Will Hardy is ecstatic about how the schedule-makers set the Utah Jazz up during this part of the slate.
Following last Friday’s win in Memphis, the Jazz had three whole days without a game before Tuesday’s victory over the visiting Blazers. Then they’d get two more days at home without a matchup before the Suns came to town on Friday.
That meant that the Jazz would get some time to practice, that he’d get some time to teach, that the coaching staff could focus on some nagging trouble spots instead of rushing into game prep for the next opponent.
Defensively, Hardy said, he wanted to address getting into rotations quicker in order to cut down on fouling. And on the other end?
“I think it goes without saying the biggest issue that we’ve had offensively has been turnovers,” he said following Monday’s practice.
A day and a half later, the Jazz committed only 12 turnovers in their commanding 115-99 victory over Portland.
It was helpful, he added, that none of the small issues collectively comprising the big one seemed particularly daunting or unfixable.
“The good news is these are all things that are within our control and we can improve. It’s nice to not go in and watch the film and go, ‘Oh my gosh, I have no idea what we’re going to do about that — we’re doomed.’ I don’t think any of us feel that way,” Hardy said. “The players have had a really good mindset about continuing to try to face those issues head on, not hide from them, and try to get better.”
That’s a very head coach thing to say.
But he was happy to see the lessons unfold out on the court.
His players were pretty pleased to see some progress, too.
Because they’re well aware they’ve had too many giveaways of late, empty possessions that not only deprive them of the opportunity to score, but also make it easier for the opposition to get in advantageous positions as a result.
“Those are the ones where you want to smack someone in the back of the head because it’s self-inflicted,” said John Collins. “We know we can do a better job of just taking care of the ball and not giving a team extra possessions to make a run on us. So those are tough.”
Hardy stressed that the turnover issues come not from a place of bad intent, just bad decisions and bad execution. It’s not that players have been selfish, they’ve just been sloppy.
So, the in-between days have been filled with film review and practices emphasizing making quicker — and better — decisions. Whoever gets the ball mustn’t feel compelled to automatically attack if a swing pass to a teammate puts that man in a better position.
Against the Blazers, it was a far more measured performance.
One the team hopes will carry over in the long term.
The insertion of rookie guard Keyonte George into the starting lineup seems to have had a calming presence on the team. Tuesday night, as he looked at the stat sheet while heading into the interview room, he was pleased to see he’d registered only nine field-goal attempts, believing he didn’t force any looks, that he set his teammates up well (as evidenced by a 7-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio), yet was still sufficiently aggressive to get five free-throw attempts and score 15 points in 26:20 of game time.
“Just taking care of the ball, making sure we’re organized, making sure we’re running stuff,” he said of his approach. “Today was one of our best days of being on the same page.”
His teammates are noticing his impact in that regard.
“Tonight, a lot of times we would push and Key brought it back out and settled us, got us back into our offense,” said Collins. “Those are the types of things that help us settle down and get into something, not turn the ball over, and get a better shot, and help us get back on defense.”
But it wasn’t just George.
Collin Sexton, who has been taken out of a lead-guard orchestrator role and turned loose as an attacking, off-ball menace, noted that he still is endeavoring to do a better job of finding teammates at appropriate times. Even if his body is going full-speed, he said he still needs to slow his mind down.
The game represented a good step, as he mirrored George’s 7-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio.
“I’ve been watching the film — I watched film with coach today, I watched film the last couple of days, just get my mind right,” said Sexton. “And I see a lot of times when I’m driving, everyone [on the defense] doesn’t want me to score [so] they pretty much pack the paint. So I’ve just got to continue to make those reads each and every time. If I have a layup, lay it up; if I don’t, kick it out, find the open guy. … I gotta make it a habit. Anyone can do it once, twice, but when you can do it consistently, that’s a habit.”
Lauri Markkanen noted that several factors have been behind the excessive turnovers — sometimes it’s playing too fast, as some guys “go 110 miles an hour,” sometimes it’s not clearly recognizing defensive coverages, sometimes it’s poor spacing, with one guy being three steps out of place and thus enabling the defender on the help side.
Hardy saw one other persistently troublesome area look better.
“I felt like early in the season, we were maybe overly aggressive on that first drive, instead of kind of working the possession and getting the defense to loosen up some,” he said. “Tonight we gave respect to Portland’s initial defense and moved it a couple of times and then attacked, and it made the reads cleaner for us.”
Jordan Clarkson, who stayed on-brand by insisting “I don’t think we were really stressing on it” when asked about the focus on reducing turnovers, nevertheless was succinct in explaining why the team was nevertheless so good at reducing turnovers against Portland.
“We were decisive with everything — shoot, pass, dribble,” he said. “… We just made our decisions on what we would do faster tonight.”