FanPost

Examining the SG situation

 

Jazz Shooting Guard Depth Chart

April 2010

Wesley Matthews

C.J. Miles

Othyus Jeffers

October  2010

Raja Bell

C.J. Miles

Gordon Hayward

April 2011

Gordon Hayward

C.J. Miles

Raja Bell

Currently Under Contract

Gordon Hayward

Raja Bell

 

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                              copyright Tania Burningham (used with permission)

 

Ever since the retirement of Jeff Hornacek, the Utah Jazz have had a revolving door at the shooting guard position. Ronnie Brewer was the closest thing to a long-term solution, lasting three and a half seasons before being given away to the Memphis Grizzlies. His departure was precipitated by the emerging young talent of a certain undrafted rookie by the name of Wesley Matthews. Unfortunately, Matthews emerged to such an extent that he caught the eye of the dreaded Portland Trailblazer front office. Because the Jazz organization was unwilling to match Portland’s offer sheet, the team found itself back at square one when it came to the shooting guard position. Let’s look at the talent they assembled for this past season.

Raja Bell

Raja broke into the NBA as a late-season addition to the Eastern Conference winning Philadelphia 76ers. In what would turn out to be a recurring theme in his career, he was asked to guard Kobe Bryant of the Lakers in the NBA Finals- and did a commendable job. Even as a rookie, Raja employed equal parts determination and guile (a.k.a. old man tricks) in order to frustrate Bryant. So began a journeyman’s career as a defensive (and later three-point) specialist.

One of the first stops on Raja’s NBA journey was to Salt Lake City during the Jazz’s lean years following the departure of John Stockton and Karl Malone. Though he played limited minutes, Bell was a captain and a leader thanks to his intensity on the court and professionalism off of it. When an opportunity arose to join a contending Suns team, he left for greener pastures.

Neither Raja nor the Jazz found all the success they were expecting during their six years apart from one another. Hoping to bring some of the old magic to an improved team, player and franchise re-united this past off-season. Bell was sure to bring veteran leadership, relentless perimeter defense, and deadeye outside shooting to a team deficient in all three areas, right?

The sad truth is that the game has simply passed him by. He can no longer shoot the three as well as he did before his wrist injury. He can no longer keep opposing shooting guards in front of him. Worst of all, he consistently gets caught out of position on defense because he can no longer rotate and recover the way he is accustomed to doing. Raja’s confidence in himself causes him to take on more than he can handle, and unfortunately the coaching staff’s confidence in him let them to play him far more minutes than his production would merit.

I hope that the Jazz organization takes a long look at the statistics and the game film and comes to the realization that Raja doesn’t have much left in the tank. Except to fill in for injuries, he’s most valuable as an assistant coach who happens to take up a roster spot (and command a much higher salary than the other assistants).

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                              via flickr user: jjani

 

C.J. Miles

Ever since he joined the team straight out of high school, C.J. Miles has been maddening Jazz fans with inconsistent play and surprising unwitting googlers. In his younger days, he fancied himself a volume scorer, which meant that he paid a lot of attention to putting the ball in the basket and not a lot of attention to other things which also contribute to winning basketball. After five and a half years of having his playing time handled by Jerry Sloan, he has learned to put in a consistent effort towards playing complete basketball. Even when his shot isn’t falling, he still pays attention on defense, makes hard cuts without the ball, and spaces the floor as well as anyone on the team.

When he has the ball in his hands, C.J. still has spells of poor decision making. Especially when asked to lead the second unit, he tends to force things on offense. Nonetheless, he is a solid all-around player at a reasonable price. In fact, he is the sort of valuable contributor who often gets overlooked because he doesn’t fill highlight reels or have one specific skill that forces other teams to alter their game plans. Rather, he is a so-termed "glue guy" who willingly and ably fills whatever role the team needs of him. Not only does he shuffle back and forth between the two swing positions; he’s also the team’s de facto fourth string point guard when injuries strike.

He may slip under the radar, but he’s arguably the most essential Jazz player. Not the most effective, obviously, but the one who best embodies the essence of the team and whose contribution is often the best predictor of the team’s success. I understand that the team is looking to shed costs and that small-market teams need to be extremely cautious with the contracts that they hand out to role players. That being said, C.J.’s option is basically for no more than the going rate for a rotation player.

Unless the Jazz devote all of their picks in the upcoming draft to players who swing between the shooting guard and small forward positions, it would be myopic to let Miles walk away now. Even so, they might be better served picking up his option and then trading him for a player at a position of need. Either as a player or as a contract, he represents a clear asset… and well-run organizations tend not to give away assets for no reason.

Gordon Hayward

I’ve long been wary of NCAA tournament darlings, which is why I wanted the Jazz to draft Chris Paul over Deron Williams, Jeff Teague over Eric Maynor, and Xavier Henry over Gordon Hayward. In basketball- as in life- I am often wrong, and I freely admit that I misunderestimated Gordon. I didn’t expect him to have the lateral quickness or the three-point accuracy to play shooting guard, or the strength to play small forward. He’s already proven me wrong on the first two counts, so let’s hope that he also improves his body to the point where he doesn’t get thrown around by physical small forwards.

Being drafted with the fabled unprotected Knicks draft pick comes with heavy expectations. It remains to be seen whether Gordon is capable of living up to those expectations. While he finished the season on a tear, it’s not clear how much weight should be given to that performance given the size of the sample and the state of the Jazz team at the time. It’s not unusual for poor to middling players to suddenly look fantastic once their team is out of contention and opponents stop taking them seriously. It is, however, rather unusual for rookies to turn into late season heroes of this type.

For a first year guy to be playing his best basketball at a time when so many of his peers have fallen victim of the proverbial rookie wall suggests that the difference in Gordon’s play is most likely the result of in-season improvement. The question now is how much to expect out of the man next season (whenever that might be) and in the years to come.

He has demonstrated superior basketball instincts, though his lack of confidence has often kept him from making what he knows to be the right play. This is partly because playing in a scheme as complicated as Utah’s requires the digestion of quite a lot of information – on both sides of the ball. Right now, he’s understandably torn between staying conscious of everything the coaching staff is asking and relaxing in order to play according to his aforementioned instincts. Provided he stays within the system long enough, he should reach a point when the scheme finally becomes ingrained in his subconscious. Once he’s reached that level, he won’t be forced to choose between his instincts and his training because his training will have become instinctive. Whether that happens next year or later in his career, reaching that tipping point should set off an explosion of confidence.

Being a highly instinctive player and being a star are not one and the same. He certainly has the tools to be an effective weapon and a game-changer in spurts. The same could be said of Nic Batum, Luol Deng, Trevor Ariza, Shane Battier, and J.J. Reddick. While I would be perfectly happy if Gordon Hayward wound up on the same tier as those names, many fans seem to think he has the potential to rise even higher. Of course, in the NBA lots of people have potential but most of them never realize the outer reaches of it. At this point what will become of Gordon Hayward remains an open question, so it will be interesting to watch his development and find out who he is now and what he can become.

The Jazz’s recent overhaul probably has the greatest significance for the shooting guard position. Coming into this past season, the team expected to rely heavily on the veteran Raja Bell and for anything Hayward contributed simply to be gravy. As Karl Malone might say, the team has now done a total 360. For the next couple years the team will be depending heavily on the development of Hayward, and anything Bell contributes will simply be gravy.

All comments are the opinion of the commenter and not necessarily that of SLC Dunk or SB Nation.

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