After an active NBA offseason, several different media outlets ranked the 30 teams’ starting units and benches. The Jazz bench consistently came out as one of the best in the league, if not the top bench. For example, CBS Sports had this high praise for the Jazz.
“The Utah Jazz, after a big offseason in which they added three key veterans, come in as our No. 1 bench unit by a nose over the Warriors. The biggest question they have is the return of Dante Exum, who missed last season with a torn ACL. How quickly will he adapt back to the NBA game and will his defense be as good as it was at the end of his rookie campaign?”
While we have a very small sample size of three games, the vaunted Jazz bench hasn’t lived up to that ranking. They’ve struggled, recently being outplayed by both the Portland and Clipper reserves at times. The eye test hasn’t been pretty. The stats haven’t been much better.
A look at the advanced stats shows that while the Jazz bench hasn’t been the worst in the league, they have struggled. They’ve defended well at times, but consistently struggled to score, ranking 29th in the league in offensive ranking. In addition, a net rating of -11.9 points per 100 possessions puts them 21st in the league.
Last year the Jazz bench was seen as a major weakness. Injuries forced reserves and inexperienced players into major roles, like Raul Neto, Trey Lyles and others. As they have to start this season, last year’s Jazz bench played above average defensively, and below average on offense.
Statistically, the Jazz don’t find themselves in too different a position from last year in terms of bench output, despite having spent the summer seeking upgrades.
But it’s early. While it hasn’t been pretty so far, there’s no need to despair. Here are three reasons why this Jazz bench will still be one of the best in the NBA.
1. Health: While we know all injuries can’t be avoided, Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks could be close to a return from their respective injuries, allowing players to slide back to their regular roles. When fully healthy, the Jazz bench includes a lineup of Exum, Burks, Lyles, Joe Johnson, and Boris Diaw. Their third lineup includes Neto, Shelvin Mack, Joe Ingles, Joel Bolomboy, and Jeff Withey. Players need to continue to step up for injured players, and when fully healthy, the Jazz can provide extremely versatile offensive and defensive lineups. There is a reason this Jazz bench was so highly rated. It’s full of good players that will help the Jazz win games this year.
2. Improvement: This Jazz bench is a great mix of youth and veteran experience. However, its success may depend largely on Exum and Lyles – two of the youngest Jazz players with the most potential. As second year players1, they have a lot of room for improvement, and could provide a huge boost for the bench as the year goes on. Exum and Lyles can lean on established veterans early, then shoulder more of a load as the season goes on.
3. Time. While the Jazz returned a lot of their players, new additions and players back from injury mean a lot of these players haven’t played much (or at all) together. The Jazz have played two teams (Portland and the Clippers) who are returning the majority of their rosters and rotations. When the Jazz get Hayward and Burks back, allowing both the starters and bench to practice playing together and entire units, they should benefit from increased chemistry.
The season is young, and this is a Jazz team that will take time to learn to play together. Don’t despair – over time, the bench output should improve.