In recent years, the Utah Jazz have lost their identity.
Ever since Deron Williams led the storied franchise into the second round of the 2010 NBA playoffs, Utah has struggled. During the four years that have transpired since that squad exited against the Los Angeles Lakers, there's been one playoff appearance and no successful postseason series.
Most franchises go through a drought like that at some point, but the Jazz are not usually like most franchises. Since making the playoffs for the first time in 1984, Utah advanced past the regular season 25 times in 31 years, and only 11 of those trips ended in the first round.
Now, the Jazz are hoping that Quin Snyder, the newly hired head coach, will do what Tyrone Corbin couldn't—get Utah back into the realm of truly competitive squads. The move was first announced by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, and it represents the start of an entirely new era.
Make no mistake about it, this proud franchise isn't just trying to make the playoffs; it's attempting to become a postseason mainstay, just as it was during the 1980s, 1990s and much of the 2000s.
No pressure, right?
Fortunately, there are a number of steps Synder can take while trying to turn things around. But be warned, because they all require patience.
Don't Rely Solely on Gordon Hayward
Without Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap drawing touches for the Jazz, Gordon Hayward became the unquestioned featured player in Salt Lake City. He was actually far too heavily featured, though.
Sure, the 24-year-old swingman submitted solid numbers during the 2013-14 season, averaging 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game. But once you dig even a tiny bit, things don't look quite so positive.
Hayward turned the ball over a career-worst 2.8 times per game, more than one extra time per contest than he ever had, and he did so while shooting just 41.3 percent from the field. Basically, his efficiency waned rather significantly.
In the NBA, there's often a strong negative correlation between usage and efficiency. As one rises, the other falls, and the exceptions—the major exceptions, at least—are quite rare.
Hayward was not one of the exceptions:
|Hayward's Rising Responsibilities|
While Hayward's usage rate didn't jump as much as it did the year prior, he became much more involved as a distributor. Assists don't factor into usage rate, which is why those two metrics must be looked at together rather than analyzing one at the expense of the other.
Basically, the ball was almost always in Hayward's hands.
According to NBA.com's SportVU data, the Utah standout touched the ball in the frontcourt 61 times per game, ranking him No. 31 in the Association. LeBron James was the only non-guard above him on the leaderboard, and no other forwards were in the top 40. Not even Kevin Durant (No. 41) or Paul George (43).
That's just too much.
If Hayward had been surrounded by more capable offensive options, Corbin could've been justified in handing him that much responsibility. But given the makeup of last year's team, there wasn't enough protection in place, and Hayward drew an inordinate amount of defensive attention.
So how is this relevant?
First, you can be sure that Synder is going to be looking at this sort of data:
Secondly, the makeup of the 2014-15 Jazz is going to be remarkably similar to last year's, save the addition of a free agent or two and a prized new rookie. Hayward is set to enter restricted free agency, and if he's brought back, Snyder can't afford to place all his eggs in that one basket on offense.
Developing a system that shares the ball is ideal. And fortunately, he spent last season learning from Mike Budenholzer how to do exactly that, as the Atlanta Hawks were one of the most unselfish teams in the NBA, distributing the ball and sharing offensive responsibilities at all times.
Even if the swingman doesn't return, it's important for Snyder to avoid finding a new 2013-14 Hayward.
Share the wealth.
Feed Young Players and Learn Lessons
For a young player, there's something to be taken away from every game, even if it's a loss.
In a win, the future studs and rotation members can watch tape and learn to mimic what worked for them. They can build upon those strengths while developing them further. In a loss, they can realize what didn't work and strive to avoid making the same mistakes.
Frankly, they can do all that regardless of the outcome, but that only works when the young guys actually get to play.
During the 2013-14 season, Richard Jefferson started 78 games and played an average of 27 minutes per contest. Marvin Williams ate up another 25.4 minutes during a typical outing.
Meanwhile, Rudy Gobert sat.
The 21-year-old big man played in only 45 games during his rookie season—even though winning wasn't exactly a top priority—and received less than 10 minutes per game.
