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Tyrone Corbin has made his first major move as Jazz coach. In doing so, Utah's second-year leader is altering a system that had become set in stone during Jerry Sloan's 23-year reign.
The change: Offensive players who penetrate the Jazz's defense will be funneled toward the baseline instead of the paint.
The switch appears simple. It's not. Several Utah players and coaches explained in detail just how important the change could be, while some athletes expressed relief about Corbin's decision, acknowledging the Jazz's previous defensive system had become outdated.
"I had to get used to that my first year coming to the Jazz, because that was something that was ingrained in my brain throughout the years, to always force baseline," said Matt Harpring, Jazz broadcaster and ex-Utah forward.
Jazz guard Raja Bell played for Sloan during two different eras 2003-05 and 2010-11 and he said Corbin's defensive alteration has been the primary focal point during training camp.
By forcing baseline, Utah will attempt to address several issues at once. In theory, an opposing ballhandler's options are limited, with everything from court vision to passing lanes cut off. Eight-year veteran Jamaal Tinsley compared the move to shutting down one half of the hardwood.
"We're going to run a different defensive scheme," Bell said. "We're going to try to push the ball to the baseline, which is a contradiction to what Jerry and his staff did, but a lot of the league is doing that now."
Asked about the move, Corbin initially downplayed it.
Asked whether months spent during the NBA lockout watching game tape, meeting with assistants and throwing an endless array of ideas against a wall led him to make the change, Corbin opened up.
"I was just thinking about what may give us the best chance to grow as a group together and be consistent," Corbin said. "Not only in the man-to-man but in a pick-and-roll situation how we can do the same thing more than not do the same thing in all situations."
Corbin's also attempting to strengthen the Jazz's help defense. The effort goes hand-in-hand with the push toward the baseline, and it's created an in-vogue term during camp: "help the helper."
"One guy pulls the string, the string tugs," Corbin said. "You've got to bring the other guy across and replace the guy that pulled it. Or, if you've got to rotate up, now you've got to come back to the weakside."
The sight of Jazz wing defenders being beat off the dribble was commonplace last season. As was Utah's interior defensive attack breaking down as opposing guards either passed out to an open 3-point shooter on the wing or dished off to a big man eyeing a high-percentage interior basket.
To address the breakdowns, the Jazz's 2011-12 five-man defense ideally will operate as a one-man rope. Help will be more structured, with an emphasis on weakside movement and stricter rotations.
"Jerry didn't believe really in rotations," Harpring said. "It was more forcing people to the help, and then you kind of fake and dig in and get back to your man. It was never like a full rotation."
Still, Harpring said weighing the pros and cons of defensive philosophies is overrated. One-on-one play that often eclipsed teamwork, frustration and flared tempers that replaced a unified vision that's what dragged down the Jazz last season, not pushing offensive players toward the paint.
Forcing the opposition to the baseline is easy. Getting an entire roster to buy in and stick to a new defensive scheme that can make or break NBA coaches.
"If you're consistent in what your whole team knows you're doing and everyone's on the same page, then I really think either philosophy will work," Harpring said. "It's the times when you have a couple people on the court that are not trusting their teammates … that's when you start running into issues."
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