The Utah Jazz are one of the most dangerous, young teams in the NBA. They aren’t a threat to win a title or even beat great teams with any consistency yet, but the youthful group is a sight to behold on nights when everything is clicking.
Head coach Quin Snyder is still establishing a reputation in the league, but up to this point he’s done enough to be thought of as a guy who really knows his stuff from an X’s and O’s perspective. Already this season, his acumen in this department has been on display frequently.
We’re starting to see more and more plays from the Jazz with seemingly unlimited options built in that are nearly impossible to stop when the timing is correct, and one of those is a beautiful 1-4 mid-post hand-off out of a horns set.
To begin the play, Trey Burke brings the ball up the left side of the court and immediately begins to swing the ball around the perimeter once the last man — in this case Rudy Gobert — crosses half court. The ball immediately leaves Gobert’s hands as he finishes swinging the ball to Gordon Hayward on the right wing. This quick swing is merely designed to set up the play to follow, but the Jazz swing the ball so quickly that there are times where they can catch a defense sleeping and score quickly on a drive from the wing without ever having to set up an actual play.
Once Gordon Hayward receives the ball, that triggers Rudy Gobert to head to the left elbow to set a down screen that will enable Alec Burks to pop out to the top of the key and receive the ball cleanly.
Immediately following Hayward’s pass to Burks, Trevor Booker jogs up from the low block to the right elbow to receive a pass from Burks. Hayward doesn’t in this instance, but a variation of this play would involve him cutting backdoor once Booker receives the ball at the elbow in the hope of creating perfect timing for a quick pass from Booker for a layup.
On this particular play, Booker receiving the ball at the elbow is a trigger for both Gobert and Burks to set pin-down screens for Burke. It’s crucial that they set strong picks here to enable Burke to curl hard toward the middle of the floor without his man getting over both screens and blowing up the play before Burke can receive the ball.
Things go off without a hitch up until this point, and as Burke finishes his run up to the top of the free throw line, this triggers a mid-post hand-off from Booker to Burke that creates multiple options. Once Burke receives the ball, he has a read to make. If his man happened to get stuck on one or both of the pin-down screens, he would continue around the right of the pick and head toward the lane, forcing Booker’s defender to choose whether to cut off Burke’s penetration or stick with Booker so he can’t receive the ball at the rim for a dunk.
If the defense gets things right and Burke’s man recovers well through the screens to meet him on the opposite side of the hand-off, he can use his defender’s momentum against him and head back to the left side of the floor to begin a 1-4 mid-pick-and-roll like he does here. Utah’s spacing isn’t ideal at this point of the play, as too many guys are hanging close to the paint which allows Memphis to pack the paint and cheat against a potential drive by Burke or roll to the rim by Booker.
Assuming Burks had spread out to the corner quicker after executing his down screen and Gobert had headed to the short corner quicker as well, the Jazz would have had a cleaner chance at a pick-and-roll and the odds of Burke getting all the way to the rim would’ve increased significantly.
Lucky for the Jazz, the play has so many options built into it that if a defense snuffs out one option there are still many more that will organically arise, which is precisely the point of running plays like this with a lot of motion and misdirection.
Burke recognizes the driving lane is not there, and Booker wisely recognizes that the middle of the floor isn’t open for him and clears out near the short corner. As the play continues to develop, Hayward slides up from the corner to the wing to open up a passing option for Burke, which he gladly uses.
When Hayward receives the ball, he can do a couple things. One, he can shoot the ball if he finds himself open because his man was caught ball-watching and didn’t see him slide up to the wing. The second option, and the one Hayward takes, is a drive toward the basket once his man aggressively closes out to prevent an open three.
At times when the Jazz run this play, Booker or Derrick Favors (whoever is in the game at the time) will set a ball screen for Hayward to set up a quick side pick-and-roll, but in this case Booker clears out wide and gives Hayward the entire right side of the floor to work with by himself. To maximize spacing, Burke backs out to the wing opposite Hayward to present a kick out option if the drive isn’t open.
Hayward’s defender does a solid job of sliding with him, and Burke’s defender helps cut off penetration as well. So with nowhere left to go without charging recklessly into the teeth of the defense, Hayward delivers the ball to a wide open Burke on the wing.
Once Burke receives the ball, he also has myriad options as you would expect by this point. If he’s open, he can shoot the three, but if he’s not he can drive in either direction depending on what the defense is showing or he can swing the ball to Burks in the corner if Burks’s man is overaggressive in helping defend Burke on the play.
Burke happens to be wide open after a great pass from Hayward, so he rises and buries the three.
Here’s the full play and several more iterations of the play.
Plays like this one have become staples of Utah’s offense under Snyder’s direction. It’s brilliant to call sets like this in key situations during any given game because these plays cater perfectly to Utah’s personnel.
In Burke, Burks and Hayward, the Jazz have three guys who can really make a scrambling defense pay either by burying an outside shot or driving right around a defense struggling to recover. The built in pick-and-roll options are great as well, because Booker and Favors are tremendous at rolling hard to the rim, and Favors is versatile enough to easily pop out for a mid-range jumper when the situation calls for it.
Assuming the Jazz keep the core together, Gobert’s feel and timing on pick-and-rolls continues to improve, making him even more of a monster. Dante Exum will come back healthy at some point, so this mid-post hand-off set out of horns and other motion plays like it with tons of reads built in to exploit defenses in a plethora of ways depending on coverages will become even more potent. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the league.