There are things — namely, stopping the other guys from scoring a bajillion points — to worry about early on with the Utah Jazz, but this — scoring points themselves — isn’t one of them.
The defense, the core of the Jazz’s identity in recent years, has looked in the preseason like a blind man’s finger-painting.
But, at the other end, if you appreciate fine art, or even if you wouldn’t know a Van Gogh from a give-and-go, you’ll enjoy what you’re about to see. There have only been glimpses of it so far, but, as Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert observed, it is coming, a beautiful work progressing day by day.
It is something different for the Jazz, a quality Quin Snyder tried to create in past seasons, and conjured to a notable level, given with what he had to work.
But that effort was like handing Monet a crude mop and 10 buckets of cheap acrylic latex, pointing him toward the side of a barn, and expecting a masterpiece.
“San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk” isn’t what you’d get. And it wasn’t what the Jazz got.
What the Jazz got was Elimination at Dusk, compliments of the Houston Rockets.
In that playoff series, the Jazz couldn’t shoot straight enough to keep up, let alone to win. Same thing the year before, and the year before that, when the Warriors dominated them. They simply didn’t have players with the tools and talent to pull it off. Instead, the Rockets, in particular, were content to give open looks to guys like Ricky Rubio and Jae Crowder and to force Joe Ingles into uncomfortable movements and to build walls around Mitchell and Gobert. Every Jazz opponent had that in mind.
Michelangelo couldn’t have painted his way out of it.
Now, the Jazz can.
Snyder’s offense is bound to thrive because he has what he’s always wanted — touch around the perimeter, all the way around it. He’s got Gobert and a bunch of artists who can sweep the ball, and stroke it.
The ball movement will pretty much remain the same, with a few variations, but the hands that ultimately shoot the open shots will be better suited to do so. And there will be nights of … well, artistry.
Starry nights when Van Gobert — sorry, couldn’t resist — rolls to the rim and dunks unimpeded because the defense will have to stay home to guard all the other guys around the floor. Think about that for a minute. Who does a defense leave unattended when Gobert is screening, Mike Conley and Mitchell are moving, and Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles are spotting up?
Add in Royce O’Neale and Jeff Green, and most defenses will lurch a bit in the attempt to stop them. Newcomer Ed Davis said he’s stoked to be with the Jazz, in part, because they fire up so many lobs, enabling dunks.
“I’ve played for coaches who never call for the lob,” he said. “Whenever you have a coach preaching it, it’s music to your ears.”
Snyder preaches two basic things on attack — creating 3-point shots and facilitating those flushes because, follow along on this … three is more than two, and no shot is more efficient than a dunk.
“I don’t see any limit for us on offense,” said Gobert, “as long as we keep playing for one another. I don’t see any coverage we can’t score against.”
There have been hints of that in brief moments during the preseason when some combination of those premier players have been on the court, working together. Other times, coordination and accuracy have dragged anchor.
But there are indications of brilliance.
It’s early yet, and just as opponents will better hone their efforts to stop Snyder’s attack, that offense itself will smooth, too. Not only will Conley better recognize where Mitchell and Bogdanovic like to receive passes, and develop better timing with Gobert, the others will get more familiar, as well. Bogdanovic, for instance, a gifted shooter, has rushed and missed shots he normally makes.
There are more shot creators and makers throughout the rotation. Defenders no longer will sag off of those shooters, as they did in previous seasons, giving clean looks to those who couldn’t take advantage of them. Mitchell will find himself less crowded, because defenses can’t crowd everyone.
Mitchell has always said he wanted to become a more efficient shooter and a more aware playmaker for his teammates. Now is his best chance to do both. Conley and Mitchell will have to choose, at times, between beating their man one-on-one to the basket and giving the ball up to a mate with an even more favorable opportunity.
Either way, what’s about to happen here is a stroking of the ball — not unlike the brush, at least in basketball terms — that would make da Vinci and Renoir and Picasso smile.
It won’t always be that way.
On some nights, disruption and misfires will come and fans in the stands might make like the subject in Edvard Munch’s infamously disturbed painting, “The Scream.”
Davis said, no big deal.
“Over time, the more we play together, we’ll start to look better. It’s going to take time. There’s going to be some games early in the regular season when we won’t look as good. But you can’t win a championship before the All-Star break.”
On many other nights, early and late, the switch and swap of the mop and paint and barn wall that Snyder’s been made to get by with for finery now in oil and acrylic brushes, top-grade paint and unsullied canvas will be masterful and sublime, impressionistic and expressionistic, Pictures at a Dunking-and-Shooting Exhibition, Mona Lisa in Nikes.
As stressed as Snyder is about his defense, he said, “You’ve got to score to win.”
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.