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Officials are letting contact go. How are the Jazz adjusting?

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder has had a season-long query for the league and its officials.

As a member of the competition committee, he's been privy to the conversations surrounding the new points of emphasis the league has tried — and for the most part succeeded — to eliminate what the committee deemed "unnatural movements." They're the type of movements where offensive players hook defenders and jump into players at awkward angles in order to generate contact.

Those changes have been a breath of fresh air to most players and fans, but Snyder's confusion comes from the officials' sudden allowance of other contact.

"I don't know at what point that league-wide we decided to allow more physicality," he said last weekend. "My impression is that there isn't a point of emphasis that says that you're able to divert handlers, knock people off their line, hit rollers; it's kind of contrary to the freedom of movement that we talked about a few years ago."

It wasn't the first time Snyder made such comments. Before a game in Milwaukee during the second week of the season, he made similar remarks about the state of how the game is being called. While it stands to reason the Jazz's motion offense would be impacted by the more physical play, the Jazz are actually the No. 1 offense in the league, despite having the 23rd best 3-point percentage.

While the lack of calls hasn't had that big of an impact on Utah's offense, it could be a big factor as to why Utah's transition defense has been awful.

How, exactly?

Donovan Mitchell averaged a career-high 6.0 free throws attempts last season; he's averaging a career-low 3.7 so far this year.

Mitchell said there are times when he feels a bump; and since he's expecting a call, he will go up for an off-balanced shot. It's something he's been taught for as long as he's played basketball — feel contact, try to get two free throws out of it. That habit, though, has been detrimental to his game this season.

"You are expecting it, so it turns into a bad shot or turns into a bad defensive possession on the other end," Mitchell said. "So whether they call it or don't call it, we have to be ready to get back on defense."

The Jazz have had the fourth-worst transition defense in the league, according to CleaningTheGlass. It's by far the only culprit, but searching for calls hasn't helped matters.

"As a league, we aren't getting them this year, so it's a matter of playing through it," Mitchell said. "Whether I feel it's a foul or not, they didn't call. So just being able to play through that physicality and have that aggressive mindset."

And then get back.

The Jazz aren't the only ones being impacted by the new trend. Portland's Damian Lillard has seen his free throws cut in half from 7.2 last season to 3.5 this year. Smaller guards just aren't getting the benefit of the doubt in the lane.

"I feel like the way the game is being officiated is unacceptable," Lillard said. "I don't want to go too deep into it so they make a big deal out of it, but the explanations, the (stuff) that's getting missed, I mean, come on. I felt like coming in the rule change wouldn't affect me, because I don't do the trick the referees, I don't do the trick plays, and it's just unacceptable."

But what do fans think? did a quick straw poll of 30 fans at the most recent Jazz game to try and gauge public opinion on the matter. The results of the very unscientific poll: 80% preferred the more physical play that was being allowed, and 20% said they hadn't noticed any difference; no one said they wanted more fouls to be called.

Though, it's fair to say, if Mitchell is bumped during a late-game situation and no whistle is blown, there will be 18,000-plus fans angrily booing at Vivint Arena. Context is important on these things.

Along with potentially altering games, players think the lack of calls may be leading to more scuffles — or fracases or brouhahas or whatever else you want to call them on the court. Mitchell put part of the blame for the Rudy Gobert-Myles Turner shoving and hugging match last week on the increased physicality.

"We are playing through contact. We are competitors," Mitchell said. "When you play through contact and talk (trash), at some point it's continuing to build. You can sense that and, I mean, you've got to draw a line early. I mean, otherwise you're gonna get situations like that."

On the play that sparked the tussle between Gobert and Turner, Gobert felt he was fouled as he rolled to the rim (he probably was). Turner was mad that there was no foul called when Gobert pulled him by the shorts to the ground (there definitely should have been). It was late in the game, emotions were high, and some extracurricular activity started.

Was a lack of calls the reason? Maybe, maybe not.

While Snyder openly wonders what has caused the officiating to be as different as it is, he's quick to say it's up to him and his players to play through it.

"We just emphasize to our guys over again to be strong," Snyder said. "Rather than focus on the things that you can't control, our focus needs to be on what we can control."


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