While most teams in the NBA had four preseason games, the Utah Jazz had only three. Which is not to say there’s inherently any problem with that arrangement.
No less than Donovan Mitchell said the team pretty much saw what it needed to in its 3-0 slate, with players getting a comprehensive “indication of what we can do well and areas we can improve on.”
Still, with their last preseason game taking place last Thursday, and their regular-season opener taking place this Wednesday, that’s a week-long gap they’ve had to fill with no opposing competition squeezed in along the way. So, what exactly have they been doing in the interim?
Well, pretty much, working on those areas they can improve on.
Jazz at Trail Blazers
NBA season opener
When • Wednesday, 8 p.m. MST
TV • ATTSN
Specifically, per coach Quin Snyder, the Jazz have been busy dissecting, replicating and solving specific game situations in an effort to better leverage the familiarity with one another that already exists, and also to further develop their on-court chemistry.
“That’s one of the things that has been a goal of ours going into the season, because we do have the continuity, we have the connectedness between our players — it gives us an opportunity to have a competitive advantage there,” Snyder said. “Our guys [are] talking to each other, figuring things out; sometimes you can plan something out, try to be detailed and prepared, and the game throws different things at you, and that’s when it’s important that players can think on the fly and it’s important that you have smart players. Sometimes they’re their best coaches, particularly when the game’s moving fast.”
As an example, Mitchell added that while there’s been much praise foisted upon the team’s perimeter players for both their incredible efficiency and increased volume of 3-point shots, what many people don’t notice is that many of those shots were as open as they were because of the rim-running proclivities of big men Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors — even rookie Udoka Azubuike. Their commitment to running the floor in transition and forcing defenders to pick them up has made swinging the ball to find an open teammate that much easier.
He’s even more proud of the work being put in on the other side, though.
Knowing that teams with dynamic scoring guards — like, say, the season-opening opponent Trail Blazers — will be looking to exploit Utah’s perimeter defense has had the effect of causing every Jazz player to recommit to their efforts there.
“We’ve got a big one coming up the first game of the season — the dynamic duo of C.J. [McCollum] and Dame [Lillard], then you got [Jusuf] Nurkic down there, too — so we’ve got to be ready on defense. The past two preseason games, we really picked our picked up our intensity on defense,” Mitchell said. “… [It’s about] just keeping the ball in front; it’s easy to kind of rely on Rudy and Fav down there, but at the end of the day, it’s on us to continue to keep our man in front of us, contain the ball. And we’ll have that ultimate test coming up on the [23rd], with those two dynamic guards. But we’ve done a pretty solid job of that this preseason, we’ve done it well in practice, now we’ve got to carry it forward to the regular season.”
Gobert, for one, said the change has been palpable and noticeable, and that he personally has loved to see the increased emphasis there.
Bigger than any schematic adjustment, he said, has been witnessing the change in attitude from some of his teammates.
“Every single one of us is trying to be disruptive, be physical and be aggressive on that end,” Gobert said. “… More than anything, it’s our mindset, it’s stepping on every single night with the mindset that we’re just going to dominate defensively.”
Now, he added, the challenge will be to keep up that same commitment over the course of an intensified, compacted, unprecedented 72-game schedule. They’ll need to do it on the second night of-back-to-backs. They’ll need to do it midway through extended road trips.
There is enough talent on this team, Gobert said, that the offense will ultimately take care of itself. The defense, though, will necessitate continued focus.
“That’s who we want to be as a team. If you want to get a chance to win a championship, that’s the DNA that we need to have,” he said. “And we need to have it every single night.”