"A player who makes a team great is more valuable than a great player. Losing yourself in the group, for the good of the group, that’s teamwork."
The preseason is the time when teammates get reacquainted, preposterous trade rumors make their rounds, the Washington Wizards look like they finally have things together, and fans everywhere fall in love with semi-coordinated big men. The preseason is also the time when the coaching staffs and front offices evaluate players to see whether they should be added to the roster. Evaluating NBA prospects is like being an archeologist and/or gameshow contestant: you plan and you study and you strategize, then when the time comes you go out there and just hope you’re lucky. Consequently, the NBA landscape is littered with players who were scouted poorly and entered the league either grossly over- or under-rated. Not only do the Jazz need to figure out which players are good and which are not, they also need to make the more important (and difficult) determination of which players would best contribute to the team’s success.
At my regular pickup basketball game, the task of making teams falls to the person who organized the game in the first place… me. While performing this all-important function a couple weeks ago, I unthinkingly put all the good passers on one team and all the ball-hogs on the other. Even though we passers were theoretically outmanned, I can assured you we absolutely annihilated them. We were cutting without the ball, setting down screens, executing pinch posts, and always making the extra pass. The results proved more lopsided than pretty much any arrangement we had ever tried, but I didn’t care because it was so beautiful to behold. For one day, competitive balance took a backseat to quality of play. (Besides, if they actually wanted to win all they had to do was share the rock; we would have stood no chance.)
In a recent survey of NBA General Managers, Jerry Sloan was named the coach that runs the best offense. If you’re the type of person who reads fanposts on SLC Dunk, I probably don’t need to wax on to you about the Flex Offense any more than Steve Jobs needs to convince a roomful of Apple fanboys to drop a few Gs on a beta iGizmo. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t already "get it".
The thing with Coach Sloan’s system, though, is that it’s not for everyone. It doesn’t reward players who hog the ball; it requires men how to execute pinch posts and are willing to cut without the ball. I fully expect Jeremy Evans to one day be a valuable NBA player. I just don’t know whether it will ever be for the Jazz. Not only has Sundiatta Gaines already developed into an NBA-caliber point guard, and the man posts solid numbers in garbage time. Does that mean the Jazz would be better off keeping him than Ryan Thompson?
Coach Sloan makes very heavy demands on his players, and expects them to be up to the challenge both on the court and between the ears. He may not be Full Metal Jacket’s Sergeant Hartman (especially lately), but he runs a tight ship and he has no time for players who won’t get on board. Xavier Henry might turn into a stud, but there was no way the team was going to choose him over someone with Gordon Hayward’s basketball IQ.
As the preseason wears on, let’s be attentive as fans not only to whether a given player is NBA material but also to whether he is Jazz material. As tough as it may be to part ways with someone who clearly demonstrates NBA talent, the Jazz can’t be content merely to assemble good players. I saw it at the local rec center and we all saw it in the Denver series: playing together matters a lot more than playing well. And should they find that magical combination of good coaching, good players, and of course good luck… just maybe this newly overhauled Jazz team can learn to play well together.