Twenty minutes of Quin Snyder's eternity
The rifts in Utah, the reverberations of intent vs. impact, work friends and being wimps.
Rudy Gobert’s shot chart is a fecund, dense roil of green flowing out from under the basket. Out of the 358 shots (and counting, for one more game anyway) he’s made this season, 297 of them have come at the rim. Up that close, eyes practically crossed to the rim at his nose, the ball is always going to be coming from somewhere else — 85% of the time Gobert stretches to score there’s no air under the ball, zero dribbles. Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, they get it to Gobert and he puts it away like groceries. Procedural, a job, sometimes done on an autopilot that backfires.
What I mostly mean is: there’s no missing this guy. He’s always exactly right there.
Is it a surprise that Quin Snyder, the person who’s been standing steely beside the Utah Jazz for almost 82 games this season, took a few minutes extra minutes pre-game this week to offer up polite umbrage to two probed points, like tines on a fork, connected but not really? First, for a sample size of seven games out of the whole slew of the season, that the Jazz dropped their lead in the 4th (and three times, Snyder notes, where the Jazz recovered it). Second, that Mitchell doesn’t pass to Gobert.
The passing point, one second please, because there’s something there.
This season, Mitchell’s been averaging two passes per game to Gobert. Conley, comparatively, is averaging 5.9. Conley’s the point guard and primary distributor, there’s going to be more directed Gobert’s way from him overall, but tack back a few seasons and see where the distribution started to shift. Last season it was 3.5 passes per game (for comparison, Joe Ingles got 6.2), in 2019 the average was 5.8.
Was the deficit a Covid thing? Not really, pre-Bubble, in February 2020, Mitchell was sending 6.5 passes Gobert’s way, in the Bubble, July and August, the average was 6.
The drop-off started last season, but that’s also when the Jazz finished first in the West. While I think it’s a mistake for any team to lose Ersan İlyasova, Utah hasn’t had that many big roster changes besides this past trade deadline. So while I like the idea of passes as a stat for passive aggression, maybe it was a wearing thing. Life in a roiling and ricocheting pandemic taking its toll, same as it was for the rest of us.
The deeper vein, pulsing there under the passing critique, was the question of whether it feeds a rift between Mitchell and Gobert.
“I was told Donovan was asked about this,” Snyder clarifies, eight minutes in, and here’s where the quiet core of Snyder’s intensity shows itself, briefly. Protective, of Mitchell and the implications toward the team, its overall communication, yes, but also a nod to forces at work. To writers and fans and their discussion around the team and its perceived problems.
So often (and you try not to, but it happens) we operate under the assumption that the impacts of our actions in the immediate sense are going straight, into the direction we’re facing. No reverberations beyond where we’re looking. In basketball it doesn’t matter so much. A weird take about whether or not Mitchell and Gobert get along anymore isn’t going to do you much damage, personally. But the disconnect between having a take, or writing one, or asking a player in a pregame scrum something then feigning or being truly surprised when it comes out through the coach, like it did with Snyder, that the team talks, is strange, and speaks to the increasing eclipse between perception of oneself online and off.
Listening back, there’s a sense in Snyder’s pregame remarks of the 4th wall of an ensconced media facade crumbling. A genuine ripple of surprise that Snyder, or Mitchell and Gobert, might read what’s been written about them, their team. That this isn’t all free space.
“People read what you write, our players do” Snyder says simply to a writer in the room, the cross-talk going quiet. “So Donovan comes in, he hears that, Rudy hears that, what are they supposed to think?”
It strikes me that more often than not the reporting, and certainly dialogue, around trends, teams, performances, hiccups, really anything, exists in a front-facing, two dimensional plane. A showcase of accelerated thought for the sake of volume that holds up to scrutiny about as well as cotton candy to the barest touch of a tongue.
Isn’t connectivity the point? In the cavernous vacuum of sports media, to know that your shout has made it out of oblivion and into the ear of someone who considers it for long enough to take pause, then turn around and disagree, seems to me a better result than reinforcing a self-imposed, self-important conversational isolation with platitudes that come with staying the course. It’s easy to point out where there’s a problem when you have no stake in something, more difficult to be corrected, and harder still to end up admitting there were mechanics you didn’t even consider, let alone know about.
Snyder’s whole thing, peppered as it was with open-ended invitations to the people in the room, was far from tirade. He sounds like someone who is tired and a little bit surprised in the way you get when the perspective in which you’ve been viewing something for a good long while gets shifted. You realize other people might be looking at what you are, but upside-down. There’s no ranting, nothing so aggressive, his voice takes the tonal quality of blinking as he asks, pretty openly, for further clarification. Where Snyder’s voice gets raw, hitches, is when he zeroes in on the irresponsibility of severing intent from impact, and the impact of that on his players.
For Snyder to take that time and talk about thought process, team dynamics, the close and unhurried examination of games from his perspective, is a fascinating, rare offering. Not something to balk at. Yeah, he misquoted stats, gave some examples that didn’t necessarily hold up, but that too is added insight, a glimpse past standard lines of perspective. And while it’s irregular, turning something out of the ordinary into obloquy is witch trial shit. It feels a wimpy loss to harangue Snyder for “ranting” or “attacking” because things went differently than the normal way they tend to, 81 other nights of the season. It also feels like the kind of temper tantrum a kid might have when you tell them that you can see them, that closing their eyes doesn’t count as hiding in a game of hide and go seek.
What I also wonder, when I read and listen to the moral panic about the Jazz, is if people have had work friends before.
“They sit at the same table when they eat sometimes,” Snyder shrugs, “I don’t know if they ride to practice together, probably not.”
I don’t know many professional athletes, homes in different places, day-to-day lives with their families unfurling in entirely different rhythms, that do? The best work relationships you can have are the ones that become ballasts to the monotony of grating complaints. People who act as buffers to the sharper edges of a work environment — its annoyances, shoddy systems, miscommunications — that never change. You overshare some things and never let them in on others; you go for food, return to your desks and forget about each other for a few hours until they pop up in front of you and ask if you want to get a coffee. Gobert and Mitchell do all this too but the difference is an open floor to open concept, also that they have nicer cars they probably like to drive.
“I know how these guys are doing,” Snyder ends up saying, voice metronomic as it's been all along.
He’s the coach. He’s been the coach for eight seasons. That’s 656 days in creating a lexicon of shorthand in language, excitement and allure ground down by the habits of routine, pressure built and spilled over, losses and starting again. That’s an eternity. That many days and he still wants to take 20-minutes to make a point he doesn’t really need to.
I believe him.