Should the Utah Jazz embrace the pace?

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images /

The Utah Jazz will be adopting a change in offensive playstyle next season. Should this adaption come with an increase in pace?

Watching a Utah Jazz game last season was truly a different experience than tuning in to see many other teams across the league. Their philosophies on both ends ran against what most NBA teams are currently doing, and for the most part, this generated a positive result.

The biggest element of uniqueness to the Jazz was the pace of their play on both ends of the court. With the lowest pace in the league at 91.6 possessions per 48 minutes (the Brooklyn Nets led with 101.3), Utah ground out offensive sets repeatedly, mostly eschewing transition opportunities altogether.

This did not happen by accident. Quin Snyder and his staff realized quickly the effectiveness of such a playstyle years ago, as the Jazz were still climbing towards relevance. In fact, last season was the third in a row they had finished with the league’s lowest pace.

So, how do the Jazz control the tempo against other teams that mainly wish to speed the ball up and down the court? It’s a war on multiple fronts that requires concentration and communication for longer times than usual.

Holding out for good looks in the halfcourt is fairly straightforward in theory, and it worked out well for the Jazz last year. Despite having only one prolific scorer in Gordon Hayward, Utah had the 12th most efficient halfcourt offense, according to Synergy.

They’ll work the ball around, running combo sets that involve dribble handoffs, pin-downs, and ball screens, often in the same possession. Rudy Gobert tied for the league lead in screen assists per game as the Jazz made use of his frame, even while he lacked exquisite ball control.

Their previous defensive philosophies and personnel at large should still be effective next year as well. After all, Hayward is a competent defender, but he only had the ninth-best defensive rating on the team last season.

Related Story: The Jazz's defense is poised to be even better

However, there remains one avenue where the Jazz can turn up the tempo and potentially reap some of the rewards – transition. Per Synergy, they used only nine percent of their overall possessions in transition, less than half than that of the Golden State Warriors, who ran an impressive 18.5 percent of the time.

More from Utah Jazz

The Jazz did lead the league in transition points per possession (the Warriors came in second), but this comes with a large amount of noise due to the choosy nature of their attack. It stands to reason that an increase in frequency would lead to a decrease in effectiveness.

The Philadelphia 76ers finished last in terms of transition efficiency with 1.009 points per possession, but even that number well outpaces every team’s halfcourt output (the Jazz scored 0.954 points per possession in such instances).

Utah also ranked 29th in terms of opponent turnovers per game, which is a byproduct of the Jazz’s defensive schemes. Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated outlines the advantage they incur by forcing their opponents to play outside of their natural comfort zones.

"“The way Utah gums up the works of its opponents forces them to get creative. Blunt force can only be so effective when an elite defense is allowed to set. So opposing stars have to find seams they otherwise might not explore, while their teammates fill roles slightly outside their usual purview…their style of play and stifling defense bring out a different side in the game’s best, reframing even those teams you might know well.”"

This style certainly proved to be effective, but it doesn’t create a ton of turnover chances, as previously mentioned. Live-ball turnovers like steals are a great way to flip the court and get a numbers advantage in a hurry.

More from Hoops Habit

Utah put up decent steal numbers last season, but no one regularly swiping the ball for them had athleticism of Donovan Mitchell. The 2017 draft pick lit up Summer League with 21 steals in five games, many coming from him jumping the passing lanes and taking the ball coast to coast.

Not everybody can pull this off with frequency, so it might behoove Utah to take the leash off their rookie in a way they didn’t with any of their perimeter players from last season, especially considering he’ll be in line for a good amount of minutes.

Even if the Jazz aren’t able to increase their opportunities for advantaged breaks, simply forcing the issue more could help. Even the best halfcourt offense falls far short of the worst transition attack, as mentioned above.

Utah doesn’t have any gifted isolation scorers, so scrapping points any way they can should be a priority, even if it’s in a situation previously considered disadvantaged.

Next: NBA Trade Grades - Cavaliers send Kyrie Irving to Celtics

Don’t expect the Jazz to go through a major philosophical overhaul next season – they have built their roster on principles that work for their depth chart, but be on the lookout for an uptick in pace.