The Utah Jazz made big moves trading for George Hill and Boris Diaw while also adding veteran Joe Johnson in free agency this offseason. These moves gave the Jazz some much-needed depth after losing 179 combined games from their six best players due to injury last season. Due to these vital transactions, Utah has transitioned from one of the shallowest teams to one of the deepest in the NBA. In fact, the CBS Sports Staff recently ranked all of the benches in the NBA and the Jazz came in at number one overall.
There is no question that this new found depth is a blessing, but it does make head coach Quin Snyder’s job much more difficult. The Jazz are now arguably 14 players deep with NBA talent, in a league where the average rotation is ten deep.
I believe that the minute distribution should resemble what I have laid out above. These are minutes per game averages for the year. Injuries and matchups will change this rotation on a nightly basis. This rotation was structured with nine players getting the majority of the minutes, and a tenth player cleaning up the scraps.
Point Guard Minutes
As expected, Hill and Dante Exum will eat up all the point guard minutes, which is a huge upgrade from last year. Hill is a perfect fit for this situation and will come in, start, and be a key veteran playing with the young Jazz starters. Having started 261 of his last 269 regular season games and 55 playoff games, it is hard to imagine Hill as anything but the starting point guard this year. Starting Hill allows Exum to come back slowly as he gets back into NBA game shape. Exum coming off the bench will also allow for him to play more of a role on offense than he would with the starters, which will be a key development opportunity for the young Australian. In the Summer League game in which Exum sprained his ankle, he showed he does have the ability to attack the basket. Hill and Exum’s size will allow Snyder to switch picks as often as possible, something he’s shown an affinity for.
Shelvin Mack and Raul Neto are both capable point guards. If both are on the roster when the season begins, they will battle for the position of third point guard. Mack will likely win this role if he is on the roster, as Snyder has already shown he prefers Mack at the helm. Due to the fact that Mack is bigger than Neto, he can also jump in without hindering the team’s ability to switch on defense.
Shooting Guard Minutes
Shooting guard was a huge liability for a long stretch of the 2015-2016 NBA season due to injuries. The Jazz had little to no depth, so when Alec Burks missed 51 games, Utah had to resort to playing players that were worse than replacement level big minutes. This year, the Jazz have much more depth at the position.
Rodney Hood will be the starting shooting guard for the second time in his career. Hood has the chance to build off a solid sophomore year. He will be more comfortable with his role and could be better. In fact, how big of a jump Hood takes could determine how high the ceiling is for the Utah Jazz.
If Burks is healthy, he will play a huge role for this squad. The wing out of Colorado will really provide the scoring punch off the bench that the Jazz lacked last year. Burks’ ability to get buckets will take some pressure off everyone else on the roster. Hood and Hayward are better players than Burks, but he will be fully capable of stepping in and starting in place of either player in case of injury.
As the roster stands right now, Chris Johnson is the third shooting guard for the team. However, his roster spot is in jeopardy because of the roster composition. Joe Ingles, Mack, Exum, Hill, Joe Johnson and Gordon Hayward are all capable of playing some two guard in pinch situations. All of those players have shown they are better players or better fits for what the Jazz want to do, making Chris expendable.
Small Forward Minutes
Hayward is the starting small forward and star of this team. His role will not change much this year. Last year Hayward averaged 36.2 minutes per game, which amounted to the second most minutes played in the NBA. It was evident that Hayward started to wear down at the end of the season while carrying the team on his back as his points per game, three-point shooting percentage, and rebounds all fell after the All-Star break. This year, due to the depth of the roster, the team will be able to win while playing Hayward fewer minutes. It is possible we also see Snyder choose to rest Hayward a couple games down the stretch to keep him fresh for the playoffs.
New Jazzman Johnson will be the backup small forward this year. I have him playing 21 minutes per game. Considering Johnson played the 19th most minutes in the NBA last year, this will be a smaller role than he has ever played in his career. This reduced role should lead to a longer career for the 35-year old. Johnson is a fantastic addition to the team for many reasons. He will provide a veteran presence, lights out shooting, great passing, and excellent rebounding for his position. Johnson is also one of the guys in the league who does not shy away from big shots, which is something the Jazz haven’t had to compliment Hayward. Johnson is going to become a fan favorite this year.
