SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder more or less brushed away a question about his team’s offensive efficiency. The Jazz may have scored 92 points in three quarters while their main rotation players were in and may have once again displayed the ball movement that has led to so many open shots.
But following Monday's 128-115 loss to the Kings, that didn't concern Snyder.
Snyder wants to score, no doubt, but he was focused on the other end — the one where the Jazz allowed the Kings to score 78 points just in the first half alone.
“We just got to be more determined on the defensive end,” Snyder said.
So what’s happened to a team that has been consistently one of the top three NBA defenses over the past few years?
Is it just a learning curve as the new additions adjust to playing in Snyder’s system? Is it an intensity issue with it just being the preseason? Or is there a real concern that the Jazz have a problem on their hand?
“I don't know that you just flip something overnight,” Snyder said. “You know, I think it's a process. But the urgency I think has to be there. You saw some third quarter; that's the same team. So when we came out in the second half, that’s the way we have to play. It takes work. It requires focus. And we have to make every possession important.”
After being carved up in the first half, the Jazz buckled down to start the second. They gave up just 23 points in the third quarter and for a while made things competitive. It was a noticeable shift in intensity and in aggression — and that might have been the biggest positive that came out of Monday’s game.
“It was polar opposites in many respects,” Snyder said. “The fact that you touch it, you have to know why — what are the things that allowed us to play the way we did? Is it because we were behind? That the team put up that many points in the first half worry? It bothers you. I mean, I like the fact that it bothered us.”
But, that said, Snyder said it needs to bother his team right from the beginning. It can't take being down big or getting pushed around for the team to respond. And also, the Jazz still need to get used to playing together.
The offensive chemistry has quickly come together. The same can't be said on the defensive end.
“A lot of it is still figuring each other out still,” Donovan Mitchell said. “We have it. You saw it in the second half.”
It also just might just be a preseason thing. Last year, Mike Conley’s Memphis Grizzlies finished the preseason 26th in defensive rating — by the end of the season, Memphis was a top 10 defense. But that's also not super common.
“Who knows?” Rudy Gobert said. “It's always hard to judge preseason.”
Gobert wasn’t at his best on Monday. If that changes, so do the Jazz. Maybe that's why the two-time Defensive Player of the Year could almost calmy talk about the subpar defensive performance without feeling like he was too worried.
“I’m not concerned,” Gobert said. “The second half was better. I think from now on every game will be better.”
But even he realizes that the Jazz won't just magically turn around once the regular season rolls around.
"We don’t want to be thinking that we’re just going to flip a switch and all of sudden we’re going to be the top defensive team in the league,” Gobert said. “We got to keep grinding.”
With only one more preseason game before things start to count in the standings, they’ll have to grind quickly. Utah will finish off preseason play on Wednesday at home against Portland. That game might just reveal how far Utah has still to go.
“We talk about teams jelling and all those things and you tend to think about offense and timing,” Snyder said on Sunday. “I think with our group as much as anything, it’s going to be a challenge defensively. Guys are coming from different systems and played a certain way. The communication is different, different personnel, learning to play with Rudy and what that means, so I think we are a work in progress.”