Spurs vs. Jazz Give-and-Go Preview
Spencer Hall, Salt City Hoops: First of all, congratulations to the Spurs on that win over OKC last night. What a game. Relatedly, I love the NBA.
Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: Yeah, it was a helluva a way to start of the season. My first question for you, what’s the mood surrounding this Jazz team this year and how did they react to the loss to the Spurs in the playoffs last year?
SH: There’s more excitement this year than I can remember since probably 2008. Obviously the Jerry Sloan departure and the D-Will trade were tough on the fans, so it’s impressive to see how quickly the Jazz were able to re-gain their fans.
As for the Spurs loss, it was tough to take, especially because it seemed like the Jazz were happy to be there and didn’t put up much of a fight. But that’s a distant memory and seems like it gave a lot of motivation to the players to work extra hard this summer.
By the way, I lived in San Antonio for most of 2005 and went to a lot of Spurs games. It’s a great place to watch a game.
AM: You know, I was thinking about this yesterday driving down to SA for the game. I was listening to Brian Scalabrine on the BS Report and he mentioned how good the crowd is at the AT&T Center. I think they don’t always get credit for being a good crowd. His point was that they’re not constantly rowdy like an Oklahoma City crowd, but they recognize the big moments and respond appropriately. They get loud for a Spurs run and when the opposing team is forced into a timeout, they are able to sustain that enthusiasm through the timeout and into the start of play, where other crowds might die down some. It was interesting hearing that from a former player.
That said, the location of the AT&T Center sucks.
From what you’ve seen in this (very, very) early season, do you expect the Jazz to be a playoff team again?
SH: Yeah, my prediction is 48 wins and the 6th seed in the West. I made that pick under the assumption that Dallas was going to disappoint, but they looked great against the Lakers and in the first half against the Jazz before they ran out of gas. I don’t think Minnesota is going to do much. Houston is looking intriguing. I like the new Jeremy Lin / James Harden thing.
But as for the Jazz, everyone is in great shape (other than the injured Earl Watson and the absent Raja Bell, of course) and the bench is as deep as any in the league. They don’t have a superstar, but they have injury insurance and can push the ball all day and not get worn out.
The new uptempo style is jarring–just because we aren’t used to that from the Jazz, but it’s fun to watch Mo Williams push the ball and everybody getting out on the fast break. It’s definitely a new look for the Jazz.
AM: We can only hope that the next couple of years feature up-tempo play from the Jazz and Spurs and slow-it-down, boring play from the likes of the Phoenix Suns.
SH: Ha ha, seriously. How crazy was it to see a final from the GSW-PHX game in the 70s the other day?
Can you tell me more about Jerry Sloan’s meetings with the Spurs? Those pictures sent chills through Jazzdom.
AM: That’s just something Gregg Popovich likes to do. Pop doesn’t like people, for the most part, but he likes other basketball coaches and has a lot of respect for many of them, maybe none more so than Sloan. So Pop likes to bring in other coaches who aren’t active to stop by the practice facility, watch the team workout. Have some chats and toss in any advice, that sort of thing. It never hurts to have another pair of eyes every now and then.
SH: Very cool.
AM: Pop does it a lot with coaches who are seem down on their luck. I remember Kelvin Sampson coming by when he was fired by Indiana. Ettore Messina was in San Antone for a few days when he left Real Madrid. Jeff Capel was there when he left Oklahoma. He probably thought Sloan might be bored and want to scratch that itch for a couple of days.
SH: Quin Snyder…
AM: Yeah. Hell, they even gave Snyder a job for a few seasons.
SH: That’s impressive. The San Antonio Reclamation Machine has some great hits. It’s the coaching equivalent of making a star out of Stephen Jackson.
AM: I think that’s an underrated aspect of the Spurs’ system. They’ve done some great things internally, but they’ve had the foundation to help out a lot of others who have gone on to be opponents of the Spurs. Hell, most the league’s GMs are former Spurs front office folks.
You’re welcome for Dennis Lindsey, by the way.
SH: It’s really true. The Spurs are basically running the front office intern program for the league these days. And thank you for Dennis Lindsey. You’re welcome for Scott Layden.
AM: So what’s the story on Derrick Favors this season? Is he going to get a little more freedom to be destructive? In the Spurs’ first two playoff series last year, Favors in the first round and Eric Bledsoe in the second were two that gave the Spurs fits, and neither seemed to play as much as they should’ve.
