“The strength of our team is our team.”
It’s become the mantra for this Utah Jazz squad this postseason. It also could not fit head coach Quin Snyder’s philosophy any better, and it’s the reason he should be named the 2017-18 NBA Coach of the Year. The style Snyder has instilled into this Jazz team is the very definition of selfless. Making the extra pass is routine for them. Despite playing at the 6th slowest pace in the NBA, the Jazz are 7th in passes made per game with 319.
We’ve heard the narratives for Snyder throughout the year. Despite losing 5 of his 7 top scorers from 2016-17, he’s guided his team to the same seed in consecutive years in the Western Conference. Utah has achieved its successes this year despite a franchise cornerstone missing almost a third of the season. The defensive system he’s built has played right into Rudy Gobert’s strengths, making him the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year. Here are 3 more things I’ve noticed this season about the way Quin Snyder coaches that make him the right man at the helm for the Jazz.
How many coaches in the NBA have the trust in their players to completely hand the reins of their offense over to a rookie? Granted, Donovan Mitchell’s play this season and the makeup of the Jazz locker room has made that call easier to make, but it’s not an easy thing to do. For the first month of the season, Mitchell struggled offensively. His shot wasn’t falling and he was struggling to finish at the rim. Instead of taking more pressure off of his rookie, Quin Snyder saw through to his potential.
The result was something you just don’t see from rookies in the NBA. At 28.8 percent, Mitchell’s usage rate was 23rd highest in the league. He had a net rating of 6.4. Here’s a list of players that at least matched Mitchell’s usage rate and net rating in the 2017-18 regular season: Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, James Harden, Kevin Durant, DeMar DeRozan and Victor Oladipo. That’s a star studded lineup, and Mitchell was able to join it primarily because he’s unbelievably talented, but also because his coach trusted him to play through some rough patches.
Patience and Development
Let’s talk for a minute about the Jazz’s starting lineup. When Utah acquired Ricky Rubio in a trade, the talk started about how to best utilize his talents. The presumed starting lineup was to include Rubio, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert. “You can’t start Rubio with two other non-shooters,” they said. “You need to be able to space the court,” they said.
For a while, they were right. From the beginning of the season to the end of December, the Jazz’s starting lineup of Rubio, Mitchell, Ingles, Favors and Gobert was the 12th worst five-man lineup in the NBA with a net rating of -27.5 points per 100 possessions. Of those bottom 12 lineups, they had spent the most time on the court by far with 96 minutes. It was time to break it up. The Rubio experiment wasn’t working. His turnovers were off the charts and the offense was awful. If Snyder had opted to cave and change up his strategy, no one would’ve blamed him. Most of us would have thanked him, myself included.
I was so excited to see Ricky Rubio in a Jazz uniform this year. 35 games in and I'm kind of done with the experience. He doesn't even look like the same player in Minnesota.— Kaleb Searle (@k_searle87) December 27, 2017
Instead, Quin stuck to his guns. Rubio’s midseason development took off as he grew in Snyder’s system. Utah’s starting five became one of the best lineups in the league. From January 23 to the end of the season (during Utah’s unprecedented turnaround), they had a net rating of 22.1, good for 5th in the league among lineups that played at least 100 minutes together over that span. Turns out, Quin Snyder is smarter than I am.
Quin Snyder sticks up for his guys. He also makes certain to do it in such a way as to not hurt the team. No more was that on display than during the Jazz’s 94-80 win over the Orlando Magic on March 5. After the most recent of a game-long series of questionable officiating, and with 53 seconds remaining in the game, Snyder stormed onto the court to have a word with the officials. He glanced up to the scoreboard to check time and score before proceeding to get tossed and having to be restrained by players and assistant coaches. His point was made and at no detriment to his team. The game was in hand.
These are just a few of the things that make Quin Snyder my 2018 NBA Coach of the Year. You don’t have to take my word for it. The national media has taken note of Quin Snyder’s performance this year, and he’s made his way into a number of articles discussing who should go home with this year’s award.
Gobert is the keystone to Utah’s absurd defense, but Snyder has instituted an impenetrable, mathematically sound scheme around him. He has made the most of Gobert. Lesser coaches have failed greater talents.
There are a lot of layers to Snyder’s Coach of the Year candidacy, but the simple reality is this: He lost a franchise centerpiece in Gordon Hayward to free agency in July, trusted a rookie in Donovan Mitchell with the ball a few months later, leaned on big man Rudy Gobert along the way, and now has the Jazz within just a few wins of their 51-32 mark in 2016-17 (they have 48 wins with one game to go).
He would deserve to win COY just because of the way the Jazz have exceeded expectations this season, but this award has been a few years in the making for Snyder, who has quietly turned Utah into one of the most consistent franchises in the NBA.
For all the hoopla around the wizardry of Stevens, Snyder’s dark magic has made as much of an impact on this year’s playoff picture. He’s turned a roster without a single All-Star into a team no one wants to face in the playoffs.
Utah has a storied history of being ignored for this award. It’s time for that to end. Quin Snyder has done an incredible job this season and he deserves the nod. I leave you with this, for good measure:
(All stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats)