I went to two of the preseason games in Los Angeles last week and came away with a few thoughts. The main thought was that our point guard play was pretty atrocious. Not completely surprising given Trey Burke’s injury, but still disappointing nonetheless. (Other thoughts were that Brian Cook took a LOT of shots in a short amount of time, that Rudy Gobert is really, really long, and that we’re seeing glimpses of a potentially great defensive team.)
But the main point: point guard play. I think we were already expecting things to be a little rocky based on Trey Burke’s summer league games, and knowing that the point guard position is a tricky one to pick up quickly and seamlessly, especially as a rookie. We were expecting shaky play. I don’t think we were expecting to be in a position where John Lucas III, who had two career starts coming into this season, would be taking over the starting point guard duties.(As a side note, the great @Peter_J_Novak pointed out that Lucas has played a career 2,053 NBA minutes, while Alec Burks has played 2,076, yet the narrative from the Jazz has been that Lucas is the heady veteran with significant NBA experience.) Even beyond that, I don’t think we were expecting a point guard who would be shooting as often as he has. His three-point shooting has been nice— shooting 43.5% in the preseason—but his shot selection and field-goal percentage on two-point shots have left a LOT to be desired. His FGA rate was high for the first couple of preseason games, but he settled into taking fewer shots in the last four games. He attempted a field goal every 3.27 minutes in preseason play (an interesting note: in the preseason, Brian Cook led the Jazz in FGA/minute, at .5156/minute, or 1 FGA every 1.94 minutes).
What the games against the Clippers and Lakers showed me is just how badly we needed to sign Jamaal Tinsley. We know he’s slow on defense. We know he can’t shoot. We know he’s old. We know all of those things. But we know that he can pass. We know that he looks to set up his teammates and rarely looks for his own shot (largely because he doesn’t have much of one, but I digress).
We know that Tinsley’s always had great assist numbers per-36: for his career, he has averaged 8.3 assists per 36 minutes, while John Lucas III has averaged 4.5. Again, Lucas has played 174 NBA games—starting two of them—and he’s played 2053 minutes in his NBA career. He has a career true shooting percentage of 48.2% and an eFG% of 46.6%. In comparison, Tinsley has played 539 games and started 399 of them, playing 14,333 career NBA minutes. His true shooting percentage of 47.2% and eFG% of 43.8% are, however, below Lucas III’s. While Tinsley may be the inferior shooter, he’s a much, much better passer, and I think that will be incredibly valuable as we start the season without Trey Burke.
So who will get the minutes? Will John Lucas III continue to start? Will Tinsley get the nod since he’s more familiar with the system and with the players on the team? And what will happen when Trey Burke returns from his broken finger and integrates back into the team? Will Tinsley then be the backup? Or will Lucas III? Finally, what’s better for this Jazz team: Lucas’s possession-using tendencies or Tinsley’s pass-at-all-costs style? The diametrically opposed mediocrity of both players brings to light an interesting set of dilemmas, and it will be fascinating to see how things settle over the next couple of weeks.