It’s hard to know exactly what kind of coach Will Hardy is going to be after just one day of practice, but it didn’t take long for even the newest players on the Utah Jazz to catch glimpses of what it might be like to play for Hardy.
“He lets guys play, and lets guys play free,” Kelly Olynyk said. “With a younger team that’s what you need — the freedom to let guys be themselves and go out and compete and work hard and then kind of rein it in from there.”
In years past, with a more veteran team, the Jazz have entered training camp with a clear path laid out for them. The offensive style and defensive schemes were defined, the ability of the players on the roster was understood and the rotations were largely decided.
But, this is a brand new team and there is a lot that is undecided and yet to be discovered about this group. The roster isn’t set, there is competition at different positions and the structure of the offense and defense will depend on a lot of the undecided variables.
Hardy is obviously aware of all the unknowns at this point and is hoping that by letting players — particularly young players — play freely, that they will start to learn some of the real-time problem-solving skills that are so necessary in the NBA.
“It’s important for us as coaches to help the players build some autonomy on the floor,” Hardy said. “I’m not out there in the game with them. I don’t have 72 timeouts in the game to call so their ability to problem-solve and communicate amongst each other is going to be paramount for our success.”
The Jazz currently have four rookies on the roster (Ochai Agbaji, Walker Kessler, Simone Fontecchio and two-way player Johnny Juzang), and another six players who have less than four years of experience in the league (Jared Butler, Leandro Bolmaro, Udoka Azubuike, Talen Horton-Tucker, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Saben Lee). Even some of the more seasoned players on this Jazz roster, as far as NBA experience is concerned, are still young. Collin Sexton and Jarred Vanderbilt are just 23, Malik Beasley and Lauri Markkanen are just 25.
The point it, this Jazz roster is very young and the players could use all the direction they can get when it comes to NBA problem-solving.
So how do you teach that? Well, you put them in situations in practice where they would have to problem-solve and you coach them in the moments when the ball stops during practice scrimmages. But there’s even more that can be done before the games start.
“We’re also fortunate in this day and age that we have such great technology to be able to film practice and film our own scrimmages and then we’re able to give them feedback with the film on different situations the next day,” Hardy said. “All those things are huge as we try to have our team learning curve keep going up. We have to try to constantly be teaching and that’s on me and that’s on our staff.”
There’s certainly going to be more structure moving forward. The more that Hardy learns about the players, the more it will inform how the offense and defense will be molded. But until some of the unknown is taken out of the equation, the Jazz are getting a crash course in problem-solving, and they’re going to need it.