On December 21, 2011 I wrote my 5 Keys for the Utah Jazz and the Fans in 2011-2012 post where I discussed what the Jazz should do and the fans should expect to have at least the appearance of a successful season. Saturday’s game against the Lakers marks the 1/3 point of the season for the Jazz and now is as good of a time as any to check in and see where the Jazz stand.
If I’m being honest with myself, I did not foresee a 12-8 record after 20 games. If I was being truly optimistic, I would have bet at best a 10-10 record but more realistically an 8-12 record. Wins against Philadelphia, the Clippers, Denver, and Portland were unexpected. I would have expected a win against Toronto though. What I’ve learned through these first 22 games is several fold: 1 – Coach Ty Corbin is maximizing the talent and passion as well as any first-year coach I’ve ever seen. 2 – The Jazz play an exciting, fun, and team-oriented style of basketball that hasn’t been seen in Utah for years. 3 – They aren’t quite good enough yet they can just show up to some games and expect to win (a la Toronto.)
In my 5 Keys article I mentioned the first two points of no guarantees and youth and potential. I firmly believed this team belonged to the future and it would be best served by allowing the young players to play and learn and develop. The veterans have more than proven me wrong. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap have taken their games to a new level. Raja Bell has shown an interest in leading this team that was missing last season. And from what I’ve seen, Coach Corbin hasn’t conceded to any player that his playing time would be a certain amount night after night. He’s played the hot hand and let it roll. This team was all but done after the first four games and he pulled them together and got them passionate about basketball. He’s as deserving of a coach of the year award as any I’ve seen at this juncture of the season.
From 1 – 13 these guys play for each other. Some more than others, but I haven’t seen many plays where I could say a guy was playing selfish basketball (not even as much as I want to pin the negatives on CJ Miles.) The starters come out and get the game going but this team really gets fun when backup point guard Earl Watson gets into the game with the second unit and they go out and have fun. It’s interesting to me that Corbin refused to name a captain for this team at the start, instead opting to see how it turned out and 1/3 of the way through the season, he still hasn’t named one. To me that just shows how much this team plays for one another.
In close home losses to the Mavericks and Lakers (and recently the Clippers) plus wins against the Clippers, Nuggets, and Blazers I’ve learned that this team really is so much better than I ever thought they could be this season. In my post I also noted with points 4 and 5 that Corbin had to make something from nothing and show patience (that was also for the players and fans). I believe both these points have been satisfied to this point in the season. There is no super star on this team. As much as fans want to have Millsap on the all-star team, he’s not there. That isn’t to say he can’t be; he just isn’t yet. On the other side, we’ve witnessed some horrible games from the Jazz, namely the 1-3 start to the season and the recent loss at home to Toronto. The Jazz have shown an ability to close out teams in close games, but they haven’t done it to the cream of the crop yet. But it will come.
This team has had as easy of a start to a season as I can ever remember playing lower-echelon teams, playing 15 of its first 22 games in Salt Lake City with only one multi-game road stretch. February will put the screws to the Jazz and we will soon find out if this start is a result of a soft schedule or truly fantastic coaching combined with playing for each other. Winning heals a lot of things and conversely, losing can magnify it. It will be interesting to see how the team perceives itself once the losing piles up. If it piles up.
I’m confident this team can weather the storm. Sure, February is not going to be as much winning as January was, but this team will have a chance to really learn who they are. In the whole month, they don’t play 2 straight home games which almost make the home game feel like another road game. These guys will only have one another while on the road for most of the next month. Will they stand up and stare adversity down or wilt under the pressure when it comes.
Either way, I’ll be buckled up Jazz nation. Will you be there with me?