Quin Snyder defends Utah Jazz’s clutchness, Donovan Mitchell’s passing in epic pregame rant

Ahead of the game vs. the Grizzlies, Utah’s coach attacked a pair of narratives he said were built on statistics lacking context — then proceeded to make his case with inaccurate or noncontextual stats.

(Rachel Rydalch | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jazz Coach, Quin Snyder, yells on the sidelines during the fourth quarter vs the Dallas Mavericks in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022.

Quin Snyder entered Tuesday’s pregame media session with an ax to grind.

Well, two actually.

While the Utah Jazz coach normally spends five or 10 minutes ahead of each game answering questions posed to him by reporters, it was a bit different before the Jazz’s overtime showdown against the visiting Memphis Grizzlies.

Snyder — apparently motivated by the growing sense that his struggling team is in disarray — took his seat on the dais, a stat sheet clutched in his hands, and immediately launched into an impassioned and demonstrative 19-minute, 3,000-plus-word mostly-monologue, attacking the dual narratives of his team’s lack of clutch play, and the suggestion that guard Donovan Mitchell barely passes to center Rudy Gobert.

“A lot of times, people use numbers to tell a story, and it’s important to do that responsibly,” Snyder began, pointedly.

Problem is, many of the numbers he subsequently presented in defense were either wrong or themselves lacking the context he was complaining about being missing.

First, he took aim at the general idea that, because the Jazz have lost 15 games this season in which they held a double-digit lead, the team is prone to meltdowns and not terribly clutch.

The premise itself is flawed by being too general, he argued.

“I think we can all agree a 10-point lead in the first quarter is different than a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter,” Snyder said.

Except …

Of those 15 games, only one featured a lost double-digit lead accrued in the first quarter (on Dec. 11 at Washington), and only two such leads were earned by the second quarter. In total, 12 of those 15 games featured a double-digit lead lost after halftime.

Still, he went on to shift the argument only to games in which the Jazz have held and lost a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter of a game. He claimed there are only seven such instances, and went on to make the point that the Jazz actually wound up coming back to win three of those; thus, their record in games in which they’ve held a double-digit fourth-quarter lead is a more respectable 3-4, or roughly a 43% win percentage, comparable to what the Boston Celtics (2-3 in games they have blown fourth-quarter double-digit leads) have done this season.

“You could also look at this and say, we lost the lead, right, and we got it back three times out of seven, which maybe means we’re a resilient team,” Snyder said. “… It also says we played pretty well, because if we’re up double digits in the fourth quarter, for the most part I’d take that. I’d rather be up double digits than single digits.”

Except …

The Jazz have actually lost five games this season in which they’ve surrendered a fourth-quarter lead — road matchups at the Magic, Lakers, Spurs, Clippers, and Warriors.

Also, even if that incorrect data he was using had been accurate, and the Jazz indeed only had seven blown double-digit fourth-quarter leads, he omitted that his information showed Utah still had more squandered fourth-quarter double-digit leads than any other team in the league has had; going into Tuesday’s slate of games, the Knicks had six such leads erased, while the Nets, Celtics, Cavs, Nuggets and Sixers had squandered five apiece:

Still, that argument dovetailed into a corresponding discussion about the statistic that the Jazz would be 55-22 this season if the game ended after the third quarter.

Snyder mocked the premise, facetiously asking if it would be better for the Jazz to simply never lead in the first three quarters and to try and rally in the fourth, as it would help them avoid the label of choking games away late. More seriously, he noted that the circumstances of each of those games have been different, and trying to lump them all in together to make them a meaningful storyline is irresponsible.

From there, the coach moved on to a tweet that has gained a lot of traction in recent days about everyone’s favorite “unsalvageable” duo, Mitchell and Gobert, and how the former allegedly barely passes to the latter, perhaps as best evidenced by a play in the Jazz’s recent loss to the Golden State Warriors (a game that saw them lose a 21-point lead, incidentally), where Gobert had 6-foot-6 guard Klay Thompson sealed in the paint, while a dribbling Mitchell failed to pass him the ball.

Snyder went on to refer to the comparative stats that have been floated about how often Hawks point guard Trae Young passes to teammate Clint Capela, and argued that it was not “apples to apples.”

“Trae Young and Capela, that’s the comp that we’re using, right? You know, out of 3,442 possessions, [Young has] passed to Capela 472 times. OK. Donovan, out of 1600 [possessions], he’s passed to Rudy 150 times. So those are roughly the same number, right?”

Except …

First off, that Young-to-Capela pass percentage is 13.7%, while that Mitchell-to-Gobert percentage is 9.4%. So, no, not quite the same.

Also, as it turns out, Mitchell and Gobert had actually played 2,351 possessions together this season prior to Tuesday’s game, per Cleaning the Glass; Jazz PR confirmed postgame that Snyder was mistakenly given a data set that included possessions where all of Mitchell, Gobert, and Mike Conley shared the floor together — which was 1,674 prior to Tuesday’s game.

Regardless, Snyder’s broader point was that, as Conley shares a lot of possessions with both Mitchell and Gobert, and as he’s quote-unquote point guard while Mitchell is a secondary ball-handler prone to playing more off the ball when Conley is also in, it’s natural that his passing numbers to Gobert would be a bit reduced.

He also made the point that, given what a prolific 3-point shooting team the Jazz are, sometimes they simply emphasize shooting more from beyond the arc, which also reduces the number of passes available for Gobert. Further, he argued that many of the times the Jazz attempt to throw a lob to Gobert, opponents are zeroing in on such plays and selling out to disrupt the high pass to the big man.

“Let’s just not try to drive a wedge between some of these players, and especially using numbers. We should be more responsible than that,” Snyder said. “… We’re not playing great all the time. We want to play better. But you don’t get there by trying to say that one player’s not passing to another.”

As for the play where Gobert had Thompson sealed and could have easily scored, had he gotten the ball, Snyder insisted that using a freeze-frame still image probably doesn’t accurately tell the story of how the play really unfolded, and even if it did, one singular play hardly constitutes definitive proof that Mitchell doesn’t pass to Gobert on a consistent and ongoing basis.

Apparently, he views the discourse as nothing more than an external attempt to pit the team’s two stars against one another.

“The suggestion that Donovan would look Rudy off when Rudy’s deep in the paint …” Snyder began, letting the unfinished sentence hang in the air to emphasize how absurd he believes it to be. “… When it gets to the point where Donovan’s answering questions [about it after shootaround], the inference there is that he doesn’t pass to him and there’s a problem between the two. So those aren’t illogical jumps.

“I haven’t seen that. I haven’t seen that at all. They sit at the same table when they eat sometimes,” he concluded. “I don’t know if they ride to practice together — probably not, but anyway.”