You guys, there’s real basketball! Five guys on one side, five on the other, bouncy orange ball, nylon-lined buckets at both ends…basketball! Stop tugging my arm, I’m totally under control.
In the minds of many Jazz fans, this revelation begins tomorrow with Utah’s first preseason game against Portland at Energy Solutions Arena. If you ask me, these folks need further lessons in Jazz junkie-dom – the team is hosting an open scrimmage this very evening, and that’s more than enough to get my juices flowing.
How might Jazz players match up with each other? There’s been no official word from the coaching staff on how the roster will be split for the purposes of the scrimmage, but I’m choosing to see this as a positive – I can pick my own scenarios. And with that in mind, let’s have a fun look at some potential Jazz-on-Jazz warfare1.
It may surprise some given his scouting report coming into the league, but I’m just as anticipatory of Dante Exum’s defensive ceiling as I am his offensive one. He’ll have more to offer in the latter area right away, of course; at just 19 and without NBA legs or even a completely filled-out figure, he’ll have a lot of catching up to do defensively off the bat. But the issues noted by scouts, as well as in summer league and international play this offseason, all mostly related to effort level and worries about his understanding of more complex NBA defense. The raw physical skills are clearly there:
Exum also has some hidden post talent, and it’ll be interesting to see if the staff lets him flash some of it so early:
I’d like to see Exum and Alec Burks on opposite squads, if only for the duo of physical specimens that would be on display. Exum is sure to struggle with second level stuff and beyond defensively, but I expect to see some of the tenacious pressing he’s flashed from time to time. Exum and Toure’ Murry could also be a fun back-and-forth given the size both possess for the point position, though both are obviously still extremely raw.
Burks could see some time at the point as well for the scrimmage, and it’ll be interesting to see how his skills as a primary ball-handler have continued to advance. He’s upped his assist-to-turnover ratio each year in the league, but it still ranked just 101st of 131 rotation guards last season, and Burks has struggled in limited stints here.
Finally, after an unspectacular and recently somewhat strange summer, tonight’s competition and subsequent training camp will be the first chance for Trey Burke to take this upcoming season in a positive direction. It may only be a scrimmage, but I want to see Trey on the aggressive – no cushion for the rookies, no hesitation, just a firm assertion that whatever the speed bumps may have been recently, he’s ready to get to work.
There will of course be some positional overlap when 13 roster members are split into teams, and here’s hoping Burks gets some time against guys like Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood as well. Both are strong shooters, and I’ve discussed over the course of the last year how Burks’ largest hole defensively remains away from the ball, particularly letting shooters drift away from him on the perimeter – matchups with either Hayward or Hood should help get him in the right frame of mind for improvements there in the upcoming year.
We’ll also get brief insights into how NBA-ready some of the details of Hood’s game are. He’s considered in many circles to be one of the more playable rookies in the class despite his late first round status; several of his skills are already developed, albeit with less raw physical potential to grow into than some of his peers. Should he end up opposite Burks or Hayward for stretches, can he avoid being exposed off the dribble and in pick-and-rolls? Some struggles are to be expected, but his general level of competence will shed some early light on just what sort of PT he can potentially expect.
And as for Hayward, my expectations for both the scrimmage and the rest of the preseason are similar to Burke above. The Jazz made a serious long-term commitment to him that signaled confidence beyond his on-court performance to date, and this is his first chance of many to prove their faith well placed. I’d like to see him take the likes of Hood or Burks into the post early and often, and show us that his well-publicized offseason bulking up wasn’t for nothing.
With six roster members occupying one of the two nominal big positions2, there’s a lot of fun potential here. Many might immediately jump to an Enes Kanter-Rudy Gobert matchup given that some expect the latter to challenge the former for playing time this year, but I’d prefer to see the big Turk matched up with Trevor Booker for some stretches, if for no other reason than an excellent learning experience. As an undersized four, Booker has spent his entire career finding the little ways to succeed down low. He hustles, leverages his weight well, and has a few heady tricks in the bag. Watch him give Thad Young a little (likely illegal) nudge to dislodge him, but in a subtle enough way so as to not draw a foul:
Or here, as he tracks the trajectory of the ball midair, gets low, and moves Ersan Ilyasova back just a foot or two, enough for Booker to snag a board that probably shouldn’t have been his:
These are rudimentary examples – Kanter definitely hustles, and is a good rebounder – but these are the sorts of details he could do well to add into his game. He’s not undersized like Booker, but lacks any sort of explosiveness and can be a bit of a lumbering presence, particularly defensively. But his skill set is immense, and some time against a savvier player could help set the foundation for some of those same elements within his own game.
As for Gobert, why not throw him right into the fire and see how he matches up with Derrick Favors? Derrick grew into one of the league’s premier roll men last season, and tossing Gobert into some P&R sets as a defender should be a challenging litmus test for how ready he might be for such things at the NBA rotation level. Meanwhile, on the other end, we’ll get a chance to see just how well Gobert’s freaky length can help him against competition that will frequently be bulkier and more agile, just as Favors is.
Finally, if Jeremy Evans may be entering his final year in a Jazz uniform, I better see him dunk the basketball:
Wait, you were expecting analysis? Ummm….dunks are high-percentage shots. There. Dunk the ball, Jeremy, and this writer will be a happy man.
Who do you want to see matched up in tonight’s scrimmage? How do you feel inter-squad matchups might prepare Jazz players for some of the more intense regular season contests against actual opponents?