As the losses rack up and playoff hopes dim, my frustration is building. As a fan, someone who is removed from the rigorous analysis and detail of the personalities and play diagrams, I actually believe I can provide real suggestions that could translate to real wins. How can I say that with a straight face, me being a basketball amateur, and the Jazz coaching staff being the deeply experienced, intricately involved experts? To that I say, what experts in the political world had an egomaniacal bigoted obscene caricature like Donald Trump winning a primary election?
To put it another way, I would like to share a true story about a patient I once saw long ago in an emergency room far, far away.
It’s natural to freak out when everything seems to be going wrong.
It was a fairly busy day. I noticed the chief complaint of my next patient was written down as "Hematuria," also known as blood in your pee. I began to run through a list of differential diagnoses as I made my way to his room. The middle aged man I met was clearly distressed about his predicament.
"I’m peeing blood! Look at my pants!"
Teams rely on results. When the Jazz aren’t winning as much as they think they should, the natural tendency from within might be to freak out, to take gambles, to get emotional. Distress over apparent results might lead to someone to make dramatic decisions in hopes for answers. Distress over peeing blood leads people to spend $$$ on ER visits. Distress over the possibility of missing the playoffs may lead a GM to trade for a 3rd string unproven point guard who shoots 16% from 3pt, and may lead a coach to almost instantly start said point guard over Neto, who has shown his worth with an excellent defensive mindset, solid shooting ability, and clear team chemistry.
There’s little doubt that Quin had a say in the trade for Shelvin Mack. Quin used to coach him. And he quickly gave Mack the start and lion’s share of minutes once Shelvin got here. Yes, the Jazz have lost 7 of their last 8 with Mack starting. Yes, Shelvin is shooting 33% from 3pt, 37% from the field, with 3 TO/gm and a PER of 9 (a Jazz PG low) since starting with the Jazz. And yes, the Jazz have a truly solid rookie point guard in Neto, who rarely if ever hurts the team. But Quin is invested in Mack. After the Atlanta game he said about Mack "at some point you have to show trust." And it’s hard to reverse course once you are invested and have committed to trusting someone. It can be embarrassing. Which leads me to my next thought.
When you’re too close or too trusting, bias can lead you to miss the obvious.
Instead of asking this guy the obvious next question - that is, if he was at all concerned that he was not only peeing blood, but he was also peeing his pants in the middle of the day - I just took a look. Right there on his fly was the incriminating red stain. It certainly looked legit. I asked him if I could do a more detailed physical exam to see what was going on.
This pants stained blood pee-er had a front seat to his whole fiasco, so who am I to question? And he was clearly emotionally invested. He couldn’t possibly be wrong about this, could he? Quin Snyder has a front seat to the whole Jazz rollercoaster of a year. He’s had a front seat to the numerous injuries, to the 7 game win streak, to the post all-star struggles, to all of it. He knows the players well. I believe you can’t help but be emotionally invested in the players when you are their coach.
My untrained armchair QB eyes have especially noticed that Trevor Booker has possibly affected Quin with an emotional or trust bias. No one incites emotion more than Trevor. You can’t help but love his passion. Quin clearly has a soft spot in his heart for him, judging by the remarks he made as the season opened about how mad he was at Trevor for a preseason tech that led to suspension, because Quin said he needed him. I think Quin’s love for Trevor’s passion has led him to create a rotation that leaves the team without a true center. This team has learned a system that is built on having a defensive center that prevents opposing guards from driving and scoring, and prevents baskets at the rim generally.
While Gobert was injured, Withey proved a more than capable center. His block rate and defensive rating were actually better than Gobert’s, and his offense was better than Rudy’s too. And if Favors has taught us anything while he’s been in Utah, it’s that he is a power forward. He is not a center. Yet, when the bigs got healthy, Withey fell out of the rotation. Quin found himself playing Booker extended minutes at the 4 with Favors at the 5 and excusing it as a "small ball" tactic that is difficult to justify with objective numbers. Meanwhile, fans are hitting our heads into the wall as we watch Harden or Teague drive and score at will during critical fourth quarter stretches where we are without a rim protecting true center on the floor.
Maybe getting an outsider’s perspective can provide valuable answers.
As he peeled off his jeans, I noticed an even more incriminating bit of evidence on his underwear: they were clean. No red stain. I stopped him from undressing further, pointing at his briefs.
"What did you have for lunch?"
"A taco. Why?"
"Any hot sauce on that taco?"
Realization set in. "I’ll show myself out," he stated, as a confused look of embarrassment and relief overtook him.
I am no basketball expert. I’m not a statistician, I’m not an NBA coach, I’m not an NBA player. The Jazz organization has all of these things and I do not. But I do have one thing they don’t. An outsider’s perspective. A perspective that is absent many of the biases that those inside the organization cannot avoid. Sometimes it’s easiest to see the stain free underwear when it’s not hiding under your own belly. So to the Jazz, I say, you have underwear that is not blood stained. You can fix this. But to do so, you might need to accept that, sometimes, fans and observers might have opinions worth listening to.