The Utah Jazz have now played as many games this season without Rudy Gobert as they have with him. With Gobert, the Jazz are 6-8. Without Gobert, their record is 9-10. Thanks to a somewhat favorable December schedule, Utah has stayed afloat. But it hasn’t just been the schedule that’s kept Utah’s hopes alive; they’ve been receiving key contributions from a number of different players.
Take Saturday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies, for example: with Gordon Hayward struggling, Rodney Hood had a career right, exploding for 32 points. As Derrick Favors was sidelined with back problems, Jeff Withey managed to get a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Even seldom-used Tibor Pleiss saw some action last night and played well. Of course, not every game has been pleasant to watch while the Jazz have battled through injuries. But even when Utah struggles, something very important is taking place; the Jazz are building a better bench.
The silver lining to any injury is that the next guy up gets a chance to show what he has and then get some playing time to improve. Because this Jazz organization has a clear vision and an excellent understanding of the talent on their roster, injuries don’t cause them to make knee-jerk reactions. Instead, the front office and the coaching staff allows for the players they have to improve. When Alec Burks went out last year, Hood had a real chance to develop. Without that playing time last year, it’s hard to believe he’d be able to play like he did last night.
The Jazz lost Dante Exum for the year due to a knee injury. Could Dennis Lindsey have added another point guard to the roster? Of course. But if Lindsey had done so, it’s not likely we would have seen Raul Neto turn into a viable NBA point guard and it could have stunted Trey Burke’s development. So when Exum returns next year, the position that was once thought of as the weakest for the Jazz, will have a solid player at each spot on the depth chart.
A depleted front court has given guys like Jeff Withey and, in particular, Trey Lyles an opportunity to prove they belong on this team. While Lyles hasn’t been stellar, he has shown flashes of what is to come in a couple of seasons. His shooting stroke, ability to handle the ball and rebounding prowess are all part of a promising skill set that demonstrate Lyles could in fact be the playmaking big the Jazz need. Lyles has already appeared in 30 games and has been able to play close to 20 minutes a night, which no one anticipated happening prior to the season. Few thought Jeff Withey would make it far enough into the season for his contract to be guaranteed, but it appears Withey has done just that, proving he can provide relief off the bench. As Withey solidifies his role and Lyles continues to develop, Utah is forming the depth they need once Favors and Gobert return.
Now, even at full strength, this Utah Jazz team isn’t truly complete. It’s clear the team needs to add shooting, whether it’s via the draft or free agency. But the bench core that the Jazz are currently developing will be strong enough to support the starters for seasons to come. Furthermore, these reserve players cost the organization a fraction of what other teams pay their bench players because Utah has primarily acquired them through the draft or on bargain free agency contracts, leaving even more money for the front office to lock up the starting core, especially when it comes time to pay Gobert.
The Utah Jazz are poised to be one of the NBA’s better teams in the future with their young, talented core and an excellent coach in Quin Snyder. But just as important as their core is the depth that fills in behind. So while the Jazz may struggle now because of a plague of injuries, just know that their building a better bench for the future.