Hood will play some minutes at small forward, not a large amount. In the case of a Hayward injury, Hood could move to the three with Burks starting at the shooting guard spot. Ingles will be the third small forward on the team. Ingles will have a much smaller role this year than he did last. While he was great in his role last year, Joe becomes a huge luxury for the Jazz as the fifth wing.
Power Forward Minutes
After missing 20 games last year, Derrick Favors should be healthy and ready to remind the league how good he is. Favors will be the starting power forward as long as he is healthy. Similar to Hayward, with their new found depth the Jazz could look to play him fewer minutes than last year to keep him healthy. The Georgia Tech alum played 32.0 minutes per game last year, and will likely play around 30 this year.
Trey Lyles will be the backup power forward. The young forward showed some improvement over summer league and should be a key reserve for the team. A bench unit of Burks, Johnson, and Lyles will be far superior on the offensive end than the Jazz had at any point last year. Diaw will get some power forward minutes throughout the year, and it is likely that Snyder will play the hot hand strategy or make decisions based on matchups with Lyles and Diaw. The internal competition could be great for Lyles’ development. The question is whether or not the Jazz get a dedicated Diaw. I am more confident in Lyles improvement than I am in the Jazz getting a dedicated Diaw, which is reflected in this rotation. More on this later.
Both Hayward and Johnson will play some minutes at the four this year as well. Due to the injuries they had last year, the Jazz were unable to play small ball at times. With the new depth at shooting guard and small forward, these two will be able to play power forward in situations to match opposing teams small ball lineups.
Rudy Gobert has less competition than any other player on the roster and should be the starting center in every game in which he suits up. I, for one, am very excited to see to a healthy Gobert in what could be a contract year if no extension is agreed upon. The Frenchman is the difference between the Jazz being a good defensive team, and an elite one. Gobert missed 21 games last year due to an MCL sprain, so similar to Favors, the Jazz could look to play him fewer minutes on a nightly basis to prevent injury. Gobert was logging 33.2 minutes per game before the All-Star break. Playing three minutes fewer per night could be smart, as Gobert will also be participating in the Olympics this summer.
Favors is the backup center. Should Gobert get hurt, Favors would slide to the five with Johnson or Lyles stepping in at the four. Some are nervous about the idea of Favors playing half of his minutes at center, but due to the current roster composition, he will play a good deal there. While he is not the rim protector that Gobert is, Favors is still a very good defender. While playing the five, Favors can switch 1-5 on picks against certain teams.
Diaw and Jeff Withey will be the other options for this team at center. Diaw played approximately 44% of his minutes at center last year for the Spurs and actually sported an 18.4 PER at center compared to his 12.7 at power forward. Withey was a fan favorite last year and stepped up during the injuries to Favors and Gobert. Withey will split third string center minutes with Diaw depending on the matchup.
The trade for Diaw was a brilliant move by Dennis Lindsey, and it provides depth and experience to this roster. Unfortunately, I think that Diaw will be the odd man out on the rotation going from 18.2 minutes per game last year to approximately five to ten. The Frenchman is now 34 years old and has had problems in the past with motivation. After a good stretch in Phoenix, Diaw began to have some issues in Charlotte. After two seasons of starting all 82 games, Diaw fell out of the Bobcats rotation in 2012. In Diaw was eventually waived by the Charlotte Bobcats. The partnership of Diaw and Paul Silas, the head coach at the time, clearly did not go well. After Diaw was cut, Silas went on to publicly question Diaw’s intensity and motivation. Silas said of Diaw “I think if he had played all out, the way he should have, it would have been a much, much better club”.
After being cut Diaw joined the Spurs and revitalized his career that was on life-support. Diaw was great with the Spurs, but there is still the question of whether or not he’ll be motivated for a non-Gregg Popovich lead team. There is plenty of competition on this Jazz roster, and Snyder will likely make him earn his minutes. I think that the trade for Diaw was a great one by Dennis Lindsey, but we will have to wait and see what version of Diaw the Jazz get. If he is motivated, he could be a great mentor for Lyles and Gobert, however, if he is not, his stint with Utah could be a short one as he’s an upcoming free agent.
The offseason moves added the depth the Utah Jazz were in need of last year. However, Snyder will now have to find a way to keep everyone happy, even though multiple players are being forced into a reduced role. Injuries will naturally balance some of this out, but it will still be something Snyder has not had to do in the past. Fortunately for the Jazz, Snyder is a wonderful coach and motivator and will be up for the task.