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Downbeat #1383: The Spurs, Spurs, Spurs Edition

In which we only discuss the Utah Jazz through San Antonio Spurs goggles

New Utah Jazz Head Coach Quin Snyder being instructed by Kobe Bryant
New Utah Jazz Head Coach Quin Snyder being instructed by Kobe Bryant

The Spurs Model.  Now that the San Antonio Spurs have won their 5th title over the past 16 years, the mantra of every rebuilding NBA team is going to quickly shift to dropping the name "San Antonio" into everything they do, to show their fans how smart they are.  In Utah we of course are quick to point out that the "Spurs Model" according to Greg Popovich, is really just a knock off of Larry H. Miller and Scott Layden's Jazz model:

"The success that we’ve had and Utah’s had is really satisfying because it has come in small markets," said Popovich of the two teams, "and people really appreciate it. The fans in both places are unbelievable, and basically demand that we do things a certain way I think."

"We’re the only games in town, as far as the professional deal in concerned," continued Popovich, "and when you find an organization that does it with class like we found Utah doing it, when we came here, R.C. (Buford) and I wanted to do it as closely as we could."

"And that’s not easy because they do it the right way." said Popovich of the Jazz, "They’re closed mouthed. They don’t talk in the papers about things, there’s no braggadocio, there’s no moaning and groaning in the paper or talking about players in the paper, or trades or anything, they just do their work and go home."

"And that’s what we’ve tried to do," finished Popovich, "they set the tone and the example for that, and of course Jerry (Sloan) did it on the court with the consistency and the hard nosed play, and demanding that all the players compete at a high level and do it unselfishly, and we’ve tried to emulate that as best we could."

So what are the common traits of this Jazz/Spurs model according to Pop?  I think the common factors are:

  1. Small market team;
  2. Doing things with class;
  3. Closed mouthed;
  4. No braggadocio;
  5. Yeoman like work ethic; and
  6. Consistency, hard nosed, unselfish basketball.

I believe this is the basics of what made the Jazz great.  That greatness started with the consistency of long-time coach Jerry Sloan who seemingly looked and coached the same throughout his 23 year Jazz coaching career.  Sloan instilled that consistency in Karl Malone and John Stockton, and later Jeff Hornacek.  The Jazz franchise was mostly closed mouth and just showed up and played consistent, hard nosed, unselfish basketball.

The question now is that if the Spurs are really using the Jazz model, why has the Jazz model not worked for our team over the past 4 seasons?  Or arguably over the last time the Jazz had a good enough record to host a first round playoff matchup versus the Dallas Mavericks in 2001?

I have one theory which I believe has caused the Jazz to struggle, and this was something that was revealed to me by watching my favorite NFL team, the Philadelphia Eagles, this past season as they instilled a new head coach in Chip Kelly.

One thing I have been impressed with by Kelly is his seeming willingness to jump to the NFL and do things in his own way.  From his innovative offensive schemes to his utilization of sports science, Kelly believe that there are always things that you can change to improve your team.  One of Kelly's points of emphasis in year one on the job was that today's athletes love to know why things are done a certain way. Instead of using the old "because I told you so" line, Kelly taught all of his assistant coaches when he arrived why something is done and has told his assistants to instruct his players of the same.  Furthermore, he has a mantra for everyone in the franchise which is that if you cannot explain why something is done a certain way, maybe it is not the right thing to do.

Part of me has wondered whether the Jazz franchise's reliance on doing things the "Jazz way" has led them to consistently play the same way they have for several years despite the change in defensive basketball rules and other things.  The seeming lack of innovation in the Jazz's franchise has led to consistency but perhaps also led to too much predictability.

Contrast that to San Antonio, where the Spurs offense has changed quite a bit over the last 17 years under Popovich and the Spurs team has embraced new strategies like the corner 3 ball, ahead of the curve.

One can only hope that new General Manager Dennis Lindsey can find the proper mix of playing "Jazz basketball" while also transforming the franchise by asking themselves to question everything they do to make sure it is the right way to do it.

What does Spurs' Championship mean for the Jazz? Yesterday over at Salt City HoopsLaura Thompson asked this question and came up with some pretty good answers.  The whole article deserves a read, but she came up with these main bullet points:

  • There’s hope for the small-market teams.
  • The Big Three Via Draft vs. The Big Three Via Collusion Free Agency.
  • The importance of a great coach.
  • The importance of player development.
  • The importance of a solid, deep bench/aka perfectly suited role players.
  • The importance of an effective system.
  • The importance of superstars.

While Popovich's list of qualities that he mimicked from the Jazz were more of personality traits, Laura's list is more of a recipe on how to follow the "Spurs Model."  Reviewing these items, it is hard to argue that the 1996-1998 Jazz teams didn't check each of these boxes.

One item of especial intriguing importance at this time of year is the concept of "The Big Three Via Draft vs. The Big Three Via Collusion Free Agency."  Jalen Rose touched on this a bit during his June 17, 2014 podcast and coined the terrm "Bought versus Bred."  Rose went on to analyze how San Antonio, other than Tim Duncan, had to breed the players on their roster to find the right fits and to develop those players.

That part of the argument is nothing really new.  The point that he did make that is less discussed is the idea of the small market players making financial sacrifices for the betterment of the team.  Specifically, he cited Duncan's willingness to take less money at this stage of his career for setting a tone for the rest of the team.  In that locker room, Duncan is clearly the "man" and anyone wanting to make more money then him would arguably stepping out of line, considering the leadership of their star.  In the Malone and Stockton era, both players always accepted less than market rate to stay with the Jazz franchise, which allowed the team to keep its costs under control and stay competitive.

