I’ve been reading a book lately that seems to pull my thoughts away whenever I have a free moment. It’s called “The Road to Character” by David Brooks. In the book, Brooks speaks to the crisis of having strong integrity and what is the difference between outward success which is fame, fortune, popularity, and visible success vs the inward success of being a good person, standing for something, and being unique: your own person.
Brooks goes in depth about how the outward success is how things are now. That’s what we focus on because it’s visible, tangible, and can be seen by others. It shows the path and indicates to others that yes, you are on the right path. So not only do you know you’re on the road to success everyone else does as well.
Then there’s the second path: marred with failure but you know you’re close to a breakthrough, the choice to do something right even though no one is watching, the choice to do something that blazes your own trail. We have tons of quotes throughout self-help books, famous stars, and literature that talk about being your own person. Don’t be a copycat. If you’re unique, you’re a success and will find success. Yet we yearn for the next success formed in the image of our past heroes. Who’s the next Peyton Manning, the next Michael Jordan, or, the NBA’s toast du jour, who’s the next Golden State Warriors?
Right now for the next team to be successful they are looking at past success, the elements of that past success, and using them to predict the next it team. Who has the next lights out shooting shooting guard or point guard? Who has the next playmaking four like Draymond Green? Who has the next glue guy to add to that core like Andre Igoudala? It allows for little latitude in creation, the very thing that allowed Golden State to be unique.
I know that giving this type of analysis to Golden State success mutes a lot of what allows teams to be successful in the NBA. A quick tempo to eliminate the effect of mistakes, 3 pointers that allow for more points that make statisticians fall in love, and of course the vocal defensive force that can do it all. But breaking it down to just the pieces can eliminate the culmination of the entire process.
When making a chocolate chip cookie recipe the flour is as integral to the mixture as the chocolate chips. Yet he chocolate chips get noticed. They’re dynamic, they’re delicious, and they stand out. Few people though will take a bite out of a cookie and exclaim, “This flour does the job, this is what makes the cookie. Can you just taste the flour? Mmmmmmm.” Yet this is the essence of what we want to do for analysis. We look for the last ingredient to be added that made the recipe work then point to it and say, “THAT’S WHAT SUCCESS LOOKS LIKE.” We fail to recognize the complete equation simply pointing at the = sign as the success.
“Do what nobody else wants to do. Go where nobody else wants to be.” - Mary Lyon
The key to the Warriors success in the NBA is they found the weak spot of the current NBA construct and exploited it. Simple as that. They took inventory of their advantages, targeted those weak spots, then went to work. That is an oversimplification but their strategy doesn’t work if the NBA is built for them. It wasn’t built to handle them. They changed the NBA by turning it into a 3 point shooting barrage and a track meet. The Phoenix Suns had been trying to do this for years, but lacked some of the necessary parts for it. The Golden State Warriors took their recipe and weaponized it.
If the Golden State Warriors are weaponized “7 seconds or less” consider the Utah Jazz the HAZMAT. Just like the Golden State Warriors they have taken inventory of this current NBA climate. They have looked at their strengths and have taken aim. But the Utah Jazz’s strength is not in the attack, it’s in the counter-attack. Their defense.
Two years ago, the Utah Jazz built a historically good defense after the All-Star Break. They traded their malcontent backup center who was a sieve on defense and replaced him with a defensive Adonis, Rudy Gobert. They then took their undersized point guard and replaced him with the hybrid of Penny Hardaway and Gumby. Dante Exum shut down the perimeter. With Dante Exum and Rodney Hood, the Utah Jazz had two players on the wing that had the wingspans of forwards, power forwards. The Utah Jazz then moved the offensive hub to Hayward. Shifting another responsibility normally designed for the backcourt to the front court. Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, both rim protectors in their own right, became the gate keepers to an opposing team.
This wasn’t a team built to attack. This was a team built to counter-attack, to protect, to defend. They were built with speed, but that speed was used after stifling the opponents possession, after the block, after the steal. While the Golden State Warriors were a heavy barrage of artillery, the Utah Jazz were the impenetrable fortress. The Golden State Warriors were a representation of Silicon Valley: an overwhelming force swarming the globe over the internet. Smart, intelligent, calculating, and dynamic. Likewise the Utah Jazz have become their locale: immovable mountains jettisoned from a desert, a lake engulfed in salt where nothing grows, and like the NSA center built in its state, designed to seek threats and defend them. While the Bay is where offense thrives, near the Salt Lake, life cannot survive.
The Utah Jazz made moves in the offseason and found desert plants that can survive with little offense. George Hill, Joe Johnson, and Boris Diaw. George Hill is a defensive specialist and point guard in a two guards body. Joe Johnson doesn’t need offense to get buckets, he just gets buckets. And Boris Diaw, the most unique of them all is a walking triple double even though his body doesn’t look like it’s made for walking.
This Utah Jazz squad will be great, but will not be recognizable to the current NBA as great. They will not light up a scoreboard, instead they will dismantle it. They will not play with finesse, instead they will turn a game into a street fight. They will not protect the paint, instead they will lock it up and throw away the key.
This is the Kraken that Dennis Lindsey has built. While a lot of the NBA looks at Golden State as the archetype for future success Dennis Lindsey and co. turned their backs to the new NBA gods and said, “We can create something better in our own image.” This Utah Jazz team is the defensive team that Jerry Sloan deserved to coach but never could have. A team that is more apt to throw a shoulder than to throw a 3 pointer. A team that is devoted to big men in a time of little men. A team that is ready for an ice pick fight, but doesn’t need no ice pick. While the Golden State Warriors worship the net, the Utah Jazz lay their sacrifices at the altar of the rim.
The Utah Jazz will not be heralded as the next Golden State Warriors, the next Spurs, the next Cavaliers. Instead their success will be spoken in a more hushed manner denoting the presence of something new, something unique: THEM.