An inside look at the Jazz of yore as told by Frank Layden
On Jazz player development (specifically, the development of Mark Eaton)
Mark Eaton was terrific. Very unselfish. He didn’t care, like a lot of centers, he didn’t care if the ball was up there and they scored a basket and he didn’t get a chance to post up or something. He never worried about points. All he worried about was winning.
And, so that, you know, a lot of people forget, also, that Mark Eaton was the captain of our team, when we had [Karl] Malone and [John] Stockton and [Adrian] Dantley and everything else, because he was our, probably our most intelligent player. …
We drafted him, signed him, and I said, “You know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna give you a three-year guaranteed contract, all right? I’m gonna give you some bonus money up front, and this is what I want you to do. I want you and your wife to move to Salt Lake City. I want you to live here all year round, and during the summer I want you to work out. I want you — we’re gonna make a ball player outta you.”
I mean, I know [his former coaches] didn’t have time to do it. He had very good coaching in junior college, and he had a good junior college career. But when he got to UCLA, he didn’t play very much. He lost confidence in himself.
And so, you know, we started to put him on weights. We started to hit him baseballs so that he would bend at the knees and at the waist, to go down and — you know, he was pretty agile. We had him sprint. We had him run long distances. We worked on his jumping ability. And you know, three years later, he was an all-star. He was in the All-Star Game.
So, but the big thing was his willingness to work, and we made an investment in him. And it took a while. It took a while for the NBA referees to get used to him, because, you know, he would block shots and they’d call a foul. I’d say, “Hey, what’s going on?”
So we sent films into the league and [said], “Hey, tell these referees this guy is big. He’s blocking shots. He’s left-handed. With shot blockers, it helps shot blockers.” And I said, “You gotta start giving this guy a break.” And finally, they started to read into it.
On Mark Eaton, UDQM
He was very physical. There was a lot of centers in the league that didn’t like to mess with him because he was, you know, he had a hard body, and he wasn’t afraid to lay it on people. But his greatest asset was being able to pitch out, [which] means not only get it out, but get it to the right person…
Besides being tall, he was big in every other direction. I’ve seen players taller, and I’ve seen players wider, but I’ve never seen players with both, what he had.
On the Jazz offensive system and analytics
Our philosophy was let’s go inside. That’s where you get the good percentage shots. That’s where you get the, that’s where you get to the foul line. You know, and that’s where you get your opponents’ big guys into foul trouble.
Was your offense a system or were you calling out plays from the bench?
We had some plays, but basically we worked out of — we tried to, immediately after a fast break was over — what we tried to do was get points in a lot of different ways, ok? And by that I mean, first of all it was important for us to get to the foul line.
We thought that if we were gonna have a successful team, we had to have at least 33 free throws in the game. And that would, we would try to look and, somewhere between 33 and 40 free throws a game. Of the free throws made, we would like to make 30 out of 40. I mean, it’s not too much to ask.
You know, three points shots attempted, we’d look for 16. We’d look to — I thought the perfect game was to average 123 points with, 120 points with four 25-point quarters, four 30-point quarters. And if we could do that, we would win a lotta games. And we set goals like that.
Bench points, we expected to get 32 points. We wanted to get between 80 and 100 shots a game. So, that would fit in with what was going on now. …
[We] thought that two-thirds of our scoring should come in a set offense and it should come from inside, all right? And in fact, in some part of the game, we used to call it “rock.” And rock meant no more outside shots.
Everything has to come off of free throws, a fast break, or pounding the ball inside. No more 3-point shots. Three-point shots missed lead to fast breaks down the other end, and like I said, we saw a lot of that in the playoffs [this year].
And you know, once you lay the pattern down and you allow the horse out of the barn, you can’t bring it back. I’m sure that, you know, [Steve] Kerr, who’s an excellent coach and seems to have great, you know, demeanor with his players, once they, during the season that they not only took a lot of outside shots, they pumped the ball up there. Some bad; some good.
But they won a lot of games, and when you win games, sometimes you overlook what the big picture is. Would have they traded winning 73 games to win the championship? I think they would’ve, all right?
But they made their deal, and I can’t blame them because you get caught up in momentum and you want to get it and the fans want it and the press wants it and everything else. So, you know, but at the end, I think that they lost all perspective. They never got an easy basket. ..
Offense, I mean, is a lot of things. And a lot of teams didn’t work on — I’ll give you an example. How many teams work on jump balls? We tried to win the opening jump and get a basket. You don’t see that anymore. They just tap it back and they go at it. We also, you know, spent a lot of time on side court out of bounds.
