As a Michigan alum, the Utah Jazz will be among the teams that I'm particularly interested in watching because they drafted former Wolverines star Trey Burke.
Unfortunately, I haven't had much chance to watch Burke or the Jazz this season, but I know that the second-year guard's shooting percentages don't look too hot on paper. So to get some insight on my personal player of interest and the team as a whole in advance of tonight's game I emailed the manager of SB Nation's Utah Jazz site, Amar. With all the downtime for the Warriors this week, we were able to have a bit of an extended exchange.
So without using up more words in your morning, the Q&A:
GSoM: Both of our teams are experiencing a new coach this season, albeit for very different reasons. On Utah's end, what is the most noticeable difference between Quin Snyder and Ty Corbin? Are there any specific ways that Snyder has aided in Gordon Hayward's hot start?
Amar: For me the most noticeable difference between the two is how they got here. Tyrone Corbin was a player at DePaul, who never went to the Final Four. (They were even a #1 seed in his Junior year.) He was good enough to make it to the NBA where he bounced around, but still held on for 16 years. He was frequently cut, waived, or traded away to make room for younger players. Right out of the league he was a mentor in the NBA-DL, then got a job as a development coach with the New York Knicks, then was on Jerry Sloan's coaching staff for 7 seasons before a battlefield promotion made him a head coach. You have to say that he paid his dues, getting rejected from a number of head coaching jobs before landing one with the Jazz. But you also have to say that Corbin got the job because Jerry Sloan retired, and Phil Johnson (the top assistant) also retired, and that Corbin was just a little bit more senior on the staff than Jeff Hornacek.
Quin Snyder never made it to the NBA as a player, but he was the point guard for Duke and helped them to three final fours in his time there. He doesn't have the 16 year resume of playing in the NBA, but he used that time to do other things - like getting a JD degree and MBA from Duke WHILE being an assistant coach there under Coach K. Snyder would be an assistant coach under Larry Brown, Mike Krzyzewski, Gregg Popovich (tangentially), Doug Collins, Mike Brown, Ettore Messina, and Mike Budenholzer. The Jazz job isn't his first ever head coaching job because he previously was the head coach of Missouri's NCAA program and the Spurs NBA-DL program. Lastly, and most importantly, the Jazz selected Snyder after a coaching search. In the case of Corbin they handed him the job because the first guy who they offered it to (Phil Johnson) said "no thanks" and the situation was in the middle of the season.
Head Coaches like Stan Van Gundy and Tom Thibodeau help dispel the myth that to be a good NBA coach you need to have first been an NBA player. Similarly, you could argue that the case of Tyrone Corbin exists as the null hypothesis for that idea. Ty got the job because he was more senior than Jeff Hornacek. Quin got the job because of years and years of coaching experience on his resume.
Everything has changed, from how they view film, how the assistant coaches scout the other team, to the Xs and Os, to how he actually has developed an off-the-court relationship with his players. It's clear that he had to get Gordon Hayward to buy-into the Jazz ‘program' after his contract offer from the Charlotte Hornets was matched. Snyder's offense is a little bit Duke, a little bit Spurs. And as a former point guard you would feel the emphasis would be on Trey Burke and Dante Exum. He's had to change things up in order to feature Hayward. And it shows. Hayward is happier off the court, happier on the court, and playing better. It's night and day from when Tyrone Corbin was then one forcing him to make entry passes to Al Jefferson and then run away to the other side of the court.
GSoM: You've already made the case that Hayward is playing at an All-Star level, but what is his most impressive improvement from last year to this year? And is all of this as surprising to you as it is to me?
Amar: I wish it was just one thing, but he seems to have really taken his game to the next level all over the court. I guess, really, what it boils down to is assertiveness.
Klay Thompson vs. Gordon Hayward: Who's better?
Both signed new deals before the season began. Both have lived up to it, and more, in the early going. Which one is the better player?