With Gordon Hayward's pending free agency and Alec Burks and Enes Kanter eligible for extensions this summer, I have to wonder how much any of these guys will sacrifice for the betterment of the team.  Specifically, if we consider Hayward to be the "man" of this Jazz team, then his contract may very well set the tone for the future of this franchise.

Popovich Coaching Tree. CBSsports posted an interesting graphic which illustrated the Coach Popovich coaching tree and tied it back to none other then Dr. James Naismath, just 5 generations back.

Essentially, Dr. James Naismith begat Forrest "Phog" Allen, who begat Dean Smith, who begat Larry Brown, who begat Greg Popovich, who begat Mike Budenholzer...who begat Quin Snyder?

Quin and Answer. Yesterday afternoon, Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune posted a great video and text transcript of a Q&A session that he held with Coach Snyder.  Lots of great info so check out the whole thing, but of relevant to our Spurs discussion today is this:

Tribune: Will your offense look like what you did in Austin and what the Hawks ran last season? Or will your try a different look here?

Snyder: When I was in the D-League, one of the things we were asked to do, and I wanted to do, is to run a form of motion, which is essentially what you see in San Antonio. There’s so much ball movement and they’re such a good passing team, obviously we weren’t going to replicate that. But I think the system there has adjusted to their personnel. As Tim Duncan has moved away from the basket and become even more effective on the perimeter, there are different things they’ll do to take advantage of their personnel. We didn’t have that personnel in the D-League. It’s a little different. And when we were in Atlanta we had different personnel. We had one primarily pick-and-roll player with Jeff Teague. With our team, I see a number of guys who can play in pick and roll. I think Gordon [Hayward] can. I think Alec [Burks] can. I think we’ve got a good opportunity to do some pick and roll.

Soooo much to read into here.  First, it's clear that Snyder thinks free agent Hayward will be back.  Second, it's interesting to see how the Austin team was told what offense to run, even though it was not necessarily a perfect fit to their personnel.  Thus, that franchise was arguably more concerned with testing and training in the Spurs offense then it was with winning basketball games.  Third, Snyder appears to want to run a hybrid of the San Antonio motion with much more pick and roll, based on who the Jazz's personnel.  Fourth, where is Trey's name in the "number of guys" who can play pick and roll?

Snyder went on to discuss how his philosphies have changed depending on the team's personnel:

Tribune: How have your systems and philosophies evolved over the years?

Snyder: When I got the job at Missouri, having been at Duke for most of my adult life, the way we played a was lot about spacing. We had really good guards who could drive the ball and some great shooters. When I got to Missouri, my first year we had some of the same qualities. Then we got more big guys. It was an adjustment for me learning how to adapt a system to size and having two bigs on the court. Last year in Atlanta, we played a very spread offense. We had fives that could space the floor. Sometimes, we put five shooters around the perimeter. Every team is different. Really, every lineup is different. The challenge for us this year is to try to utilize our players the best we can. That’s something about the D-League that was really valuable. You’d have a team and you figure you’re playing a certain way. The next day, two of your guys would be gone and you’d have to figure out how to make those adjustments.

Clearly, Snyder is used to having to make adjustments based on personnel.  These comments seem to indicate he's willing to coach whatever roster that Dennis Lindsey puts together, whether it be 5 guys who can shoot and spread the floor or a lineup composed of two big men like Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.

It'll be interesting to see how this season's roster make over is guided by Snyder's preferences and Lindsey's preferences.  I'm sure they both have an ideal roster composition, but at least Snyder recognizes that it's his job to coach to the strengths of his young team.

Anatomy of a Deal: Kawhi Leonard for George Hill. I believe I have touched on this old article before, but with Kawhi Leonard's Final's MVP and with the draft approaching it is interesting to reread and get excited about draft night again.

During the last draft, Lindsey famously dealt all 3 Utah Jazz draft picks and acquired 3 different Utah Jazz draft picks.  This wasn't Lindsey's first night of trades though, going back to the 2011 draft, Lindsey had a plan in place to acquire Leonard from Indiana, should Kawhi unrealistically fall to the 15th spot in the draft:

Dennis Lindsey and David Morway were texting furiously. It was still the early stages of the 2011 NBA draft, but the upper-level executives with the Spurs and Pacers, respectively, were plotting something. Sometime around the no. 11 pick, they decided it was time to just get on the phone. The Spurs had already agreed to send George Hill to the Pacers for Indiana’s no. 15 pick, but only if a particular player or players were still on the board. Both teams were worried the deal would not happen by the time Utah was on the clock at no. 12. The Pacers didn’t even know which player the Spurs wanted, Morway says.

The important take away lesson here, as we are now just 1 week away from the NBA draft, is that the Spurs and Pacers had already had the parameters of a deal put in place before draft night.  Clearly, the cards needed to fall right for the Spurs to want to make the swap, but the deal was in place.

The rest of the article details more about how the draft unfolded and how Lindsey held out hope that the player he coveted, Kawhi Leonard would slip into his hands.  We can imagine that this similar fact pattern played out last season as Lindsey likely had multiple discussions and perhaps even deal parameters in place to land Trey Burke and even Rudy Gobert if either player fell.

What we must wonder and hope today is that Lindsey has put in place similar contingent deals on the hopes that the draft falls in a way that the Jazz can use #5 and other assets to move up to land one of the drafts Tier 1 transformational stars.