You know, and I think trying to get as many cheap baskets as we possibly can…When we got the ball under the basket, I wanted to either get a basket or get fouled, for sure. You know, what kind of an advantage was that? We should never give that up. …
We had rules, like if we had a triangle, all right, and we had the, and the man down in the post was fronted, he immediately vacated so the guy across on the other box, all right, and we always went on the baseline side after the block, and we would post up.
We would not throw the ball in, all right, if a guy was fronted. It just wasn’t done. We then would look for a shot where he had good, you know, rebounding positioning.
Whenever we went into the post, we always split, and I’ll tell you why we did that. It was to keep the people guarding, that they couldn’t double back, and because y–a lot of guys, you know, the guy who throws the ball in, his man goes back and doubles. And we couldn’t have that happening with Karl Malone, you know, and so we had to keep him in the one-on-one — [also] Adrian Dantley, keep them in the one-on-one situation.
And on the opposite block was Mark Eaton, who, if his man left him, he immediately went to the broken line, and the minute Karl Malone or whoever it was felt — you know, it could be Kelly Tripucka — felt that there was pressure, they knew that Mark would be standing on the broken line ready to receive the pass, you know, to get an easy basket.
On the Jazz defensive mentality
Our basic thing was individual responsibility. And I think we’ve gotten away from that. In other words, when we went into a game when I was coaching the Jazz, all right — I had Bobby Hansen. And I would start talking to Bobby Hansen and watching films with him before the season started of how to guard Michael Jordan.
“Oh, you can’t guard Michael Jordan!”
No, you certainly can’t, you know? If you let him go, he’ll score 40 on you. But you know what I said? “What’s he averaging?”
“Oh, he’s averaging 27 points a game, 25 points a game.”
“Bobby, if you can hold him to 21, we got a shot. Most games are gonna be decided by five points, by two and a half field goals.”
And so, you know, we started to think that way. Individual responsibility. You know? We don’t have that anymore. If you tell me who the five best defensive players in the NBA are, you’re probably lying.
You know? No one knows who they are. You know, because everybody gets bailed out. You know, they’re bringing the — you know, if he gets by me, you know, “Switch!” You know, let someone else pick him up. …
And part of it is, by the way, we should go, is that’s the way the NBA wants it. You know, we used to be able to put our hands on people. …
Michael Jordan told me when Bobby Hansen went to Chicago the last year of his career, he said to me, “Coach, thanks for giving us Bobby.” He says, “He used to give me fits.”
You know? He was — yeah, I used to say, “Bobby, when you come into the huddle, I wanna see blood on your uniform. I want to see Michael Jordan’s blood.” And so one day I come in and see [that he has] blood down, running down the front of his uniform. I said, “That’s it. I love that. I love seeing blood.”
He goes, “Coach, it’s my blood.” He said, “Michael–” he says, “Michael’s beating the shit out of me.”
On the Jazz defensive system
We did have times of trapping, and usually we went into zones and trapping and stuff when we were behind, or we tried to stimulate our team. Maybe we were tired or something, and we would do those things to wake our guys up. But most of the time, it was just one on one, hold your man. …
We played pretty square up. You know, we tried to play position…If you played Calvin Murphy, you had to play his right hand. He always went right, you know, so you tried to take that away from him.
We had some rules, like if we were going out to play a guy who had just received the ball in the corners, we always covered the baseline. We tried to drive the guy back into the middle, where there would be help, where, you know, Mark Eaton would be.
We had, we felt that the tendency for guys when they caught the ball, if they were right-handed, was to drive the baseline, and we tried to take that away from them…
We started our practices, all right, after we warmed up, by starting with defense, and we would start one on one. Then we went to two against two, then we went to three against three, then four against four and five against five, and then we were ready to get into our offenses.
On “keeping modern”
One thing I was concerned about, I wanted to keep up with the recent, what would you say, jargon? You know, now they don’t say a guy’s tall; they say he’s long. You know what I mean?
That’s, tha–so, and I hired, you know, coaches based on having that opportunity, you know, to keep me young and keep me in the mix; let me hear what the latest wo–because there is, in the, when you’re in the pros, you don’t have as many coaching clinics and you know, I — that’s why I hired a youngster by the name of Gordon Chiesa…
I hired him and I said, “Gordon, just keep me modern, you know what I mean? Keep me up on the latest terminology and what have you, so that when I’m coaching the players, they know what I’m talking about. They’re not looking out there and saying, ‘Who’s this old fart?'”
** First item in “Coach Layden’s Thoughts on Coaching,” compiled by Tom Thibodeau: Leadership: Communicating skills. If you can’t communicate, you can’t motivate. You can’t lead. You can’t motivate, you can’t lead. (@bballbreakdown)