In a league obsessed with talent, the Utah Jazz say their chemistry makes a real difference

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) confers with Utah Jazz guard Grayson Allen (24) in the first half as the Utah Jazz host the Perth Wildcats during their preseason game, Sept. 29, 2018 at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

In Wednesday night’s season-opening game in Sacramento, Ricky Rubio had arguably his worst outing with the Jazz, scoring just a single point. But his backup, Dante Exum, stepped up with 13.

And while star guard Donovan Mitchell has been pressing the first two games, the backcourt backups have picked up the slack, with Alec Burks scoring 13 points against the Kings, and Exum again notching 13 in Friday’s home opener against the Warriors.

Derrick Favors, meanwhile, was limited to just five points and five rebounds against Golden State, but Jae Crowder validated his minutes as a small-ball four with 17 and seven.

That stars Mitchell and Rudy Gobert have gone out of their way to praise the play of Utah’s bench illustrates one of the team’s best facets, according to coach Quin Snyder.

“That’s the good thing about our group — these guys support each other,” Snyder said. "Our guys aren’t looking around saying, ‘I didn’t play well.’ They’re excited for the guys that did play well.”

Talent is a big deal in the NBA, of course. But so is chemistry. And fraternity. And conviviality.

Thanks to returning 13 players from last year’s roster — who accounted for 85 percent of all minutes played in 2017-18 — Utah has the chemistry part down. It goes beyond throwing a pass and knowing its intended target will be where he’s supposed to be, though.

There have been plenty of teams over the years that had all the schematic details nailed, but still underachieved simply because players’ subtle dislike or outright disdain for one another undermined their ability to perform.

That doesn’t seem to be the case with the Jazz.

Asked about the team’s exuberant bench celebrations, veteran forward Joe Ingles was initially dismissive and deprecating before ultimately delving into the players’ collective propensity for looking out for one another.

“We definitely don’t sit in the locker room and talk about what we’re gonna do on the bench if someone makes a shot or a dunk, or if Georges [Niang] finally looks half-athletic. It just shows the camaraderie of that group,” Ingles said. “Coach mentioned the other day, the last quarter of the [preseason] Sacramento game, the last group was on with a few minutes to go, and they didn’t know one of the plays, and everyone was up over there trying to help them. That’s just how it’s been since I’ve been here. It’s a fun group to be a part of.”

While the Jazz are perhaps viewed by many as a buttoned-down, straight-laced operation, when asked the same question, Mitchell spoke passionately about an altogether different mentality that permeates the franchise.

“Just having fun — I think that’s what we really are about. We’re business when we need to be, but we’re blessed to be in this position. I think we all kind of have that same feeling. The organization — they trust us, they put a lot of faith into us. I think that’s what kind of allows guys to come into their own natural selves,” he said. “You look at the way Grayson [Allen] acts now from when he got drafted — he’s a completely different person. He’s opened up. Georges is hilarious. Tony [Bradley’s] out there going to Dave & Buster’s, going to movies, trying to get everybody out there. It’s fun — that’s pretty much where it starts, off the floor.

“We come with the mentality of, ‘We’re here to sacrifice for each other,’” Mitchell added. “You look around at teams in the league, you don’t really see that as much as you see it here. That is a concept we really fully embrace.”

Niang, a former G Leaguer, raved about how others have gone out of their way to instill confidence in him, “whether it’s in practice or being put in a game when it’s meaningful.” Burks praised general manager Dennis Lindsey for constructing a team full of players with the capacity for growth, then lauded Snyder for his ability to draw that growth out. Royce O’Neale noted that everyone on the roster feels empowered to speak up: “From the starters to everybody on the bench, everybody does a great job of keeping everybody accountable.”

Allen joined the Jazz as a first-round draft pick out of Duke, where he had acquired a checkered reputation due to a series of incidents involving the tripping of opposing players.

He said it was quickly apparent that his contribution to the team would be judged not solely by how many 3-pointers he hit, but by his attitude.

“When you have a team that has the chemistry and camaraderie and returning guys like this, you add to that as much as you can,” Allen said. “You make the chemistry better, you don’t try to break it up and do your own thing.”

Crowder, meanwhile, who has also played for the Mavericks, Celtics and Cavaliers, called the relationships among the Jazz players “very unique.”

“Kudos to the front office for bringing in guys who have a team-first mentality. It’s not like that everywhere, obviously; there are a lot of egos in the NBA and stuff like that,” he said. “This group, we’ve done a great job of bringing in the next guy and cheering for him and being continually happy for him. It’s unique to be a part of.”


At Vivint Smart Home Arena

Tipoff • Monday, 7 p.m. MDT


Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM

Records • Jazz 1-1; Grizzlies 1-1

Last meeting • Jazz 107, Grizzlies 97 (March 30)

About the Jazz • Utah swept the three-game regular-season series against Memphis last year. … Joe Ingles is leading the team in scoring, at 24.5 ppg. He is also shooting 70.4 percent from the field and 64.7 percent from 3-point range. … They are averaging 123 ppg as a team — trailing only the Pelicans, Timberwolves and Trail Blazers for the league lead.

About the Grizzlies • Memphis is coming off a 131-117 victory against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night. … Shooting guard Garrett Temple scored 30 points on 10-for-11 shooting in the win, while Mike Conley added 16 points and 11 assists. … Starting power forward JaMychal Green suffered a broken jaw, and after undergoing surgery is expected to miss four to six weeks. … No. 4 overall draft pick Jaren Jackson is expected to start in Green’s place.