And then there were two.
Recently, the Utah Jazz waived point guard Bryce Cotton, leaving Trey Burke and Raul Neto as the only healthy floor generals on the roster. So who should start for the Jazz when the regular season tips off? Let’s look at the options.
It’s possible that when the regular season tips off, there will be no starting point guard for the Utah Jazz. Quin Snyder has deployed a few different lineups with three wing players and two big men during the preseason. With players like Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks who can initiate the offense, there might not be a need for a true point guard on the court. It’s not as if the concept is new. In fact, for parts of last year Hayward would run the offense while Dante Exum would find a nice spot in the corner and wait to go back on defense.
Snyder has mixed and matched all of the wing players in some variation of the “triple wing” offense. My personal favorite would be Hayward, Hood and Elijah Millsap. The Jazz certainly won’t get a lot of offensive production from Millsap, but his defense is excellent. Instead of having Hayward or Hood expend energy guarding the opposing team’s best wing player, Millsap can answer the call and play lockdown defense. Playing Millsap with the starters also means that Burks could provide a scoring punch off the bench, masking some of his defensive issues while he plays against other teams’ second units.
Following the final game of the preseason, Quin Snyder said, “The one thing that’s clear is that Trey Burke is playing great.” And Snyder is certainly right, as usual. While it is only preseason, Burke has been shooting extremely well, connecting on 43.5 percent from three and 50 percent overall.
For most point guards, it takes two or three seasons to truly understand the NBA game and figure out what works and what doesn’t work for them. As Burke enters his third year in the league, the pieces are starting to come together and Jazz fans should see a noticeable improvement in Burke’s game. In the play below, you’ll see Burke run a nice pick-and-roll with Rudy Gobert.
As Burke comes off the screen, he uses his body to shield off the defender to create space and knock down a floater. If he is able to knock down that floater consistently, defenders in the paint will have to step up, which should allow for easy lob passes to the rolling Jazz big man.
In the next play you’ll see Burke finishing in transition.
Once again, Burke uses his body to not only shield off the defender, but also to create contact for the bucket and the foul. Burke is coming to terms with himself about what he can and cannot do on the basketball court, making him a much more efficient scorer and making his case for why he should start for the Jazz.
Preseason is not the time to fall in love with a player. Why? Because it’s preseason. But I must confess, Raul Neto has impressed me with how he’s performed. He does so many little things that can help the team win, it’s easy to see him in the starting lineup.
Neto’s pesky defense was highlighted after the first couple of preseason games; pressuring the ball handler the full length of the court, forcing turnovers, creating chaos. It was a tremendous sight. But it’s his offense that has me intrigued.
Neto still has a long way to go with his shooting, but it has been better that was initially advertised. Take a look at the following play.
When Neto has a chance to set his feet, he can actually knock down shots. Off the bounce, Neto’s jumpshot is a terrible. But if he can square up and set his feet, he can make enough shots to keep defenders from sagging off completely.
With Neto, the Jazz find themselves in a similar situation as last year with Exum: A point guard who excels on defense, but may not be the best on the other end of the floor. However, Neto has shown to be much more aggressive than Exum was early on. Take the following play for example.
Despite missing the shot, Neto attacked the basket and made a strong play. In the same situation, Exum would have probably continued his dribble along the baseline and not looked for his own shot. Neto isn’t looking for his shot all of the time, but he does do enough on offense that defenses can’t simply ignore him.
So which, if any, of the point guards on the roster should be the starter? In my opinion, I think Raul Neto should be the starting point guard for the Utah Jazz. Yes, Trey Burke has more experience and better skills on offense, but that’s what the second unit needs. They need someone who can score when Hayward goes to the bench. Burke, alongside Burks, can help Utah maintain the offense when the starters need a break. Neto’s defense and his facilitating nature are more suitable next to the likes of Hayward and Favors. Don’t be surprised if the Brazilian ball handler is the Jazz’s floor general to start the season.