Last season the Utah Jazz played 66 regular season games, and showed up for 1 quarter of one playoff game. Well, maybe that's a little mean - but in the 70 games the team played last season we all saw some amazing things. We saw the Jazz team win their first game of the season with Derrick Favors starting at center in game 3. We saw the Jazz clinch a playoff spot with the offensive / defensive force of Al Jefferson scoring, and Favors not letting anyone score. Early on we were led by Paul Millsap who carried us through troubled waters. And during our -flat out ridiculous- playoff push the Jazz finally got three point support from Devin Harris and Gordon Hayward.
Waaay more after the jump, including a visit from our favorite villain.
The team, our team, went though a lot of ups and downs. Veterans acting like fools. Young players not getting their shots. Best player has to miss games because his grandmother (who raised him) passed away. Longest tenured player, and fan favorite, being snubbed by the media and other coaches for an All-Star spot. New coach trying to get things done with no time for practice. Even all the way down to this blog having to deal with Basketball John's retirement. There were challenges - but together we persevered (to a point).
It made me happy, however, I can't just let something go without looking into it. You can lose games with a winner's attitude. And you can win games, while being a loser. But the teams that make their mark in the history books are winners, and they also win. How you walk, how you play, how you talk, and how you carry yourself matter. John and Karl have a few chapters dedicated to them in the history book of basketball. Karl was extroverted, but tough, and vocal. John was quiet, but probably even more physical, and never backed down. Whenever they stepped on the court they expected to win, and played like it. Whenever they stepped off the court, their heads were held high, knowing that they fought for every second of their careers.
As far as role models go, we are very lucky here in Jazzland.
The most important thing to me was their consistent level of toughness. They were not going to go easy on a bad team. And they were not going to back away from the mental aspect. They were masters of it.
This past season we saw a number of things, good and bad. Some of the things that I remember vividly were:
- J.J. Barea getting into it with Gordon Hayward when he was in the process of getting ready for 4th quarter foul shots (dude was AT the line!)
Delonte West doing the hokey pokey on Gordon Hayward, and Hayward retreating away without even making eye contact -- instead looking for a
- Gordon Hayward getting elbowed in the head by Arron Afflalo
- Derrick Favors getting the ball slapped out of his hands by Dirk Nowitzki during a dead ball
- Derrick Favors getting ejected for throwing the ball down the court
- Big Al once again getting eaten alive mentally by Kevin Garnett (like he did the year before)
- Big Al not hustling back on defense (only for Tony Parker to get blocked by Devin Harris)
- Big Al conceding the game / series before it was finished
Our toughest players (physically and mentally) seem to be Paul Millsap, Earl Watson, and Raja Bell. And in a season, we could have none of them on the team. You can be tough without frothing at the mouth like Kevin Garnett. (Stockton was) But Stockton never turned away from physical contact with his hands up and looked for a teacher. He stood up to physical and mental attacks by standing his ground and giving better than he got. (Let's not forget him upturning David Robinson in the playoffs) I think that we need more toughness if we are going to have that winning body language as a team. Collectively I don't like going into games when our best players don't even think they can win on any given night.
I'm not happy with the 'toughness' on the individual level, or on the 'sticking up for your team' level either. A few days ago I called this a team of pussy cats. I'd love to see Enes Kanter play mean and physical - I'd love for him to show me his off-season work outs weren't just for beach season. I'd love for Alec Burks to continue playing with no fear - which would mean dude actually has to be on the court.
But most of all, I think our three most important players (Al, Favors, Hayward) need to match the toughness and winning body language of Paul Millsap. He's a warrior who never gives up. His heart is stronger than his body, and he always wears himself out (again, he carried us early on this season). I presume and hope that Mo Williams is going to bring some leadership, and he does have some big game experience playing with LeBron James. However, I think it would be silly for us to continue relying on 30 year old PGs to be the guys who lay down the law for our team.
Favors needs to exhibit a bit more. Hayward needs to stand his ground and demonstrate that he will not be punked anymore. And Big Al needs to put it together. It's like we need to take these three to see the wizard of oz for a brain, courage, and a heart.
Ooooh, am I dissing my team? Do I hate my team for pointing out flaws?
Stockton and Malone would eat those three guys alive in a 48 minute game. Regardless of the score our current crop of players would leave the game with defeatist body language. The first part of winning, unless you wish to luck into it, is to have confidence. You have to feel it. You have to know you can't be intimidated, and know that the only option is success.
And more than our potential of the C4, or the quality of our vets - it's the psychological aspect of this game that's going to make the difference between another 1st round exit, or any other result.
PS. Part of this was motivated by some legit criticism of our team from national observers. We're a good team on paper, but we're not expected to do anything. Not because we didn't improve - we did. But more so because of who we have displayed ourselves to be in games.
PPS. Compare and Contrast: