The Utah Jazz have made no secret about their intent to take more 3-pointers this season and to have a faster paced offense with shots coming early and pushing the ball in transition. It’s hard to see those descriptions and not think of the space-and-pace Golden State Warriors.
Head coach Steve Kerr created a dynasty team around the idea of space and pace with the Warriors killing opponents with efficient 3-point shooting and with unrelenting fast-break opportunities.
The Warriors made five straight NBA Finals appearances and won three championships between 2015 and 2019.
“Steve had a very clear idea of how you know he wanted their team to play,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “They did, in my opinion, change a lot of things about the game. Hard for other teams to replicate, but certainly they set a tone.”
A tone that seems incredibly familiar at Vivint Arena these days.
The Jazz are on an eight-game winning streak after a blowout win over Golden State on Saturday. Donovan Mitchell became the fastest player to hit 600 3-pointers just two days before Stephen Curry moved into second place on the all-time 3-pointers made list during the loss to the Jazz.
The Jazz have set multiple 3-point records over the last couple of weeks and it was punctuated on Saturday when the team that once defined space and pace and boasted the most lethal offense featuring the Splash Brothers were a shell of their former selves and on the other end of a barrage of threes and head-spinning ball movement.
“They’re trying to win a championship right now and I think they’re capable of doing so,” Kerr said before the game. “Watching them on tape, the continuity that they have compared to where we are, it’s night and day in terms of execution. They’re where we were three or four years ago. We are now trying to transition to the next phase of Warriors basketball and there are going to be growing pains within that.”
It’s certainly worth pointing out that there are differences between what the Warriors did in their heyday and what the Jazz are doing now. The offenses are run differently. The Warriors had shooters curling on screens and cutting at high speed and relied heavily on transition points to generate momentum. The speed was a huge part of their success.
The Jazz are more of a drive-and-kick-and-swing team who still run a lot pick-and-roll. They want to run in transition, too; every team does, but generating the right shots has a higher premium. They’re taking and making more 3-pointers than they ever have before and way more than the Warriors were.
Space and pace stats
|Team||AST||3PA||3P%||%FGA 3PT||FB PTS||PACE|
|Team||AST||3PA||3P%||%FGA 3PT||FB PTS||PACE|
|UTA last 8 games||26||43.8**||43.7||50.1**||13.5||99|
“They’ve been good for a long time so the continuity is apparent right away, they all know each other so well, they execute their stuff beautifully,” Kerr said of the Jazz. “What’s different this year is they seem to be hunting 3s more quickly and more often and it’s given them an even tougher dynamic.”
While the dynasty Warriors regularly led the league in assists and fastbreak points per game, while shooting at a very high percentage, just six years after their first championship the shooting numbers that had made them so lethal are remarkably smaller than that of what the Jazz are doing in 2021.
In the 2015-16 season, which culminated in the Warriors falling to the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, the Warriors led the league in 3-point attempts per game with 31.6. They never averaged more than 35 attempts per game through their five-year run at the top of the NBA.
The Jazz are averaging 41.6 3-point attempts per game this season and 43.8 through the last eight games. What’s more is that the Jazz are shooting 43.7% from deep during the current win streak and 50.1% of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. For comparison, the space and pace Warriors never took more 38.4% of their shots from 3-point range.
“More than anything, we’re not thinking about trying to shoot a certain number or a certain percentage,” Snyder said. “We’re trying to play a certain way and if we’re doing that, then hopefully those shots are going to be generated.”
That’s where defense and the speed and ball movement come into play. Making the opposing team take tough shots so that you’re playing off a live rebound rather than taking the ball out of the basket and pushing the ball up the court at a pace that forces the defense into bad situations through movement and space.
Kerr calling the Jazz contenders is not without merit. He knows a thing or two about what it takes to win a championship. And the thing about contending teams is that they usually aren’t, until they are. Curry used to be a second option to Monta Ellis, in a starting lineup with Ronny Turiaf, winning 26 games in a season.
Throughout the Warriors’ 2014-15 campaign and championship run, there were questions about their consistency, about their tendency to play down to competition, about the team being turnover prone. But then they won it all.
The Jazz have made three straight playoff appearances and have continued to build trying to get over the hump of the first and second round of the postseason and have started this season off as one of the hottest teams in the NBA. They can still be better, but there’s no reason to think that this team, as constructed, couldn’t win a title.