Last season he had the ball in his hands quite a bit; however, it was within the idea of being a playmaker -- which with an easy to defend offense meant that he was left with the ball in his hands at the end of the shot clock (and that accounts for his 3PT% dip, to say the least...). In the offseason, he was a part of the Team USA Basketball camp and recognized as one of the best wings in the nation. He has taken his experiences from the summer to the Jazz, and his new found confidence at the NBA level is reminiscent of that giant killing David, to Duke's Goliath back in the NCAA Championship game.
Last season he was a 16/5/5/1 player, and that's pretty much what you'd want from a second banana. I have been surprised with his play as the first option this year, scoring +3.0 ppg while taking the same number of FGA per game. Honestly, I thought he would be better this year than last year, but his play has blown me away at times. This was the potential Jazz fans expected years ago in the early 2000s when they got an Isiah Thomas managed New York Knicks first round draft pick -- you knew the Knicks would somehow be screwed out of a good player. And years later it looks like that prophecy is coming true.
GSoM: You mentioned Dante Exum, who was an intriguing draft prospect back in June. How is he fitting in through 12 games and what are some of the strengths/weaknesses that might show up against the Warriors?
Amar: Dante Exum is learning on the fly. What we love about the teen is that he actually seems to understand higher-level basketball.
If he is out of position on defense, a common sin for most rookies, it happens so infrequently that no one even notices. He knows how to run a team, and how to be a part of a team that is running well. He makes the extra pass with as much pep as he would make a pass for an assist. But more than anything, I am impressed with his defensive instincts. It's something not many young players have, especially those who should be so focused on their offensive ability. He uses his length and athleticism to make wow plays (like cutting to the basket to get a two handed jam in traffic), but where it all comes together is on defense - it's a sight for sore eyes for someone who had to watch John Lucas III, Jamaal Tinsley, Mo Williams, and others man the PG spot the last few years.
There are weaknesses to his game, and one of the biggest ones is that he is very deferential on the court. He will pass up open shots, and decide not to take his man off the bounce; but instead pull back and set up a play. It is frustrating because he had the athleticism that has no rivals in Jazz point guard history.
GSoM: As for Trey Burke, I'm a Michigan fan - tell me good things about him (even though I very selfishly wish he had stayed in school longer). His shooting percentages ... leave something to be desired... but there has to be a justification for this right because Michigan men are the leaders and best...?
Amar: Go Blue! I'm all about Michigan, while I did not attend me and many of my family were involved with either their hospital or athletic department. As a result, I am clearly very subjective about Trey Burke. Trey's had a crazy last two and a half years of his life. From being the next Mr. Big Shot and leading his Wolverines to the NCAA Championship game all the way down to a leaked ‘dick pic' of his floating around the internet. His summer leagues are bad, and in training camp last year got an injury to his shooting hand that required surgery (performed in Utah from another UofM alumni). Three Rookie of the Month awards, and one All-Star Weekend skills contest win later, he was primed for a big season this year. His preseason numbers screamed star.
It just didn't happen yet, and I blame his shooting slump.
As a point guard this is the third different offense (and third head coach) in three years. There are many factors that we can point to that kind of absolve his poor play. But he's doing other things he does on the court besides miss open jumpers. He's getting steals this year, he continues to find guys in scoring position, and he is emerging as a leader. When his shot starts to fall he will look every bit like the player he was drafted to be.
GSoM: Favors is a guy off to a good start who we haven't mentioned just yet and you've recently written about him as well. What new elements of his game might now up against the Warriors compared to the past?
Amar: He is more patient on offense, he has a face up jumper, and does not panic as much if he is left open. Part of that is maturing on offense, the other part is just that he's been here before. This is his fifth year in the NBA and his second as a starter. For years we waited for his offense to catch up to his defense. It seems to be happening now this season. I have been particularly impressed with his play late in games and during clutch moments, like when he calmly knocked down two free throws in a close game against the New York Knicks. I don't think the Favors of a few seasons ago does that.
Defensively he's learned to get stops without being a foul risk. That allows him to stay in the game longer because he's not in overt foul trouble. It's a start. He's still only 23 years old. I'm good with that.
For far more on the Jazz, check out SLC Dunk.