A Jazz timeout huddle is a compelling scene.
Take this one as an example. With the Jazz facing a 6-point deficit in the first half against Portland last weekend, the players were frustrated with their defensive effort. After all, the Blazers scored 72 points in the first half, Damian Lillard was once again cooking, and the Jazz weren’t doing much to stop it.
Jazz fan Laird Doman took a video of the huddle. First, Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles start talking with Rudy Gobert, trying to figure out how to get Gobert involved in containing Lillard without losing their defensive capabilities inside. Then, two separate conversations break out: Ingles and Royce O’Neale lean back to communicate over their switches, while Mitchell and Gobert lean forward to continue their chat.
Meanwhile, Quin Snyder and the coaching staff stand about 15 feet away, near the free-throw line, discussing their team’s performance and what adjustments to make. After about a minute, the two huddles merge, with Snyder giving instruction, the players giving feedback, and the unified whole agreeing on a course of action.
[Read more: Weekly Run newsletter: Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert keep bigger picture in mind ahead of All-Star Game]
“We’re not a group that’s disillusioned about how we’re playing and what we need to do better,” Snyder said.
In this game, it worked. The Jazz were poor defensively to begin the game, then improved to only allow 42 points in the second half. Their turnaround on that end meant they picked up a critical win.
That’s just one example of a larger trend: this Jazz team consistently communicates about the Xs and Os of a game, in a game, to find a solution.
A trip to the free-throw line means even more talking. At times, it’s almost collegiate how frequently the Jazz huddle up on the court after they’ve earned or given away a pair of trips to the charity stripe. Mitchell is frequently the one who gets his team together in the middle of the paint for these huddles, taking a quick second to share something before the referee — trying to keep the game moving as quickly as possible — can scatter the players to their free-throw rebounding positions.
And this year, there’s a new twist: Quin Snyder has given Joe Ingles the job of Free-Throw Communications Director. As the player shoots, Ingles will receive direction from Snyder. Then, in between the pair of free-throws, Ingles will deliver the instruction to the other four on-court Jazzmen, either via stealthy whisper, hand signal, or sometimes just old-fashioned yelling if necessary.
Thanks to some foul-happy defense late as Dallas came storming back on Monday night, cutting a 21-point deficit to a 3-point one over the span of several minutes, the Jazz got a lot of these opportunities. But afterwards, the Jazz credited their late-game communication as much as Jordan Clarkson’s bench unit as the reason they were able to stay together and win the game.
“It’s being able to say, look, we’ve been here before,” Mitchell said. “Let’s just fix it. You know, it’s not a big deal. It’s not the end of the world.”
Of course, other teams communicate too, but in general, it tends to be more of a top-down approach than in Utah. A coach yells a play, the players’ execute it; coaches signals are recorded for posterity in a traveling scout’s notebook. When players are the source of news on the court, it tends to be the established, MVP-caliber veterans driving the action. LeBron James is famously vocal on the court with his team, and Chris Paul does it to such an extent that his teammates have reportedly gotten frustrated.
It’s not all roses: perhaps there’s no more commonly-cited cause of failure for the Jazz than a “lack of communication.” Some of that, to be sure, is intentional obfuscation to the press: it’s easier to say “we didn’t communicate enough” rather than “X player made repeated defensive errors.”
But there’s some validity to even the most tired of cliches. A 2010 study in the peer-reviewed Emotion journal found a distinct correlation between the performance of NBA teams and the amount they communicated on the floor, as measured by physical touches on video. Teams who more frequently used “fist bumps, high fives, chest bumps, leaping shoulder bumps, chest punches, head slaps, head grabs, low fives, high tens, full hugs, half hugs, and team huddles” were fount to have “significantly superior team performance than those where players touch teammates less.”
[Read more: Gordon Monson: Where would the Utah Jazz be without Jordan Clarkson? Not where they are.]
Yes, there’s probably real questions about the direction of the causation there — whether teams are communicating more because they’re winning, or winning more because they’re communicating is an important and unanswered question. Regardless, it’s enough that the players and coaches alike notice the trend too, and look to turn around slumps with increases in communication along with more concrete changes.
One last video from Doman tells the story right after Mitchell hit what would be the game-winning shot against the Blazers. Ingles briefly takes Snyder’s chair, then Mike Conley walks across the bench and delivers a message to those in the game. Snyder comes, sits down, and tells his team what they’re going to do. Ingles, crouching in at his side, adds something to the huddle.
It’s collaborative. It’s cooperative. It’s Utah Jazz communication.
JAZZ VS. HEAT
At Vivint Smart Home Arena
Tipoff • Wednesday, 7:00 p.m. MT
TV • AT&T SportsNet
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 35-18; Heat 35-18
Last meeting • Heat, 107-104 (Dec. 23)
About the Jazz • Guard Mike Conley is questionable for Wednesday’s game due to illness. ... Ed Davis missed the Jazz’s last two contests due to back spasms, but had found himself out of Utah’s rotation anyway. ... Jordan Clarkson scored a combined 55 points in the Jazz’s two-game Texas road trip in Houston and Dallas. ... If Jazz were to win, their 36 victories would tie a franchise high for wins before the All-Star break.
About the Heat • Tyler Herro missed Miami’s Monday matchup against the Warriors. ... Meyers Leonard and Kyle Alexander are also out for Miami. ... Before beating the Warriors on Monday, the Heat lost their first three games of a five-game road trip before the All-Star break. ... The Heat have eight players who average double-digits in scoring, including new acquisition Jae Crowder, picked up in a pre-deadline trade last week along with Solomon Hill and Andre Iguodala.