Jim BUrton Extra Point Graphic

 

He’s new but let’s give the man credit for being grounded in reality.

Utah Jazz rookie head coach Quin Snyder didn’t stutter the other day when he said, “There’s a reality that sets in when they pick you to have the second-worst record in the league.”

His eyes were clear and as near as I could tell the man who owns an MBA and a law degree from Duke had a clear mind as well.

He’s smart, no doubt about it.

And he’s sharp, too.

Snyder is sharp enough to know the difference between talking to a group of know-it-all media types and talking to his players.

To the the media types he was preaching the reality of the situation.

To his players he’s telling them he believes in them, that he’s got their backs. But don’t mistake believing in them for not expecting big things from them or not holding them accountable for their mistakes.

During the first quarter of Wednesday’s 104-93 season-opening loss to the Houston Rockets, Snyder’s eyes went wild. A mistake was made and, clearly, he didn’t like. Surely it was something his young team had worked on, had practiced. But an assignment was missed or a rotation wasn’t made – something fundamental – and he looked intensely furious.

Moments later, during a timeout, fumed for a second or two but quickly went into teaching mode. Teaching with high energy -- with high intensity -- but teaching nevertheless.

For the first half his guys looked pretty good. There was a crispness to the way they played as they finished the first quarter tied at 27 and went into the break trailing 58-50 after giving up three straight 3s to end the half.

There were some highlight moments in the first half, like the sweet alley-oop dunk from rookie Dante Exum to long, lanky Frenchman Rudy Gobert. But on the next trip down the floor Gobert threw the ball away because someone was out of position.

That stuff is going to happen a lot this season. Good things, then bad things.

“There are certain things that they’re only going to learn by playing and they’re going to struggle at times whether it’s foul trouble or a turnover or a missed shot … fatigue … youth,” he said earlier in the week. “But it’s a long haul. It’s like two steps forward, one step back.”

This is what the Jazz have been telling their fans for a while now. It’s what they said last year when Tyrone Corbin was coaching them. And it’s what they’re saying again this season, with Snyder at the helm.

They’re still very young and still learning how to play NBA basketball.

But to Snyder’s credit, he’s getting through to his players. They believe in him and he believes in them, which is, of course, a critical piece to the puzzle.

“He’s just instilled confidence in me,” veteran Gordon Hayward said. “We’ve been leaning on each other out there on the court. He’s pretty knowledgeable at the end of the game. If I have a question or if I want to lead he lets me go to him and he lets me know what I should do and what I need to keep doing.”

Hayward, whose shooting percentages have dropped each year since coming into the league in 2010, shot just 3-for-11 from the field against Houston and was 0-for-3 from 3-point range.

Despite the fact he also had eight rebounds, seven assists and a steal, if you listened carefully you could hear the fanbase thinking to itself, “Oh no. Here we go again.”

But Snyder wasn’t saying that at all.

“I would be very hesitant to judge Gordon’s shooting based on one night,” Snyder said. “He’s been shooting it great. I think he’s been playing with confidence. If he needs to hear that from me, he’ll hear it. The last thing I want him to do is think about his percentage or anything like that. I think that’s counterproductive. You watch him shoot the ball in practice, he shot it in the preseason. We’ve just got to keep encouraging that from him and I think his numbers will be good.”

Like I said, the man’s pretty sharp.

Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at jburton@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @StandardExJimbo

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