SH: Rotations are the biggest questions around the Jazz this season. Favors started slow this preseason and is only recently starting to seem like he’s picking up where he left off. He worked out in Santa Barbara all summer and seemed to put on more weight than he expected. I think he’s been struggling to get his rhythm.
But yeah, we’ve all seen how great he can be when he’s rolling. The Jazz are going to have to make some tough decisions if Favors and Kanter continue to show that they can be big minute guys. Last year, Favors was the one who seemed to have the biggest potential, but Kanter has been a beast so far. No one saw his transformation coming.
AM: Yeah Kanter was quiet last season. What did he improve on for this season, outside of body composition?
SH: His speed and agility are on another level, too. He’s close with Al Jefferson and has shown confidence stepping out for 15-17 foot jumpers–something we never saw last year. He’s also learned to have patience in the post and has shown himself to be a great passer out of the double team. The fact that he’s even drawing double teams is amazing, too.
AM: How much of a pick-and-roll/pop threat is Kanter?
SH: Not much yet, just because his role is limited right now and he mostly gets his points off rebounds and put-backs. But he’s shown that he’s at least capable and confident to shoot the jumper off the pick-and-pop.
AM: Tell me about Gordon Hayward. I’ve been hearing good things about him on the Intertubes heading into this season. How could can he be this season?
SH: Hayward has been a revelation for nearly everybody following the team. He’s shown that he has a nearly complete game (with room for improvement, of course) as a capable scorer and a solid defender. He usually draws the most difficult defensive assignment, which few predicted when he was drafted. Hayward’s only limitations are self-imposed. He has a tendency to defer to teammates and to try to fit in and be a good contributor, rather than a takeover/go-to guy. That’s starting to change, though.
I’ve noticed a new confidence in Hayward this year. I think he’s finally feeling comfortable as a veteran and feeling like he can impose his will or make demands without causing problems on the team. I think he’s hyper-aware about earning respect and not having anything handed to him. Which is respectable, but doesn’t give him the killer instinct we’d all like to see. It’s coming, though. He’s very competitive and works very hard on his game.
He’s also on the US Select team, so he’s no surprise to the people who make decisions about the best players in the country.
AM: What about Jeremy Evans? This preseason he turned in one of the greatest 15 seconds of individual basketball I’ve ever seen, but is he going to get off the pine or will he be joining Nando De Colo on the Garbage Time All-Stars?
SH: Speaking of Nando De Colo, I love how the Spurs are basically suiting up the French National Team this season. But yeah, there just isn’t any room for Jeremy Evans to be much more than a high-flying victory cigar and a guy who catches a lot of lobs on in-bounds plays. It’s a shame, too, because he’s fun to watch and probably has a lot of room to grow if he were given the time. No one is quite sure what Evans and Alec Burks have to do to get some playing time.
AM: If Tim Varner had it his way, the Spurs would’ve traded Stephen Jackson for Nico Batum in a sign-and-trade and signed Alexis Ajinca this summer. Thank goodness Varner doesn’t make decisions in San Antonio. Of course, that was before Summer League and we realized Ajinca has no basketball skills whatsoever.
SH: Ha ha, I like it.
BRING IN ALL THE PIETRII (is that the proper plural for Pietrus?)
AM: I don’t think anyone has ever wanted to find out what the plural of Pietrus is. One is enough.
So back to Saturday night’s game. Are the Jazz going to be quick to start this season thanks to some continuity?
SH: Yes. But the new additions to the team are making a strong mark. Mo Williams and Marvin Williams and Randy Foye were the team leaders in the first game against the Mavs. All newcomers. The Jazz have talked about being newly committed to the 3-ball, too. Which would have been a good direction to go back when they employed Kyle Korver.
The Jazz will be on the second night of a back-to-back on the road in San Antonio, though. I don’t expect great things. I do, however, expect a strong start to the season–mostly due to conditioning and the experience Jefferson/Millsap/Hayward.
One last question. How is Scott Layden being received?
AM: So far, so good. I’m unclear as to what exactly his role is as assistant GM, but he seems pretty well-respected around the team and he’s a friendly face at the arena. We’re a long way removed from the FI-RE LAY-DEN chants at the NBA Draft.
SH: Yeah, he got thrown under the bus out there in NYC. He’s a great guy; hopefully the SA Reclamation Project continues and it all works out for him.
AM: I think it’s a pretty safe bet that it will.