SACRAMENTO — If you play basketball in an adult league, you’ve probably seen it a million times. A new squad arrives, a motley crew of ringers who, at first glance, appear to be a formidable force. They are younger, more athletic, stronger, and taller. However, when they look up at the scoreboard, they discover that they were defeated by a group of 40-year-old lawyers and accountants who stayed seated the entire game.
Why? due to the 20 years that the team has spent playing together and winning rec league championships.
In sports, especially basketball where chemistry and teamwork are so important, continuity is important. That’s in part what made the Utah Jazz’s 10-3 start to this season so puzzling. Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Royce O’Neale were four of their five starters from last season that were traded away. Most anticipated that head front office executive Danny Ainge would sell off any remaining parts and enter the Victor Wembanyama-Scoot Henderson sweepstakes.
Lauri Markkanen and Collin Sexton were the most accomplished of the group of imports, who made up the majority of the Jazz roster. They also welcomed Will Hardy, their new head coach, who is 34 years old and younger than Mike Conley, their starting point guard.
As Utah crushed contender after contender to start the season, lo and behold, the jumbled transaction Frankenstein transformed into a monster. Assembling a brand-new group had obvious challenges, but it also had benefits, according to Hardy.
“The difficulties, in my opinion, lie in the lack of any foundation. You’re unsure of what to think of the group because no one in the group knows each other personally or outside of the group “explained Hardy. “On the other hand, that’s a little liberating. We had no unresolved issues from the past to deal with. Nothing from the past was actually anything we were striving to change. We had the opportunity to start over and merely consider the future, which I found to be incredibly pleasant.”
Conley, a 15-year veteran who has played on 50-win teams with both the Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies and has reached the Western Conference finals, also contributed since he arrived at camp with a plan for how to get the squad gelling quickly. The first aim was to instill in the team a sense of selflessness and ball movement. There may be a desire to try to establish yourself by demonstrating your scoring prowess in light of the large number of players being dealt from other organizations and possibly receiving greater opportunities in Utah.
“We have many players who, when playing alone, are fantastic and can win games. However, as a team, we must work together to create that culture if we are to succeed.” “That was my first hurdle, to try to impose that belief and confidence — get guys who aren’t accustomed to passing as much and are used to scoring, to get them used to making plays for other guys.”
Good news thus far,
Early in the season, Jazz players were known for their ball movement. They move the ball with purpose and intent rather than just playing hot potato around the perimeter, as evidenced by the fact that they are second in assist-to-pass % and sixth in assists per game in the NBA. One of the few players from last year’s squad still on the team, Jordan Clarkson, has changed the way he gets buckets to include more passing, virtually tripling his assist average from the previous year while averaging more points with much higher efficiency.
Watch as Clarkson uses his penetration to pull two defenders, kicks to the corner, and then Jarred Vanderbilt and Conley pass up decent shots in favor of spectacular chances, leading to a Markkanen 3-pointer.
“They masterfully move the ball. When you review the footage, that is what pops out “Steve Kerr, the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, remarked of the Jazz. “I believe it was simply acknowledged in the league as a whole that they wouldn’t be as good without Mitchell and Gobert. After that, you can see that they have some pretty talented players. These are advantages as you move down the list. These are experienced players that are familiar with the league and know how to play point-five basketball, which includes being able to shoot, pass, and drive the ball quickly. It’s really difficult to guard when five players are doing that on the floor at once.”
Malik Beasley and Kelly Olynyk have been consistent veteran contributors who help spread the floor with their shooting, while Hardy has continuously adjusted the rotation in an effort to find the best place for rookies Walker Kessler and Ochai Agbaji as well as young players Talen Horton-Tucker and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. As the team’s primary offensive player, Markkanen has emerged as a force to be reckoned with, averaging career-highs in points and assists and posting shooting splits of 52/37/82.
But the Jazz have recently experienced the drawbacks of a lack of continuity. They were stuck in a four-game losing streak coming into Monday night, and during that time they had given up an unacceptable 124.8 points for every 100 possessions. It is much simpler to recover from a downward spiral when you have experienced it collectively in the past. With this team, that is not the case.
Conley told CBS Sports, “You’ve got 15 guys, 14 of them new or 13 are new, and you’re trying to figure out what they want on the court, where they like to have a ball, where they can be used at their best on the floor, and that takes time.” However, we rapidly picked it up and crammed a lot of information into a short period of time.
But one thing you can count on from this team is competition. They have only suffered double-digit losses in two of their games this season, and they have a plus-two net rating. The idea that they could maintain the pace of their 10-3 start was maybe a bit overly optimistic, but if Ainge and the front office are prepared to stick with it, this group has shown it is more than capable of competing for a playoff position. Although the concept of tanking now seems like a thing of the past, there will undoubtedly be ups and downs for a team that is still getting to know one another both on and off the court.
“We have heart. Additionally, we’re entertaining,”said Hardy. “Even though not everything is always perfect, our team’s perseverance in trying circumstances, whether they occur during a single game or a run of games, has been incredibly outstanding. Every day, they really do find ways to appreciate it.”