Staff Scrimmage: Camp Kick-off

September 26th, 2016 | by Salt City Hoops
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

We’re finally here.

Utah Jazz fall training camp officially begins later today when players and staff will meet with the media at Zions Bank Basketball Center. That means that soon we’ll have actual basketball things to talk about.

In the meantime, what we have is the excitement, conjecture and hypothesis of an amped-up fan base ready to root for a team that might be posed to complete its return to relevance. To tackle that excitement, a few of our SCH columnists tackled some of the big pre-camp questions.

As we ramp up our coverage this week, expect to see a few of these “scrimmage” style 5-person posts. Tomorrow we’ll be taking a look at some rotational questions, and we have more planned for the week as an extra dose of SCH to whet your appetite.

1. In terms of media day interviews, who’s the one player whose interview you just can’t miss, whether for entertainment value, basketball insight or some other reason?

Spencer WixomRudy Gobert. Many of the players on this Jazz team are soft spoken, but not Gobert. He will tell you how he feels, and won’t mince words.  While some of the players will likely give textbook answers, Rudy may actually reveal what the team’s goals are for the season.  It will also be interesting to hear from Dante Exum again.

David SmithFor basketball insight, Gordon Hayward. His storyline will be a big one, given his pending free agency1. He is a more vocal leader now, and it will be interesting to hear his takes on the additions, the postseason goals and his own efforts to take his game up another notch. For entertainment value, Gobert and Joe Ingles are must-listen interviews. Always.

Matt Pacenza: No one name pops to mind, but I’m eager to see if any of the Jazz players join the recent wave of athletes choosing to speak out and call attention to issues of policing and the treatment of African-Americans. I would love to see one or more of these young men choose to use their platform to engage with such a critical issue — and would applaud them for taking that chance. But, in very conservative Utah, it’s safe to say the reaction will be at least mixed.

Aaron Hefner: Unfortunately as our players become more experienced, they also become more tactful in their media responses (see: Gordon Hayward). However, we can always count on Gobert to provide some hot takes or bold statements. Now, If I could just get him to unblock me on Twitter…

Clint Johnson: Ingles. This is the guy who once deadpanned he’d be okay being alone on a desert island with Exum because if need be, he could eat him. While Joe will likely have a smaller role this season, he’s the only must-listen Jazz player because of his sheer entertainment value. And delicious Aussie accent.

2. The Jazz are ranked 7th in ESPN’s preseason power ranking. Does all this hype around how good the Jazz could be freak you out or excite you?

Spencer: Yes.  What makes me nervous is that after that article was released, I saw many people saying that the Jazz were ranked too low. I think the Jazz could be that good, but I get uncomfortable that everyone is expecting them to be that good. They are still a pretty young team that didn’t make the playoffs last year.

David: I’m going to cheat here and say a good mix of both. Anytime a team gets pegged with high expectations, there is some extra pressure that exists. That said, there are ample reasons to be excited. Besides the Warriors, no team had a better off-season. Dennis Lindsey made great move after great move. There is a renewed energy in the air for the fan base, and it is always enjoyable when the national media takes note.

Matt: Of course, it’s exciting. It’s a deep team with at least two decent options at every position. There’s a strong likelihood several of their young players take a leap. With that said, it’s not hard to spot warning signs (Note: I’m the designated pessimist): The newly-signed vets might not have much left. Last year’s injuries might not be an aberration. Last year’s fall-off in team defense might persist, especially with the addition of older players. But the difference between finishing as the 12th best team in the NBA or the 7th will likely be 3 or 4 games. A leap forward and the playoffs are essential for the 2016-17 Jazz, but their precise ranking is not.

Aaron: After all these years of putridity or mediocrity, how could you not be excited? Sure, there is a real chance the Jazz don’t live up to the seemingly unanimous hype, but I don’t think there is much of a chance Utah doesn’t find its way into the playoffs either. And how can you not be elated for that?

Clint: A little of both, but definitely more excitement. Such consensus is sometimes wrong, but not typically and not to a great degree. I think this year’s team should be truly good, and it’s reassuring that so many other credible people are coming to the same assessment. When Zach Lowe says fifty games isn’t unreasonable, that should make any Jazz fan excited. However, expectations are dangerous things in that they will be the standard by which the season is measured. It’s possible the anticipation has crossed into the territory of hype, which sets up disappointment.     

3. Which rotation spot (i.e. starting PF, 3rd wing, etc) will have the fiercest competition this October?

Spencer: Wing.  Hayward’s rotation spot is safe, but the competition between Rodney Hood, Joe Johnson, and Alec Burks on a nightly basis for the wing minutes will be really entertaining to watch. Hood should start if healthy, but he battled inconsistency last year and he will lose minutes this year if he does that.  Johnson has started every game he has played since 2003 and now people mention him as a fourth wing.  Burks could take a big leap if healthy. It’s going to be a battle for these three night in and night out.

