Film and ballrooms: How the Jazz are trying to make up for a lack of practice time due to pandemic restrictions

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SALT LAKE CITY — It's something Rudy Gobert never thought he'd say: "Today was great to have a shootaround."

That's not because Gobert has a newfound love of the morning ritual before games, it's because of how rare such occurrences have been this season. In fact, any time on the court together this season outside of games has been few and far between.

The Utah Jazz last had a full practice on Dec. 30. Their next one, hopefully, won't be until Jan. 12. For a team that has dropped two games in a row, sit 18th in defensive rating and 17th in offensive rating heading into Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks (6 p.m. MT), that does seem to pose some issues.

"I really feel like we need that time to get extra shots up to just be able to be together outside of a game, work on plays, working on old habits defensively, offensively and prepare for tonight and for the future game," Gobert said. "So it's great that we're able to have one and hopefully we can have many more."

But the fact is, with COVID-19 restrictions, time on the court will be limited this season. In each state, pandemic mandates are different, meaning teams might not have access to gyms to practice. Players also have to await test results in order to practice together. That all makes regular practice time, if not impossible at least improbable.

So what are the Jazz doing to make up for it?

"There's just got to be other ways to get better. The most obvious one I think is film, whether that be watching collectively as a group," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.

It's common for Snyder to use different sports to help explain things. He references baseball and football often in his answers to questions from the media — and sometimes both in the same monologue. He has pulled a bit from the gridiron to try and help the Jazz get through a strange season.

Position groups (guards, wings, bigs) have watched film together, much like how football teams do; and different combinations of players have met together to study. Gobert and Mike Conley's added chemistry in the pick-and-roll this season has been a result of the two players going over tape with each other.

"I think this year is gonna be more geared towards film, and being able to take what you can from that and apply it," Conley said. "It's going to be unique; it's going to be a unique season and we have to be able to adjust to that. We have to be able to sit there and be able to watch film for one or two hours in the morning, walk through it in a ballroom and be able to translate that as fast as we can to game action."

Without time to run through things regularly on the hardwood, those adjustments might take longer than would be normal. It turns out, walking through a play in a hotel ballroom is a little different than seeing it on the court. That makes any practice or shootaround time that much more valuable.

"Practice time becomes: you really have to look at what you're trying to accomplish and what your priorities are," Snyder said. "And I think that prioritization is also something that is in the forefront of your mind when you go practice."

Sometimes that prioritization can be as simple as shooting the ball more. The Jazz are shooting just 32% from the 3-point line in their last two games. Having time in the morning to get more shots up may be just what they need.

"The players having an opportunity to really touch up and polish the things that they do and shoot the ball," Snyder said. "There's so many games and finding that comfort level with less time is something that we try to be mindful of."

As for the players, it's strange not to have as much practice time or shootaround. They don't feel they've mastered it yet — and with a 4-4 record, fans sure hope they haven't — but they have confidence that will come with time.

"It's an adjustment but it's something that we will get better at," Conley said.

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