The Utah Jazz have been a successful organization throughout their storied history. From the John Stockton and Karl Malone days, they have never been a team to be taken lightly. However, they appear to have reinvented themselves in the last five or so years. The blueprint for their success? None other than the San Antonio Spurs.
Both of these teams are considered smaller market teams. This usually means they are harder to get players to commit to, especially in free agency. This usually means that these smaller market teams are not able to have continued, consistent success year in and year out. So, with this in mind, how is it that the Spurs have been so successful, and now, the Jazz are emulating their system?
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is arguably the greatest coach in the history of the NBA. He has always tried to stay ahead of the curve with his game plans. He won championships using the slow-paced offense of Tim Duncan at the start of his career coupled with David Robinson at the end of his. When this did not work, Popovich won championships on the back of Tony Parker running a fast-paced offense. Each time his game style was different to the NBA norm.
The common denominator of these different eras of Spurs basketball is no player was bigger than the team. Likewise in Utah, coach Quinn Snyder has been able to instill this same mentality into his team. Snyder has managed to weather the loss of franchise player Gordon Hayward who left through free agency at the end of the 2017-18 season and is still having success. He has done this through keeping his players engaged with the team’s identity.
Both coaches have also instilled in their team an almost manic defensive mentality. Since his time in the Air Force Academy, Popovich has understood that defense is the most important aspect of basketball. Good defense creates great offense, that is just common sense basketball. As such, the Spurs have been one of the hardest teams to score on in the last 20 years.
Likewise, Snyder has his team at the top of the NBA in least points allowed year after year. The identity of the Utah Jazz for a long time is that they are incredibly difficult to score against. They have built the success around Rudy Gobert, aka the Stifle Tower. They have a series of long wing players who also make it tough to score on from the perimeter.
When naming the winningest trio in NBA history, only one of these players is American, Tim Duncan. The other two are Manu Ginobili (Argentina) and Tony Parker (France). Other notable international players for the Spurs over their successful years are Patty Mills (Australia), Marco Belinelli (Italy), Pau Gasol (Spain), Aron Baynes (Australia) and Boban Marjanovic (Serbia) to name a few.
If you look at the current Jazz roster, you will see six international players. Three of these players, Rudy Gobert (France), Ricky Rubio (Spain) and Joe Ingles (Australia) are starters. The other major contributors on the roster who are international players are Thabo Sefolosha (Switzerland), Dante Exum (Australia) and Raul Neto (Brazil).
Both of these franchises realize that players from other countries have so much to offer any team they play on. As such are willing to take risks during the draft to take players others have passed on who have learned their basketball outside the college system.
Role players into borderline stars
One of the many secrets to unlocking the ability to be a good coach is to get the best out of each and every player on your roster. During their championship campaigns, the Spurs have been able to turn players like Bruce Bowen and Marco Belinelli into borderline stars by utilizing their singular talent for the good of the team. Bowen was hopeless offensively, but locked his player down defensively. Belinelli was the same on offense.
Likewise, the Jazz have been able to make their role players look like stars. Joe Ingles is about the most awkward and ungainly looking basketball player on the planet. He was basically signed when Dante Exum was drafted to help acclimatize Exum. Ingles has then gone on to become a starter, often in the top five in the NBA in 3-point shooting.
Rudy Gobert is very limited offensively, only shooting well at the rim. However, his defense is the start of so much of the Jazz offense and Snyder makes sure his defensive stopper is engaged on offense thanks to the constant supply of ball at the rim. It is this ability to utilize the singular talents of their players that make these organizations successful.
Both of these organizations have a ‘next man up’ mentality. Their system is so ingrained in all of their players both teams are able to absorb multiple injuries and still be incredibly competitive. If they stick to what they know, the Utah Jazz will be successful for years. Their culture demands it.