Quin Snyder led the Utah Jazz to one of their most successful regular season eras in franchise history. The team hasn’t had a losing season since his first two as coach and made the Western Conference Playoffs six straight times with him at the helm, including three appearances in the second round.
But Utah’s postseason track record under Snyder was not in line with the team’s regular season success, and Snyder ultimately announced he was stepping down as coach after the season.
Snyder noted that the team needed a “new voice” when he announced he was leaving, and his replacement will have no shortage of talent to work with.
The Jazz hired former Boston Celtics assistant Will Hardy to take over for Snyder. He’ll be tasked with maintaining the team’s regular season success, and also helping them breakthrough in the playoffs. That should be something Hardy has some experience in, as he is fresh off of helping coach the Celtics to an NBA Finals appearance.
Here are three key issues he’ll face as the new coach of the Jazz.
Gobert, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, is still highly productive, though. His presence makes up for the fact that Utah has a porous perimeter defense. He’s one of the best role men in the league, and the Jazz would have a difficult time replacing what he does at both ends of the floor if they were to trade him.
Assuming Utah’s aim is to continue contending, the most likely scenario is that both players are back and they let a new coach take a crack at defrosting their relationship. In a Western Conference that is already deep and getting deeper, Utah will fall from contention if the two stars can’t build a productive relationship on the court this season.
Build a relationship with Mitchell: If the Jazz are forced to trade one of their stars, their reported preference has always been to keep Mitchell. He was reportedly disappointed that Snyder stepped down, as the two had a good working relationship.
I love Quin. Love Quin,” Mitchell said after the team’s playoff loss this season. “He’s a guy that gave me an opportunity when I first got here and trusted in me, believed in me. He’s a guy that I think has had so much talked about and he’s been headstrong, he’s been steady with it throughout the year.”
If Utah views Mitchell as its cornerstone player and is intent on keeping him happy, Hardy will immediately have to build a solid, trusting relationship with him the way Snyder did.
Fix the defense, but recognize other issues: Hardy was part of a coaching staff in Boston that led one of the league’s best defensive teams, and that started with Boston’s perimeter defenders.
Perimeter defense is a massive issue in Utah. Gobert is a defensive star still, but too many Utah guards get beaten easily off the dribble. Royce O’Neale is a good defender, but the team will need to bring in one or two more specialists while also hoping players like Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson, and Bojan Bogdanovic can show more commitment as defenders.
But Utah’s offense also needs some work. The team relies heavily on three-point shooting, but when those shots are off or defenses pick up their intensity in the playoffs, Utah has struggled. Creating some opportunities for Mitchell, Clarkson, or a free agent or trade acquisition to get more dribble penetration and get to the free throw line more could really open up the offense.