David: There are several intriguing battles that could emerge, especially the wing rotation. Beyond Hayward, many eyes will be watching how things settle between Hood, Johnson and Burks. Will Hood remain the starter? How will Burks re-integrate? I also think that Ingles will have something to say about this rotation. Trey Lyles is the logical candidate for the third big role, but Boris Diaw had a stellar summer. Watching how those two fare is another plot to follow. Lastly, because I am unhealthily obsessed with the end-of-the-bench guys, I want to see who claims the final roster spot. Could Henry Sims surprise?

Matt: The wing rotation feels clear (Hill, Hood and Hayward start, backed up by Exum, Burks and Johnson,) but the big rotation much less so. Assuredly Derrick Favors and Gobert will start, but will Quin Snyder pull one relatively early to stretch the floor and ensure one of them is always playing? Will Lyles play see 20-25 minutes as third big, or will Boris Diaw, um, eat into them? Is Jeff Withey (who advanced stats loved last year) assured a spot as the fourth big who anchors the second unit defense?

Aaron: Mild take here, but in spite of the astronomical improvement in depth, I actually don’t think there is a ton of competition for rotation spots. Personally I think the spots are pretty well defined. If I had to pick one though, I would say backup power forward or backup center.

Clint: Every minute at the wing that doesn’t go to Hayward. Hood is earning buzz as a potential future star; Johnson signed as a free agent and hasn’t played less than 32 minutes a night in a season since he was 21; the team has already invested in Burks, and his combination of three point shooting, free throw rate, and highlight athleticism is on a bargain contract if he can only stay healthy. Exum needs developmental minutes, too, so the wing rotation should challenge Snyder, and player egos, all season.

4. Which Jazz player has the most to gain in terms of how their role could change with a strong fall camp?

Spencer: Burks.  He still hasn’t proved he can play within Snyder’s system, partially due to injury but partially because he has a tendency to go rogue. If he can play within the system and become more of a willing three point shooter, he could carve out more of a role.

David: Lyles. His summer league performance was certainly encouraging. He was head and shoulders above everyone. Lyles looks poised to assume a much bigger role. A strong training camp could point him to a solid increase in court time and production.

Matt: I’ll cop out and name two. Exum needs to be better than he was a rookie and show he deserves more than just 10-15 backup minutes, now that the Jazz roster actually has a NBA quality starting point guard. And Burks needs to bounce back from two effectively lost years and seize the mantle of the explosive third guard off the bench he always felt destined to be. It’s depressing he’s played 58 games total the last two years. And depressing his numbers peaked three years ago.

Aaron: Imagine if Jeff Withey came out with his usual impressive defense and was hitting consistent mid-range jumpers. Suddenly there is far less pressure on Snyder to play Diaw and Favors as backup centers, and in turn forces Diaw and Lyles to duke it out for the backup PF minutes.

Clint: Exum, who must demonstrate he’s healthy in body and mind. If there are any physical limitations or hesitancy in his play, it’ll be nearly impossible to justify giving him many minutes given the depth at his position(s). However, if he comes out of the gate strong, he might earn a substantial compliment of minutes split between the guard positions. Upside trumps just about everything in the NBA, and if Exum provides anything close to the competitive value of other guards his upside may keep him on the court while other deserving players languish on the pine.     

5. Go on the record now: your prediction for the Jazz’s opening night starting lineup is…?

Spencer: George Hill, Hood, Hayward, Favors, Gobert.

David: Ditto.

Matt: Barring injuries, I’d be quite surprised if it weren’t Hill-Hood-Hayward-Favors-Gobert. Is Lyles an option to stretch the floor? Maybe, but that feels like a very dangerous signal to send to your franchise bigs. Will there be pressure to return Exum to the starting slot he held before his injury? Lord, I hope not. Could Burks or Johnson start as the SG, leaving Hood to dominate second units? Perhaps, but I’d be surprised.

Aaron: I’m not going to pretend to be half as smart as Quin, but isn’t this pretty obvious? Hill, Hayward, Favors, and Gobert are clearly starters. The only player remotely on the fence is Hood, who, in my opinion, could only be overtaken in the event Johnson somehow battles into the starting small forward slot and pushes Hayward to the 2.

Clint: Hill-Hood-Hayward-Favors-Gobert. Only Hood’s slot at shooting guard is in question and even there I feel pretty confident. Whether that lineup changes later in the season due to match-ups or internal competition is, to me, much more in question.



  1. Paul Johnson says:

    I think the Jazz player that has the most to gain from a strong training camp is Quincy Ford. If Ford looks like a keeper in training camp with his size, shooting, and defensive potential, I think the Jazz will move either Mack or Neto to make room for Ford. The Jazz don’t really need 4 point guards on the team this season, especially whereas Burks can play point guard in a pinch, and the team can (and will probably want to) play the 3-wing lineup, if needed (with any three of Hayward, Hood, Burks and Johnson).

    I’m surprised that none of mentioned Boris Diaw as a must-have interview. He seems to have so many non-basketball interests at this point in his career that I think he would have a more interesting perspective on the team.

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