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What to look for from the Jazz in this week’s preseason games

For coach Quin Snyder, there’s no normal this early. So expect lots of lineup testing.

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Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder calls out a play as the Utah Jazz and the Adelaide 36ers play at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Bojan Bogdanović fumbled the basketball. And less than two minutes into his team’s preseason opener on Saturday, his opposition sprinted up the court.

Adelaide guard Ramone Moore veered from his stampede for the basket. He dribbled and waited as one teammate, then another zipped past Utah forward Joe Ingles. Moore found one of them, who approached the basket and Bogdanović. That player found the other, who tossed up a layup as the remaining three Jazz players stood no closer than the free-throw line. 

It was a microcosm of one problem coach Quin Snyder singled out on Monday. 

“I didn’t like how we played transition defense early,” he said. 

With more tuneup games this Wednesday and Friday against Milwaukee and New Orleans, respectively, Snyder is hoping to rectify that problem and identify where certain players can contribute as his team continues to evolve. 

The Jazz should improve based on bodies alone. After resting three of its biggest stars against Adelaide, Snyder hinted that Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley will play in the upcoming games. 

“Those guys need to play some to get their timing,” Snyder said. “Certain guys need more minutes to get in shape. Other guys need minutes to get timing. We’ll see as the preseason goes along.”

His resting philosophy moving forward will be reminiscent of his resting philosophy in regular-season games: If a player is “dying and sucking wind,” he’ll try to take them out. That, of course, comes with the caveat that he’s still trying to evaluate the team’s non-obvious contributors, so don’t expect Mitchell, Gobert and Conley to be playing regular-season minutes yet.  

Snyder also displayed a consistent commitment on Monday to general values rather than focusing on specific areas in need of improvement. Early transition defense was one mentioned directly, but beyond it, he made clear that since so little is known this early, this week — like last week — is most about guys learning to play together. Because once they do (they’ve already made substantial progress, he and other players have said), their versatile offense could cause problems. He’s seen glimpses of it; now, he needs to figure out how to put different players in the best positions to succeed.

“Our guys are just creating for each other,” he said. “I think that provides variety. Obviously, in the half court or on dead balls or out of timeouts, having more options just makes you harder to guard.”

Jeff Green and Georges Niang both seconded his observations. 

“It’s just fun,” Green said. “We’ve got guys who can score at any given moment. But we know our guys, and when we’re all unselfish and play for each other, it makes the game fun. Everybody’s gonna touch the ball; everybody’s gonna share the ball; and we’re happy for each other — that’s the biggest thing.”

Niang added that the team’s practices right now look like “positionless basketball,” with more emphasis placed on ball movement and collective scoring than individual playmakers. 

Said practices, Niang added as a reminder, include all Utah’s players — a trend that should extend into this week’s games, even with Gobert, Mitchell and Conley likely to see the court. Snyder still hasn’t worked out what his second team — or even his starting five — will look like in the regular-season opener, and these games are an opportunity for him to start figuring that out. 

“I would hesitate to even call anything normal at this point, because we’re still finding out,” he said. “We’re gonna play the same way, regardless of who’s in the game.”