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One of the biggest knocks on the Utah Jazz over the last few seasons has been their defense. They’ve given the lane to opposing guards. They’ve been beat in the paint. They've had trouble guarding the pick and roll. Too much penetration by other teams. They can’t defend the perimeter. They’ve gotten...”soft”.

Much of that “soft play” was blamed on the front court.

Fans were used to Karl Malone’s toughness, Greg Ostertag’s and Mark Eaton’s length, and teams who just wouldn't have anyone coming into “their house” and scoring easily.

Then a new group of Jazz players entered. And that “toughness” went away.

All too often teams felt that they could get in the paint against the Jazz without a fight. A team once known for it’s feisty, physical defense, now known for it’s “soft” defense which would rather give up the easy bucket than get into foul trouble or put forth effort in protecting what rightfully belonged to them...the paint.

Fast forward to the 2011-2012 lockout shortened season. A new regime of Jazz players and a new head coach. Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan now replaced by rookie head coach Ty Corbin.
 

Photo via AP
 

The road seemed impossible ahead. An organization known for its toughness and resilience, known for winning ball games (only 4 losing seasons in the last 30 years), now left to start over, and at the same time find it’s way back to successful ways.

There have been and still are many doubters. Coach Corbin has his work cut out for him. It’s not like it’s easy replacing the great Jerry Sloan. But to be successful Corbin had to come in with the mindset to put his imprint on the team, give the team a new identity, and win ball games. And any team in the NBA, in order to be successful needs to have a group of players willing to buy into a system, or take on the personality of it’s coach, or both.

So with a very shortened camp Coach Corbin set out to start his era in Utah. In December he announced that he would be changing defensive schemes. See Jody Genessy’s article in the Deseret News for more on this.

The  first couple of games it seemed that the Jazz were doomed to be a bottom feeder. They looked lost offensively as well as defensively.

They WERE lost.

Aside from having a shortened camp and preseason, almost half of the team is under the age of 25. The learning curve would be horrendous with some serious ups and downs.

They began the season with 2 blowout losses. They were beat on the perimeter in LA, and then destroyed to the tune of 68 points in the paint in Denver and looked to be on a crash coarse to their worst losing season in franchise history. Even the veterans looked frustrated at times. Yet thru it all Corbin continued to be patient and teach his young team the art of playing Coach Corbin’s way.

Over the next week of games it happened a little at a time. With veterans leading the charge, the team looked to it’s coaches teachings to be successful.

The game that really caught attention of fans and analysts was the Memphis Grizzlies game. The Jazz were aggressive defensively allowing just 42 points in the paint, holding the Grizzlies to 41% shooting.


 

Photo via AP

One noticeable change for me was the pick and roll defense. Particularly Al Jefferson.

In the third quarter when Marc Gasol came up to set a pick for Mike Conley, Jefferson would stick his man or body up on him allowing Harris to rotate under the pick quicker and challenge Conley before he was able to drive the lane. This would force Conley to pass the ball around the key to a wing where the Jazz defender was waiting. If there was to be any penetration the Jazz were to force them baseline. No matter what Memphis did they couldn’t get into the lane. And as a result were left to shoot contested jump shots.
 

Photo via AP

The Golden State game featured more of the same only this time, with a guard like Monta Ellis who is well known for his ability to penetrate, it would require a team effort. Every time the Warriors would drive into the lane there was at least two Jazz defenders there to contest and force the shot outside again, usually funnelling it to the corner for a tough 3 point shot. The Warriors mustered just 34 points in the paint and were held to 41% shooting.

Eight games into the season the Jazz are finally finding their identity, at least defensively. They are ranked second in the league in blocks averaging 7.5 blocks per game. They are showing the toughness and resilience of a team that will not be denied. Teams are finding it more difficult to get into the lane and score easily on a team that has given the lane so freely in recent years.

Ty is instilling his imprint on the team. They are starting to take on the identity of their head coach. An identity of toughness. They won’t back down. And neither will Ty.


 

Photo via AP

The team is still very young, and the season is as well. There will be many more road blocks ahead. But one thing is very evident, Ty Corbin is coaching and teaching, and the team is responding.

That’s a formula for success now and in the future.