The Jazz are playing their preseason opener Saturday against the Perth Wildcats of the Australian NBL.
Coach Quin Snyder acknowledged earlier in the week that they weren’t even going to discuss specifics about Perth until Friday.
The reasoning is pretty simple.
“It’s preseason — we gotta focus on ourselves,” said point guard Ricky Rubio.
With Snyder pointing out that Perth will do things that pretty much no NBA teams will, there’s not a lot to be gained from spending much time analyzing this particular opponent. Rather, that time is better devoted to focusing on what the Jazz need to improve upon.
Because even with returning 14 players from last year’s roster, there’s clearly no dearth of that.
Following the general optimism and excitement stemming from the first practices, and the first scrimmages of this year’s training camp, Snyder was clearly a bit annoyed Thursday by increasing sloppiness.
“I’ve seen some letdowns, some lack of communication — which is good for guys to have to fight through,” he said. “The first thing that goes is usually communication.”
Of course, it’s not wholly unexpected that not everything is going perfectly a week into the new campaign, that there’s work to be done.
Even with the bulk of the roster, the coaching staff, and the playbook intact, it’s not as though everything’s remained static, Joe Ingles pointed out.
“Our system’s gonna be our system — we’re not gonna change year in, year out, but there’s always things you learn from this past season or playoffs, or whatever it is. There’s always little tweaks,” he said. “We’re not gonna be out there running completely different stuff, but you’ve obviously gotta keep evolving. Even with the [same] plays, you work out different things you can do.”
Indeed, several players acknowledged that they’re still getting used to certain facets of their roles. Dante Exum is trying to balance being better at setting up his teammates in optimal fashion against using his speed and athleticism to push the advantage in two-on-ones. Rubio acknowledged that playing off the ball as much as he does in Utah remains “new basketball for me.”
Nevertheless, the amount of time the players have spent absorbing the system and honing it together is encouraging for Snyder.
The team is that much closer to perfecting what it needs to do.
“One of the things that’s good, we don’t have to spend a ton of time getting organized,” Snyder said. “We have to spend time getting precise, and on execution.”
Mostly, he wants his players to master the team’s “absolutes" — getting back on defense, protecting in the paint, efficiency in shots and possessions, and rebounding.
That all needs to happen regardless of who’s in the other jerseys on Saturday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
“You’re looking to get out of it what you can for yourself, whether you’re playing Sacramento or Perth,” Snyder added. “… All those games are an opportunity for us. I just want to see us play the right way.”
Of course, the team’s resident Australians, Ingles and Exum, can’t escape the fact that two of the Jazz’s five preseason contests are against teams from their home country.
Exum openly wondered about the likelihood of Perth’s Damian Martin, the NBL’s six-time Best Defensive Player, picking up Donovan Mitchell full-court and trying to lock him down. Ingles, meanwhile, discussed the impact of Aussies in the NBA, from Luc Longley and Andrew Bogut, to Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova, joking all the while about how every Australian player he’d face would be faster than him, and how he doubted they were studying his game for any tips.
Regardless of what happens Saturday night, though, Rubio was quick to remind that the Jazz’s own progress remains the bigger picture.
“We’ve got focus on what we’re doing. We can’t expect coming and playing great on the first day. It’s gonna be a little bit rusty, we know,” he said. “But at the same time, we gotta compete, gotta get better.”
JAZZ VS. PERTH WILDCATS
At Vivint Smart Home Arena
When • Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV • None
Radio • 1280 AM