LAS VEGAS — Quin Snyder wasn’t around to hear it, but Rudy Gobert said something Friday night that might’ve made the new Utah Jazz head coach smile if he had been within earshot.
“We play with a pass,” Gobert said following the Jazz’s 75-73 NBA Summer League win over Portland at the Thomas & Mack Center. “That’s good for me.”
“Play with a pass” might seem like a short, simple phrase.
In essence, though, that small sample of Snyder terminology sums up the Jazz’s new offense.
The pass-heavy system, one that will attempt to replicate the 2014 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs' philosophy, was introduced in recent weeks for the summer squad and will be fully incorporated when the crew assembles in October.
That a younger player like 22-year-old Gobert is already mimicking his coach can only be considered a good sign.
That a team full of young players implemented their coach’s instructions during Summer League play is an even better sign.
“Hopefully we can get out in the floor and make plays for other people," said Snyder, who learned the Spurs' ways while coaching the team's D-League affiliate, the Austin Toros, from 2007-10. "Playing with pace hopefully is not just getting the ball up the court quickly, but it’s sharing the ball and playing with a pass.”
As he might’ve done a few times over the past weeks with players, Snyder willingly expounded on that phrase when asked in an interview for clarification on the “play with a pass” mantra.
“Just the idea of the ball movement. If you run 100 feet and I pass 100 feet, I’m going to win. The ball moves faster than people’s feet,” Snyder explained. “When you play with a pass, hopefully it keeps the defense guessing and on the move.”
The Jazz could have played with a better shot during their five Summer League games. Utah connected on 43 percent of its field goals and just 30 percent from 3-point range over the week, including the 3-for-30 opener.
But the Jazz passed the play with a pass test.
The fluid basketball movement, enhanced by Utah pairing point guards Trey Burke and Dante Exum in the backcourt, was evident to onlookers, proved key to offensive success despite occasionally rough shooting and made the coaching staff appreciative of its quick-learning group.
“I saw some moments here (in Vegas) where I was really happy with how the ball moved,” Snyder said. “We’re not perfect yet. We never will be. Spacing can improve. But I thought there was really a willingness and an effort to play with a pass.”
When that crispness, discipline and movement disappeared, the Jazz offense went into a funk. That was the case, assistant Brad Jones noted, when Utah opened Friday's Summer-League finale with a four-point first quarter.
“I thought we panicked,” Jones said. “Starting 1-for-19, that’s not a lot of fun.”
It became a lot more fun over the final 30 minutes when Utah scored 71 points.
Success within the parameters of the new Jazz offense will be predicated on team play, with a mixture of transition opportunities, pick-and-rolls, corner 3s, perimeter passing and, if all goes well, more interior room for bigs like Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Rudy Gobert to do their thing.
One-on-one play — or the ball getting stuck continuously on one side of the offense a la Al Jefferson — won't be as prevalent.
"One thing we were trying to do," Jazz forward Erik Murphy said, "was just play as a team — play the pass.”
That allows for more “freedom” in the offense, as Burke described it. Ideally, that will allow wings like Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks to flourish while penetrating through less-crowded space.
Snyder said it’s critical for the Jazz to get up court quickly after misses and makes, to “understand spacing” and to keep the defenders off balance with passing.
“Once we do that,” he said, “things will continue to grow.”
It was with that in mind that he had a simple expectation for his team during its Vegas stay: “I want to see the ball move and I want to see us guard. Those are the two biggest things.”
Don’t be surprised if those are hot topics heading into training camp.
“We want to play a passing game. It connects your team. Everybody wants to be a part of what you’re doing,” Snyder said earlier this month. “When they feel like that on the offensive end, it’s even easier for them to kind of come together and defend as a team on the defensive end.”
And, yes, count on his catchy phrase to become a regular addition to the daily vocabulary of more players. Their coach will be even happier if they play that way, too.
Now, repeat after Snyder, "Play with a pass ."
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