Bleacher Report's Ben Leibowitz also pointed out the fundamental mistakes here, though it's worth noting his article was published before Corbin was given the axe:
For unknown reasons, Corbin slotted washed-up veteran Richard Jefferson into the starting lineup for 78 of Utah’s 82 games.
During the same time frame, he buried 7’1” center Rudy Gobert on the end of the bench. The 21-year-old Frenchman has received an average of just 9.6 minutes per game as a rookie, and while he’s still extremely raw from a talent standpoint, the Jazz had nothing to lose by giving him valuable NBA experience via more court time.
Jefferson is a respected veteran, but he certainly doesn’t fit in with Utah’s future plans. As a result of Corbin’s wonky lineups and desire to play veterans over young pieces, he has essentially solidified his standing as a lame duck coach.
There should no longer be any desire to play veterans, as the future of this franchise rests in the hands of the youthful roster. Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Hayward (if he's brought back), Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter should all start just about every game, and Jeremy Evans and Gobert should both feature heavily off the bench.
Whoever is drafted should receive minutes as well.
Winning isn't a priority in Salt Lake City. Not now, at least. Player development, though, is a must, and the best way for that to take place is by seeing what type of talent is already on the roster.
If veterans are brought in and used heavily, how will the Jazz determine whether Kanter is as good as he was cracked up to be before the 2011 NBA draft? How will they see whether Burke is going to develop into a franchise point guard?
Fortunately, the new head coach is best known for his skills in player development:
On top of that, it's something he likes doing:
"Snyder coached the Spurs' D-League affiliate Austin Toros, working under R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich, who have been supporters of Snyder's career," writes Matt Moore for CBS Sports. "Snyder grew a reputation in Austin for development and passion."
That, in a nutshell, is why Snyder has the job. So let the development take place.
If the Jazz win games with such a youthful lineup? Fantastic. If they don't? Still fantastic, so long as they're identifying strengths and weakness while letting players gain valuable experience that they couldn't elsewhere.
Don't Back Down After Initial Struggles
The Jazz aren't going to go out and add someone like Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James during the offseason. As a result, this is not going to be a team capable of competing for a playoff spot during the 2014-15 season, even if a few veterans are added and the young starters improve rather dramatically.
And that's why it's important—perhaps more important than anything else—to embrace the struggles and learn from them without giving up on the long-term plan.
It's easy to feel pressure to change things up when they aren't working. The media can weigh down on a new coach who's struggling, and there's internal pressure to turn things around. Job security has to be considered, after all.
But Snyder is only 47 years old and has a three-year deal, which should give him a bit of leeway. Resultantly, he can afford to stick to his principles, taking note of the success two vastly different coaches enjoyed this season by doing similar things.
First is Jason Kidd.
The rookie head coach for the Brooklyn Nets was almost universally lambasted early in the season, as players weren't buying into his schemes on either side of the court. But he persisted in his teachings and methodology, and the team eventually turned things around during the second half of the season, winning a playoff series before getting knocked out by the Miami Heat.
Kidd didn't change his philosophy during the year. He recognized that it took a while for it to work, and he stuck with his principles.
In terms of experience, Kidd and Gregg Popovich couldn't be any more different, but Pop did something rather similar during the 2013-14 campaign.
It’s the way Pop likes to play. The way the bench played this year and the number of minutes they got was because [assistant coach] Chip Engelland and Pop have really been pushing our group to trust our bench. They brought us to where we are. We said, 'Let’s not shorten the rotation the first time the clouds get dark.'
It's a different situation but the same basic principle.
Just because something isn't working, you don't have to change it. So long as you have confidence that things will turn around once the sample grows larger, you're in solid shape.
During Snyder's first season, there will be dark clouds. That much is inevitable, especially since he's saddled with such a youthful group. Hopefully he learned from Pop, who he once served under.
The goal can't be an immediate turnaround.
Even in the wake of the Phoenix Suns' recent regular-season exploits, the Jazz can't expect to suddenly go from worst to first, or anything in that particular vein. The goal has to be a long-term one, and that means the ability to stick with his beliefs and principles in the face of trials is quite important.
One step at a time, cliche as it may be, must be the theme of this rebuilding process.
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