For everybody projecting about the Utah Jazz, guessing what their 2022 playoffs will be like, how they will turn out, there is but one main comparison. The parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant. It’s told by Buddhists and Hindus alike. There’s a secondary analogy, as well, and we’ll get to that at the end. Or both ends.
You’ve heard some version of the featured story.
A group of blind guys hears about a strange creature that has come to their village. They get the idea to head over and check out the unseen pachyderm, each of them using their own touch to figure out what in the world this thing is.
One touches the trunk and proclaims the animal to be like a snake. Another touches the leg and says it’s like a tree. One touches the tail and compares it to a rope. Yet another feels its ear and says it’s a fan. Another touches its side and says it’s a wall. And one touches its tusk and is convinced it is a spear.
Where the tale goes from there depends on your version — the men either start a fight over their individual findings, or they come to a better understanding of the fallacy of depending on one’s own limited experience to discover and cling zealously to truth, without taking in the whole picture.
It gets deeper and more philosophical thereafter.
For our purposes here, at this writing, we’ll leave it at not having a full vision of the complete basketball beast. We simply don’t know not just what the Jazz will do in this first-round series against Dallas, we do not know who they are, what they’re capable of achieving.
The regular season left us all as blind men with the elephant, unable to ascertain what was in front of us.
It was a mystery, a story without an end.
But as the Germans say — actually, it was also the title of a bad ‘80s German pop song — ”Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei.” Translated, it means, “Everything has an end, only the sausage has two.”
The sausage and perhaps the Jazz’s season.
It, too, might have two.
Different endings, different outcomes — the undulating confusion of the regular season and then the happy certainty that could come at postseason’s end. It will bring either the conclusive evidence of doubt and at times disappointment that was felt since early winter or it will be revelatory regarding just what it is that the Jazz have been built to be, what they at long last can be.
The Jazz’s puzzling regular season came about in part because of misfortune, in part because of discombobulation, and part of it was by design.
A year ago, they finished with the best record in the NBA, and it got them nowhere in the playoffs other than banged up and ultimately defeated. It’s not without merit to believe that had Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell been peaking in the postseason, the Jazz would have made the Western Conference finals. Don’t know it for a fact, but there are reasons to believe.
It didn’t happen.
And the Jazz were left to make offseason adjustments to prepare for the playoffs this time around. Money-strapped, they gained some small advantages, but not a lot. Either way, Quin Snyder was left to use the lessons learned — that the regular season doesn’t mean squat — with what he had been handed to figure things out for this moment. He fiddled and he faddled — with line-ups, with player usages, with a couple of new additions, with varied defenses, with players gaining experience in new roles, some players learning by trial and error what they could do, what they should do, what they couldn’t and shouldn’t do.
It was all a game. At times, a messy one.
But there was no lasting panic because … everyone knew what it meant and what it didn’t mean, foremost among them Snyder.
Blow big leads? That can be fixed. Too much hero ball? That can be jacked up on the lift and repaired. Not enough sharing of the ball? Look at the film, fellas, it’s plain to see.
Injuries didn’t help the Jazz’s continuity. But it would be OK, if health was found for the right here and the right now.
It has been. Jazz players underscore that important point.
And early in this best-of-seven first-round series with the Mavs, nobody’s quite sure what will happen next. Not even the players and coaches know with any exactness. But they suspect that it could be pretty good, pretty surprising, pretty promising, even as some observers, fans and reporters alike, harbor their doubts.
You can wade through the regular season’s statistics and trends all you like — but are those absolute, all things considered? The Jazz can shoot the 3, but will they make an efficient amount of them? The Mavs can and do shoot it, too, Can the Jazz defend enough on the perimeter to give Rudy Gobert a break, avoiding screwing the man into the hardwood as he spins about, considering not even he can defend in every direction? Has Donovan Mitchell learned how to finish games all proper, picking the right spots to hit the throttle and when to set up his teammates for better shots? He’s smart enough to be aware that the Jazz play better when the ball is shared, not when it craters into his big mitts and stays for too long, for the heretofore predictably sour Spida Show. Can the Jazz hit Gobert when he’s done his early work around the basket, ready to receive passes that will be flushed? Or will he bobble the ball out of bounds?
All of those questions and a hundred more will be answered in the coming weeks, and it could go either way. That’s not a cop-out, it’s actually a bit of optimism because based on some of the Jazz’s recent showings, a sighted man wouldn’t give them much of a shot to do anything profound in these playoffs.
So, it is the blind who encircle the elephant now, trying to guess what it is.
If it’s a whole lot more than it previously seemed, if the utilization and experimentation of the undulating regular season gather to reap their sunny reward, that will be made clear — and celebrated.
If it’s not, with twitchy ownership and a nervous front office walking into the suddenly cold summer ahead, the Jazz will skid to their defeated, demonstrably dark and singular end, only the sausage will have two.