There are 22 games left in the 2022-23 season for the Utah Jazz, and as the team prepares for the home stretch of the season, there will be a focus on growth.
“It’s how do we improve as a group and how do we improve individually with the mindset of win,” Jazz head coach Will Hardy said. “The little things in the game, understanding time and score, being able to adjust a game plan during a game.”
Hardy and the players feel like they’ve done a good job this season of establishing a culture and identity of competitiveness. It’s rare that this Jazz team, no matter the talent of the team it is up against, is out of a game.
From the Jazz’s perspective, everyone on the outside expected this team to be far from competitive and for them to lose way more games than they have. That outside noise fueled a competitive spirit.
Then, when the Jazz traded away Mike Conley, Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley at the trade deadline, there was even more doubt that the Jazz would have the edge needed to compete at a high level. But the Jazz went 2-2 in their four-game road trip that followed the trade deadline and led up to the All-Star break.
Hardy for one, is a little thankful that there has been so much noise from the outside, because it gives him some kindling to help keep that determined fire burning.
“That’s a very easy button for me to push. ... When the narrative around the team is that you’re not supposed to be good or you make some changes and all these guys aren’t good now and they’re supposed to lose, as a coach, that’s that’s a very easy button to push,” Hardy said. “We’ve talked all year about trying to keep that chip on our shoulder.”
Now that the identity of the Jazz been molded around the idea that this team is never out of a game, that they’re good despite what people think, that the sum of their parts makes them competitive no matter the situation, Hardy wants to hone in smaller things.
In order for the Jazz to stay competitive, and for the players who will be here next year to continue to be an important part of the future, Hardy wants them thinking about habits that will give them long-term success.
That means late-game execution, focusing on individual strengths that benefit the team, refining decision-making and maintaining focus throughout the course of a game.
Outside of that, Hardy is hoping that he can continue to keep the Jazz feeling like they have to fight against a narrative. Of course, that’s a little tongue-in-cheek because the Jazz would love to be looked at as one of the top-tier teams in the league, and they hope that’s in the near future. But for now, they’re OK with people doubting what they’re capable of.
“It’s a lot of fun to be a part of a group that’s a little bit pissed off every night,” Hardy said with a laugh. “That definitely fuels us.”