I love Coach Snyder and what he brings to the table in putting guys in great position to be successful. I think that’s a huge underrated part of the game. —Kevin Durant
SALT LAKE CITY — From glitter to gold, irrelevance to relevancy, the Utah Jazz’s roller-coaster season seems to be a script made for Hollywood.
Not only are fans in Utah paying attention to the red-hot team, the Jazz have caught the attention of the NBA’s elite. So much so, that Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr called the turnaround “one of the best stories of the year in the NBA.”
“There’s a lot of subplots to that,” Kerr said during Tuesday’s shootaround. “Donovan (Mitchell) playing as well as he has, a possible Rookie of the Year; Quin (Snyder) doing an amazing job and he will for sure be right up there in the Coach of the Year race, but I think they’re probably, I would say the biggest surprise of all the teams.
“There’s been a lot of teams that have really played well and maybe exceeded expectations, but I would say Utah is No. 1 on that list, especially the way they started and losing (Gordon) Hayward,” he added. “They’ve had an amazing year.”
Utah earned the respect of the defending champion Warriors and several other teams around the league by climbing to a fourth-seed in an uber competitive Western Conference. The Jazz climbed out of a 19-28 hole to clinch a playoff spot with 47 wins against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
Warriors star Kevin Durant says he’s always been a fan of the Jazz franchise and described Vivint Arena as a tough place to play on the road.
“I love coach Snyder and what he brings to the table in putting guys in great position to be successful,” Durant said. “I think that’s a huge underrated part of the game.”
Durant also notices a key difference in the makeup of this year’s Jazz team in comparison to Utah’s 51-win team last year led by Gordon Hayward, which was swept by the Warriors in the 2017 Western Conference Semifinals.
“They’ve got a couple more pieces I think. Adding Jae Crowder is definitely a huge piece,” Durant said. “Last year, George Hill was in and out of the lineup a lot, so now they’ve got a steady point guard that’s been there for the whole season and kind of knows how they want to play so that’s a big difference from last year as well. Guys have gotten better over the year, too.
“You see Joe Ingles being more comfortable, so it’s a lot of factors that play into it,” Durant added. “It’s a lot of factors that go into what makes a team different, but you can just see the growth in the players individually as well as the coaching staff.”
Warriors forward Draymond Green also agrees with Kerr that the Jazz are one of the biggest surprises of this season, especially Mitchell.
In Golden State’s first trip to Salt Lake City, Utah beat the Warriors by 30 points, with Mitchell going off for 20 points, four assists and four steals. In Green’s opinion, the Rookie of the Year plays in Utah and he’s happy to see the team thriving in this unexpected role.
“I don’t think anyone expected this out of Donovan Mitchell, either,” Green said. “Coming into a situation where I don’t even know he was expected to play much and he’s averaging 20 points a game as a rookie in the fourth seed in the West, so that says a lot. It’s definitely a great story and they’re having a really good season.”