Quin Snyder’s Defensive Philosophy: Force Baseline Or Middle?


Apr 1, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (right) reviews video with assistant coach Alex Jensen prior to the game against the Denver Nuggets at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

A conversation between the Salt Lake Tribune’s Aaron Falk and Utah Jazz defensive great Mark Eaton got the wheels turning a bit: What is Quin Snyder’s defensive philosophy? When the Jazz behemoth of yore played for Jerry Sloan, the future Hall of Fame coach’s defensive philosophy was “force middle.”

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Spoiler: Yes, Mark Eaton enjoys watching Rudy Gobert immensely, and he wants to work with the current Jazz starting center a bit this summer. You’ll have to go read the piece if you want to know Gobert’s answer to Eaton

Force middle isn’t the most common defensive philosophy, being based on a lot of individual accountability on defense and counting on teammates helping each other and the helper — a domino effect of switching and moving frenetically. All while recognizing what the offense is doing in order to make the proper rotation in a timely manner.

"Jerry Sloans’s team defense philosophy was based on his ideas of rugged individualism and the idea that every player should take responsibility for stopping his man. Unfortunately, the current state of the NBA makes it nearly impossible for anyone to keep the D.Roses of the world from getting in the paint at will.–Salt City Hoops, Spencer Hall, December 15, 2011"

Playing force middle defense also requires the presence of a formidable anchor in the middle, one that communicates well, directing defensive traffic, and can act as a last line of defense offenses will think twice about challenging. Mark Eaton was that, and so is Rudy Gobert.

It’s a scheme that’s working, with the Utah Jazz the best defense in the NBA by a country mile since the All-Star break

One of the first major scheme changes made by Tyrone Corbin after taking over for Jerry Sloan was to change the defensive philosophy to “force baseline,” what most teams do. For whatever reasons, the Jazz defense got progressively worse under Corbin’s stewardship. But it’s unrelated to the scheme change.

Force baseline functions under the assumption that forcing a longer shot is better, paint penetration is more difficult to achieve and the baseline itself acts as a sixth defender.

So which defensive scheme philosophy has Quin Snyder been operating under? Let’s go to the film to find out.

The Utah Jazz have had tremendous trouble containing speedster Ty Lawson this season, but held him to 6-13 shooting and only three assists to tip off the April slate of games.

On this play, the Jazz defense built a wall so wide it took away both the middle and the baseline, forcing Lawson to take a jumper.

Quin Snyder’s force baseline defense builds a wall in front of Ty Lawson

The times Lawson did penetrate it was from a 45-degree angle, one-on-one with Dante Exum or Trey Burke, and often he found Rudy Gobert waiting for him when he got there. The mere presence of the Jazz big man made the Denver Nuggets point guard leave several shots shy off the iron.

Ty Lawson found Quin Snyder’s defense waiting for him in the middle of the paint

A couple of quick asides: 1) Trevor Booker does an excellent job of directing defensive traffic, 2) Rudy Gobert never gets called for a three second violation — his feet are always busy, ready to make a move, most times in the right direction ahead of the opposing offense

One of the most difficult point guards to contain is Russell Westbrook. The Jazz forced him baseline as often as possible, leaving him heaving shots late in the shot clock as often as not. This time, Rodney Hood set up to force Westbrook the long way around with Trevor Booker waiting in the middle.

As Westbrook made a dash for the seam Trey Burke leaked over and got a hand on the ball forcing the Oklahoma City Thunder point to scramble to get it back.

Trey Burke, Trevor Booker and Rodney Hood force Russell Westbrook to the baseline

Burke would close out on the shooter in the corner after the kick-out, forcing a corner three miss.

After scrubbing off Rodney Hood on a screen, Westbrook did as he usually does: headed straight for the paint. Only Rudy Gobert was waiting for him and none of RussWest’s teammates made a cut to give him options.

Russell Westbrook challenges Rudy Gobert in the paint

Once again, Gobert’s presence caused a jumper to fall short. Westbrook would end the evening 12-29 from the field overall and 3-9 from three.

Quin Snyder’s defensive scheme is neither here nor there. Rather than basing the Jazz defense on one or the other philosophy, it’s centered around sealing off the paint by getting back quickly to “building a wall,” communicating and rotating to help as needed.

The initial defender, meeting the ball, will always attempt to force the ball handler toward the baseline, limiting his options and passing lanes, but beyond that, Snyder seems to rely on man defense and smart decisions by his personnel on the floor.

It’s “read and react,” a scheme that’s working, with the Utah Jazz the best defense in the NBA by a country mile since the All-Star break.