SALT LAKE CITY —The Jazz have launched a campaign to promote Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell for postseason awards. Fine, but haven’t they forgotten someone?
What about Quin Snyder? You know, the coach — the guy with the carefully disheveled hair and gunslinger mien. This guy can coach. Give him three schmucks from the YMCA and he’d still find a way to win.
Which is a big reason why the Jazz find themselves in their current position. After all the turmoil of the last few months — the loss of their star player to free agency and several top players to injury — they are in fourth place in the Western Conference with three games left on their schedule.
So let’s put Quin Snyder in the discussion for NBA Coach of the Year.
It’s a crowd of candidates. San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich will be in the discussion, but isn’t he always? He’s won the award a record-tying three times. Houston’s Mike D’Antoni is a good candidate, but he won it last year and no one has ever won the award consecutively. Boston’s Brad Stevens has his team playing well, but the Celtics are pretty much the same team as last season but with the addition of Kyrie Irving (now shelved by injury). Toronto’s Dwayne Casey and Indiana’s Nate McMillan are also good candidates.
Then there’s Snyder. All seemed to be lost last summer when Gordon Hayward turned his back on the team that developed him for four years and built the future around him. Things couldn’t be worse, right?
Well, hold that thought, because that’s exactly what happened after the season began. Gobert, the Defensive Player of the Year candidate, missed 26 games because of two different injuries and was ineffective for six games during a brief midseason return. Dante Exum has played in only 11 games this season because of a shoulder injury, and Thabo Sefolosha has missed the second half of the season because of a knee injury (when healthy, he will face a five-game drug-related suspension).
Yet here the Jazz are, destined for a spot in the playoffs. They are 46-33 — only three games off of last year’s 49-30 record at this point, when they had Hayward in the lineup.
Who knows what their record might be if not for their early-season difficulties. Predictably, the Jazz struggled while trying to adjust to all the changes. They lost seven of eight during one stretch in November and 13 of 16 during another tough December-January stretch. If they were given a mulligan for those games, the result would be much different. Snyder managed to pull the team together. They are 27-5 in their last 32 games.
Stevens, Casey and McMillan are three of the favorites for COY honors, but they have at least one strike against them when compared to other top candidates: They coach in the Eastern Conference, the JV league of the NBA. The Western Conference has been the stronger conference for years and became even stronger this season with the rise of the Rockets and Blazers, among other teams. In one ranking of schedule difficulty, nine of the top 10 teams are from the West. The Jazz have the third most difficult schedule.
Snyder was ignored last season in the voting for Coach of the Year; he wasn’t even one of the three finalists after leading an injury-riddled team to 51 wins. No one will be surprised if he is ignored again. This is getting to be a habit. How did Jerry Sloan never win the honor? No Jazz coach has won the award since Frank Layden in 1984.
Given the work he has done developing players, adjusting to difficult circumstances on the fly, and making all the pieces function together, Snyder should be a strong candidate for Coach of the Year.