskov worked extensively with Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio on his game last season, and the efforts showed in Rubio’s second-half performances. Everything culminated with Rubio’s Game 3 triple-double against the Thunder, the first by a Jazzman in nearly a decade.
On Tuesday, the Jazz introduced the guy who will replace that part of Kokoskov’s role, and he is a familiar face.
At the end of practice Tuesday, Raul Lopez could be seen working alongside longtime Jazz coach Jeff Watkinson, and working with Rubio and Alec Burks together on their jump shots. Yes, it was that Raul Lopez, the one the Jazz drafted with the 24th pick of the first round in 2001, the one taken just ahead of Tony Parker to be groomed as John Stockton’s replacement.
Lopez’s two seasons as backup point guard Utah didn’t go poorly, but due to injuries and homesickness he returned to Spain much more quickly than the Jazz anticipated. However, 15 years later, Lopez expressed a desire to return to Utah to work with Rubio and the Jazz.
“We wanted Raul to be part of the group, not just for Ricky, but to work with our guys in the context of the coaching staff," Snyder said. “Raul expressed an interest in doing that, and I jumped on it.”
Grayson Allen could be seen working out with assistant Johnnie Bryant, alongside Donovan Mitchell and Jae Crowder. That’s a good sign for Allen, as Bryant’s been behind the big improvements in some of the Jazz’s best players since he joined the organization.