Tuesday’s preseason opener against the Golden State Warriors may have shed some light on how the bench positional battles will unfold–at least to start the season. Then again, it was one game and a preseason one at that. Add to the equation two returning-from-injury guys in Marvin Williams and Brandon Rush and thing could get interesting really quickly. We covered the starters, so let’s turn our attention to the bench.
BACK-UP POINT GUARD
Candidates: John Lucas III, Alec Burks. To a much lesser extent: Ian Clark, Scott Machado
This spot has some intrigue to me. Lucas has said all the right things since signing on the dotted line, and it appears that he is eager to serve in the mentor role for Burke. He is not the purest of point guards, but has experience that should suit him fine in Utah. Against the Warriors, Lucas was often the best player on the court. His shot selection was excellent and his hustle and enthusiasm, contagious. It was telling that the Jazz brass sent Burks to Spokane to work with Stockton, as well. He played minutes as the back-up last season, and while he had his moments, his performance was largely unspectacular. That said, the talent is there to be another ball handler and facilitator and he could get some extra PT here. A tandem of Burks and Lucas could be exciting and disruptive on defense. An interesting guy to watch during pre-season will be Ian Clark and whether he can play spot point guard minutes as needed. Machado has a good chance of making the team, but if so, will most likely anchor the bench.
Prediction: John Lucas III
BACK-UP SHOOTING GUARD
Candidates: Alec Burks, Brandon Rush. Outside chance: Ian Clark
Tuesday evening, Burks came off the pine. That said, at least for now, I’ll stick with my prediction that he earns the starting nod. I could indeed see that possibly changing when Rush is fully healthy (in that scenario, I see Hayward starting at small forward and Richard Jefferson moving to a reserve role). Either way, Burks or Rush would be depended upon to provide leadership and scoring in the second unit.
Prediction: Brandon Rush
BACK-UP SMALL FORWARD
Candidates: Richard Jefferson, Marvin Williams, Jeremy Evans. Don’t forget: Dominic McGuire
Again, Jefferson got the opening night nod at the three. This is another situation in which I think health will factor heavily. It makes sense why Tyrone Corbin went this way last evening, especially seeing the results of Burks as the featured scorer off the bench. So, to remain consistent, my money is still on Hayward being the starter and then watching an interesting battle between Williams and Jefferson. Marvin has more to offer at this point in their careers. Jeremy Evans could get spot minutes at the small forward, especially if he continues to show a much-improved jump shot. Dominic McGuire not only has a great chance of making the final roster, but being called upon as a situational player. He does a lot of the small things that coaches love.
Prediction: Marvin Williams
BACK-UP POWER FORWARD
Candidates: Jeremy Evans, Marvin Williams.
Evans has always been wildly productive during the spot minutes he’s played his first three seasons. Against Golden State, he displayed the full repertoire of what he can potentially offer as a rotational player. He hustled, crashed the boards, played solid defense, and showed offensive abilities. While he may still struggle against bulkier opponents in the post, his length and ridiculous leaping ability might more than compensate. This role is his for the taking and Corbin sounds very happy with his progress. Williams could fill the need for a stretch four against teams that employ a big front court.
Prediction: Jeremy Evans
Candidates: Andris Biedrins, Rudy Gobert
While Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter will man most of the big man minutes, this will be a battle to watch. Against the Warriors, the veteran Biedrins got the first opportunity, but the young rookie played more minutes. The reports have been positive on both, with Corbin expressing admiration for the growth Gobert has already shown. This one could initially be a toss-up, but I think the French center will earn some minutes in the pivot.
Prediction: Rudy Gobert
Lastly, with 13 players on the roster with contracts (including Clark’s partially guaranteed deal), there could be two more who start the season in a Jazz uniform. Local media has mentioned the possibility of carrying a maximum 15 players–especially with recovering injuries being a factor. Should that be the case, McGuire and Machado might have the edge right now, with swingman Justin Holiday also being in the mix.