“You know, most of the teams that we’ve had here have been pretty nasty — and they will get after you from daylight until dark. We’re just learning how to get after it a little bit more as we go along with younger guys.”
– Jerry Sloan, 2009.
These comments were made amidst the Utah Jazz’s 5-game first-round defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers, but they still ring true today. While most players enter the league as strong competitors – developing NBA championship-caliber toughness is something that must be acquired through the experience of playing against the best talent at the highest level.
During a Utah Jazz home loss to the Dallas Mavericks on January 19, 2012 – there was a dead-ball incident where 33-year old Dirk Nowitzki slapped the ball out of 20-year old Derrick Favors’ hands. While Favors merely walked to the other end of the court, Earl Watson stepped in for his teammate and sent Nowitzki a message that the Jazz weren’t going to lay down and allow themselves to be disrespected.
(Courtesy of TheRealMLC)
Favors’ passive response resulted in no penalty against Dirk, and only Earl Watson received a technical foul for his actions. It was a stark contrast in player reaction compared to a similar scenario involving former hard-nosed Jazz player Matt Harpring in 2003. During Game 4 of the Jazz’s first-round matchup with the Kings, Sacramento’s Doug Christie slapped the ball out of Harpring’s hands reminiscent to Nowitzki’s actions – but Harpring clearly wasn’t prepared to sit back and take it.
Matt Harpring’s aggressive response elicited a technical foul call against Doug Christie from referee Dick Bavetta. Clearly as a player, if you passively allow an opponent push the boundaries – their chances of getting away with it increase. Even moreso than technical fouls, simply earning respect and showing you won’t allow an opponent to walk all over you is the principal matter.
Now fast forward to this past season. During a home game against the Warriors on December 26, 2012, a late elbow thrown by Jazz center Enes Kanter on Warriors forward Carl Landry resulted in guard Jarrett Jack (GS’s veteran leader) getting in the face of the 20-year old Kanter. This time, the first person to step in was Derrick Favors – who then went nose-to-nose with Jack.
(Courtesy of jazzfanatical)
For all the talk about the inexperience of the Core-4, they’ve shown they not only are developing their all-around games and skill sets – but also their intangibles which include toughness and grit. This can only bode well for the future.
As I believe Utah’s long-term identity should be as a defensive-oriented team in the mold of an Indiana or Memphis, collective toughness is imperative from your core players. It takes an incredible amount of toughness, camaraderie, and desire to treat every defensive possession with the utmost importance. Not only must you be physically willing to sacrifice your body by drawing charges and contesting every shot, mentally you must have the mindset to always have your teammate’s back by playing attentive help-defense.
That’s what makes this type of maturation – where Favors instantaneously steps in to back up a teammate – exciting to see. It’s not something that can be quantified with statistical analysis and it’s not something that can be learned from sitting on the bench. Growth and development is about more than just developing a jump hook, it’s also about taking action and doing things that quality veteran leaders do – and I think Derrick Favors is progressing well in those areas.