DETROIT — In an era where mostly NBA superteams are emerging as legitimate title contenders, the squad in Salt Lake City is looking to get there the old-fashioned way with defense first.
As general manager Dennis Lindsey and his staff have constructed the current makeup of the roster, the front office didn’t specifically pinpoint one squad in particular as a model, but the Goin’ to Work Pistons of the 2000s era certainly were a blueprint.
“No team is a 1-to-1 comparison, but we do look at team building examples and models,” Lindsey said. “Yes, the 2004 Pistons are a team which we have looked at. The top defense was the main driver.”
From 2002-08, Detroit made six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances, including a NBA championship over the Los Angeles Lakers in 2003-04. During that season, the Pistons ranked second in defensive rating (95.4) as the Eastern Conference’s third seed entering the postseason.
Utah finished with the second-best defensive rating last season (103.9) and currently ranks fifth (106.3) after Friday’s 117-91 win at Cleveland.
“I love that they had an identity,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said of the last championship Pistons team. “Everyone knew their role, and they would come every night with the same mindset.
“It didn’t matter if they made their shots or if they were 0-for-30, against a tough defense they were going to be physical.”
Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton were the stars of the franchise during that Deee-troit Basketball era, but Jazz coach Quin Snyder was actually close to veteran role player Darvin Ham, who came off the bench.
Snyder’s relationship with Ham stemmed from their time in the D-League back in 2008 when Ham played for Snyder for the Austin Toros. Ham then joined Snyder on Mike Brown’s coaching staff for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2011-12, so he heard his fair share of stories about that Pistons squad.
“It’s a good barometer and a team grounded in a defensive identity, too,” Snyder said. “Obviously, it’s a comparison that I like and I think our players would like because we respect those guys so much.”
Wallace is currently a co-owner of the Grand Rapids Drive of the G League, but he pays attention to Gobert and the Jazz from time to time. He lists the reigning Defensive Player of the Year among his favorite defenders to watch along with Golden State’s Draymond Green, Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard, and Patrick Beverley of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Utah certainly has a long way to go to reach that championship plateau, but Wallace also sees similarities in the way the Jazz organization approaches the game to his former Pistons group.
“I think the Jazz, they do operate as a team,” Wallace previously told the Deseret News. “Anytime you operate as a team, you’re going to see some comparison to the way we played because we was one unit. When one moves, everybody moves.
“So, with the way they’re operating down there, they don’t have that big marquee name, but they find ways to win games and be competitive, so from a team standpoint, yeah,” he added. “I could see that.”
In their heyday, Detroit also sent Wallace, Hamilton, Wallace and Billups to the 2006 NBA All-Star Game for the first time in history that coaches selected four teammates as reserves.
Billups, Wallace, and Hamilton are among the list of this year’s official nominees for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame after leading Detroit to their world title in 2004 then another NBA Finals appearance in 2005. Snyder has studied their style of play inside and out and would love for his young core in Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Derrick Favors, Ricky Rubio and Joe Ingles to build that type of camaraderie.4 comments on this story
“Their collective identity, they had a couple All-Stars, they had all that but they saw themselves as a team and their ability to play to each other’s strengths and to play unselfishly, where sometimes Chauncey was looking for Rip coming off screens then someone guards the screens and he passes the ball and gets it back because they’re helping on Rip,” Snyder said. “Rasheed’s picking and popping in the pick and roll, Ben Wallace is crashing the offensive glass, and all those guys, sometimes you think of role players, but you can be an All-Star and still have a role, and I thought those guys really epitomized that.
“All of them knew what they needed to do to help the team win, and they embraced it and they started, so to me that was one of the unique things about that team,” he added.