So, Joe Ingles, what are your thoughts about how the Jazz’s offense has come together throughout the preseason?
“Offensively, we’ve been pretty good — we’ve scored really well each game, we’ve got good looks every game,” he said.
OK, and what of the progress on the other side of the ball?
“For us, it’s figuring out the defensive end, why we’re giving up so many points, and fixing that,” Ingles added. “And once we sort that out, holding teams to scores we want to hold them to, I don’t think we’ll have too many problems.”
Such analyses are pretty common throughout the roster, actually. The offense is in pretty good shape, the defense needs time to come together.
Everyone acknowledges that integrating so many new players into coach Quin Snyder’s schemes requires time and adjustment. But why such a stark difference in results from one side of the ball vs. the other?
Surely it’s not as simple as all the new guys being great offensive players and poor defenders. After all, while many of the players added this offseason were indeed done so with the intent of generating additional spacing, playmaking and shooting, everyone from the front office to the coaching staff to the players themselves has mentioned that the intent is for this team to remain one of the league’s elite defensive units.
“There’s no illusions about the fact that we need to be good defensively to be a good team,” Snyder said. “You’re not going to be a good team if you don’t guard. That takes time.”
Which leads us back to: Why has the offense come together in such short order, while the defense remains very much a work in progress?
Posed with that very question, Snyder proceeded to give a four-minute, 13-second response, which could be summed up by his opening line: “Offense, for the large part, is instinctive, where defense is more habits, habitual.”
“Habits” is one of Snyder’s favorite buzzwords, and he’s usually quick to follow it up with the disclaimer that it’s not even necessarily about changing “bad” habits so much as teaching and instilling “different” ones.
On this occasion, he had examples at the ready.
“Defensively, there are just some foundational things that are unique to every program,” Snyder began. “We’ll defend something one way, Milwaukee will defend it another way, the Lakers may defend it another way, the Spurs may defend it another way.
“So, if you’ve been in a system, and you’re used to guarding something a certain way — the easiest example would be if you come from a system where everybody switches pick-and-roll, 1 through 5,” Snyder added. “Well now, for Mike [Conley] and Rudy [Gobert], if we were to do that, that might be comfortable for the guy who’s done that, but [maybe] the player he’s now switching with hasn’t done it. I think Mike and Rudy switching pick-and-roll 1 and 5, there may be a time for it, but that’s not our fundamental base defense.”
A couple of minutes later, Snyder had yet another Conley-and-Gobert scenario at the ready in explanation of the processes in play.
“It’s not so much patience as it is understanding. It’s like realism — there’s a realism involved that Mike Conley is picking up at a different point on the floor than he did for most of his career in Memphis. Rudy Gobert is not Marc Gasol — Rudy’s not up to double the ball at the 3-point line the way Marc Gasol does; Rudy’s back protecting the rim. So how does that impact what Mike does and what he’s done for a long period of time?” Snyder said. “It’s important for all of our guys to understand why we’re doing something the way that we are. That understanding really deepens your commitment and your resolve to do it, and over time, you’ll get better at it.”
A few other defensive realities the Jazz are dealing with, Snyder would go on to say, include the difficulty of replicating, say, Damian Lillard or Giannis Antetokounmpo in a practice; and getting everyone to the point — through recognition and repetition — where defending a specific play becomes as natural as running a play itself.
Offense is instinctive and defense is habitual, remember? So then, bridging that gap comes about from ingraining habits to the point where they become intuitive themselves.
“When you’re intellectually trying to remember something, it’s not instinctive yet. And what happens is you’re trying to do something the right way and you’re not able to compete on the level [needed] in order to do it,” Snyder said. “Now, the alternative is just do it any way you want, and play really hard and compete. And sometimes that’s OK. But over the long haul, I think there’s more efficiency to everybody being connected.”