Proof is in the paperwork, a new grading system that has Jazz players seeing first-hand just how well — or poorly — they're doing on defense.
At the head of the class — consistently so far this season, often by no small margin — has been swingman Wesley Matthews, Utah's starting shooting guard as of the last eight games, a stretch in which, perhaps not coincidentally, the 9-7 Jazz have gone 6-2.
"He's come out on top of it, over everybody," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said.
No coincidence, either.
Matthews relishes defense, something the undrafted rookie says is carryover from his days at Marquette University — where, for the record, he also was an 18.3 points-per-game scorer at the Milwaukee school.
"What is it? You dance with the girl you brought, or something like that?" Matthews said. "That (defense) is what I've always brought."
At Marquette, though, Matthews wasn't handed a report card after every game. Instead, coach Buzz Williams simply let his players hear loud and clear how they fared.
"Buzz was all about defense," Matthews said. "He just let us know."
Sloan's mentality is similar, and has been through his 22 seasons in Utah — which is why the new kid doesn't mind hogging gold stars.
"It's great," Matthews said, "because that's what he prides his teams on: their defense, and their ability to help one another."
The difference compared to college, and being new in Utah as of this season, is that players get their grades. Jefferson Sweeney — Jazz video coordinator, and master of all things digital — does the grading.
And no deed — good, or bad — goes unscored.
"It helps out," point guard Deron Williams said, "because every possession is documented. So if you want to go up look at it, you can (argue it). And they argue, too."
"It's everything," Matthews added. "It's boxing out, rotating, getting back on defense, stunts, just everything — everything that has do with defense, and not only individual, but team."
The scoring system evidently has created some actual interest in defense among Jazz veterans, so much one actually joked with Matthews on Sunday that he thought he deserved a better grade than he got in Saturday's win over Portland.
"Everybody looks at it ... and it's something we can take pride in," Matthews said, "because nobody likes to be scored on. Nobody likes messing up. Everybody wants to make the right play, and that's something that's nice to see, because you know where you're messing up, and everybody can kind of reflect on what happened."
That includes Sloan, whose personal grail is the perfect possession — or at least efforting all that goes into one.
"You have a chance to see what's happening, see where guys are making mistakes," said Sloan, who loves the new reports he's getting the morning after every game.
You can do (everything right) and they can still make the shot," he added. "But are we doing the right things?"
Matthews often does on the defensive end, which is why Sloan didn't shy from assigning him Saturday to Trail Blazers All-Star Brandon Roy. Tonight, he'll get either O.J. Mayo or Rudy Gay, either a challenge when the Memphis Grizzlies visit EnergySolutions Arena.
"Every night, he has a tough matchup — him and Ronnie Brewer (the ex-Jazz starting shooting guard now starting at small forward)," forward Carlos Boozer said. "They do a great job of being physical with their offensive player, making them work hard."
"That takes a lot of pressure off of Ronnie," Williams added, "so he doesn't have to guard the best player for the whole game."
Matthews wasn't entirely pleased with his work Saturday against Roy, saying, "He had 19, 17, something like that, so that's not that great."
It was 19, a smidgen below his season average — but the fact that only four of Roy's points came on 2-for-4 field shooting during an opening quarter in which the Jazz got off to an early 15-point lead helped them roll by the Blazers.
"I thought he did a great job on Roy, because Roy hit some tough shots," Williams said. "He (Matthews) does a good job of staying in front of his man, he does a good job of helping everybody else out, which is equally important."
"(Roy) is a prolific scorer," Boozer said. "So for (Matthews) to do a great job on a guy like that, we can count on him to do that same job on anybody."
"I think first it's the mindset, the willingness," Williams said. "You have to want to play defense, you have to want to stop people in order to be a good defender — because some of the best defenders weren't the best athletes. They just were determined to stop people."
Matthews suggests it's all about thinking defense first.
"Not I've got to hit this shot, I've got to make this play on offense," he said. "You have to be willing to put all your energy on defense, and then whatever happens on offense happens."
But Sloan lauds Matthews' physicality, balanced by a knack for avoiding fouls often called quickly on NBA rookies.
"He tries to guard guys. He tries to get up and take some of the slack up, so they don't have as much space," the Jazz coach said. "He works hard to get over screens, and that's a big thing about playing (shooting guard or small forward).
Every night you play, you're gonna have somebody running off of screens and you have get up and guard them; otherwise, you give them wide-opens shots, and most guys can make those shots."
"He's not afraid to use his body," Sloan added. "He sticks his chest out there. ... He looks like he kind of loves contact, so that's a real plus for him. ... He has the ability to stick his nose in."
Because he does, Matthews — until someone overtakes his place atop of the all-important report-card curve, if they indeed do — can hold his head high.
"They all want it," he said of teammates.
"I don't' want to give it up. There's a lot of pride that comes with it," Matthews said. "Everybody on this team is a competitor, and I'm going to try to stay on top as long as I can."
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