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SALT LAKE CITY — The Jazz held their first official practice of the season Tuesday morning, giving media the chance to ask questions to Dante Exum, George Hill, and Quin Snyder. The team is holding two practices per day for the next week, at 10 a.m and 5 p.m. Overall, I counted 38 people on the two courts at ZBBC, including 20 players, and a big coaching and staff presence.
Here's what we learned today.
Alec Burks' health
The biggest surprise of the media session was the word about Alec Burks' health. Burks had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and ankle on June 7, but was "expected to be ready prior to the start of 2016-17 Jazz training camp," according to the team at that time.
Now, though, Burks is still limited in practice. Here's the full quote from head coach Snyder on where Burks' health currently stands:
"He's making really good progress. We're doing the same thing with Alec that we did with Dante. I think Dennis had a really good way of putting it, 'We're going to focus on the next 12 years over the next 12 months.' It's true with Alec. We just want to get him where he's comfortable and confident, and now's the right time to do that. He's going through everything that we're doing except he's not involved in contact stuff. I feel like he's getting more comfortable. And it's going to be the same thing where he's going to have to dust it off and get his timing back and get his habits back. But really everybody's in the same place with the habits."
Snyder was asked whether Burks will be ready for contact by the beginning of the season.
"I would think so, you know? It's kinda the same thing, those guys (the Jazz's medical staff) will tell me. From what I'm told and what I see, there's good progress, especially in the last week or so. I think it gets to a point where we're going to see it go quicker. But maybe not. I don't know exactly, but that would be my hope."
The uncertainty is surprising, given how confident Alec sounded in media day Monday. Then, he said that he was much more comfortable than he was at the end of last season, when he made a cameo appearance in the Jazz's final few games.
We'll try to get more of a feel for where Burks' health stands, and when he'll be healthy, in practice Wednesday.
Dante Exum is back
Dante Exum's return will continue to be a top storyline in training camp, and Exum was asked a few more questions Tuesday about the comeback.
First, though, was getting something out of the way:
"I was really excited for my first full practice in God knows how long," said Exum. When asked if he's ever been more enthusiastic about a practice, he said, "No, never in my life."
Exum spoke about how difficult it was to miss games, to sit on the sidelines while his team played and practiced. At the time, he wanted to return faster than the Jazz's protocol slated, but he's singing a different tune now.
"Yeah, I realize now that I made the right decision in trusting the Jazz in the rehab process."
And it seems like he'll be a more aggressive player in games, too. After avoiding the key more than any other point guard in the league for most of his rookie season, he says that's changing.
"I got in the paint multiple times this session during the scrimmages. The biggest thing for me once I get in the paint is trying to finish. And once I get back down and get back up."
And when he does stay out on the perimeter, he says he's a much better shooter than before the injury. "Oh yeah. 100 percent."
Of course, there's still more work to do.
"It's trying to get that arc and stop missing short, that's probably my biggest problem. Dennis Lindsey's talked to me a lot about preparing to for the shot before it comes, so if I'm in the corner, being ready and down to shoot the ball once it comes. Once I've done that, it's about shooting a high percentage and doing it consistently."
He'll get a chance to show it off in games next Monday. In the mean time though, his teammates seem to be fans.
"I like the kid a lot," Hill said.
I asked Snyder about what the biggest questions on his mind are for this training camp. What does he want to learn about his team?
"I talked about the connectivity, and that's really been the thing that's most on my mind, and how quickly we find that defensively," Snyder said. "It's not a tattoo. It's something that washes off and you have to keep putting it back on."
Offensively, the connectivity concept works too. Snyder wants to find pairs and groups of players that connect well on offense, and have matching strengths that add up to more than the sum of their parts. That's going to be a learning process, of course, and something he'll try to experiment with during the six preseason games.
"A lot of the questions we get about depth and playing time and minutes, those things to me are all positive," Snyder says. With so many quality players competing for minutes, though, "I'm going to make a bad decision, and hopefully I'll make as little of them as I can."
How to become better at rebounding
Snyder went into more depth about the importance of rebounding to the team. Last year, the Jazz were generally a good defensive rebounding team, ranked seventh in the league in the percentage of opponent misses they were collecting. In clutch situations, though, they were the third worst.
"I want to rebound better. I want to defensive rebound better. We've spent a lot of time looking at film and figuring out ways we can do that better, particularly at the end of games," Snyder said.
So what does the team need to do better on the glass?
"First of all, it's an awareness and urgency. There are times when our bigs are staying connected to a man or coming over without needing to. Our smalls rebounding better. Gordon's been a good rebounder, collectively, we've gotta be good rebounders. We've just got to pursue the ball more. And then some of the communication that goes with the system. And then when we switch, are we rebounding, because then assignments change a little bit. It's a little bit of everything, but I'd like to see it become even more of a strength."
One last note
Snyder mentioned this, but didn't go into much detail. Jazz fans have long lamented the Jazz's struggles in transition, even though the efficiency numbers actually aren't all that bad. But it looked ugly at times, and Snyder knows there are points to be picked up.
"We're going to play more pick and roll in transition," Snyder said. I think that makes sense with some of the different personnel we have in the point and the four too."
Hill is great in transition, and the Jazz could do some fun things at pick and roll with small fours or big screeners like Boris Diaw. Today in practice, Exum said they did some work with 14 second shot clocks, trying to get a feel for how these various combinations will play together on the floor. Of course, Snyder and company will know more after two more practices tonight and tomorrow morning. We'll check in then.