The Utah Jazz parted ways with a number of talented players over the training camp and preseason time periods: Dee Bost, Kevin Murphy, Jack Cooley, Dahntay Jones, and J.P. Gibson. (Story on previous roster cuts here!) And more recently, the last two players were sent home only hours ago. I have no idea if the Jazz are going to stick with 15 guys to start the season (no nagging injuries to any rotation guys as far as I can tell, Booker T will be ready to rumble when the season starts), but we do know that the Jazz historically have gone with 3.38 point guards, 5.94 wings, and 5.75 bigmen per season. (Full breakdown of the past 16 seasons of roster change can be found here!) That adds up to a tidy 15.07 players per season -- but one of the most consistent concepts was that the Jazz added a player or two during the season. Rarely did they start it off with a full roster.
We'll see what happens. I do like the idea that Murry and Clark and Burks add up to 1.38 point guards though. But that's something to talk about for another time.
As for this team, I think it's pretty clear that the three main guys are going to be Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, and Derrick Favors. Not surprisingly this will be our best ball handler, best wing player, and best bigmen. This is balance that our roster hasn't had a change to experience in a while. (Man, remember when it could be argued that three of our top four players were bigmen?) It's going to be a year predicated by balance. Balance between offense and defense. Balance between talent that starts and a hungry bench. Balance between the roster itself. If you want the split hairs the Jazz are imbalanced when it comes to their age and experience. But hey, you gotta start somewhere. Getting good vets will come automatically when the program becomes attractive again.
N.B. Age is their age on October 31st, when the NBA season really starts
I'm relieved that as for right now there's no debate about the pecking order at point guard. And really, it never should have been some sort of zero-sum issue at the 1 for this team. It isn't Trey Burke or Dante Exum, it's going to be Trey Burke and Dante Exum. If not on the floor together, then at least in co-operation with what former point guard Quin Snyder is asking from them. Trey is the starter and has earned it with his concentration on the court and precision play. His assist to turn over ratio is astounding, as usual. He has deep range, and is likely to continue showing his leadership ability as his comfort level rises. Dante can flat out do more on the court, but do it at a lower overall level than Trey. Exum appears to have a higher defensive IQ, better over-all instincts with the ball, and is able to finish from almost anywhere on the court, on the run or not. His abilities are better suited as a wildcard off the bench who can mix well with what some of the starters are doing, or be turned on to help take control of a bench unit that needs direction. I think that's why Trey looks horrible playing with scrubs, but Dante looks so promising. Trey is at his best when playing with people at his level. Dante is naturally talented and shines wherever, and can be a focal point for a five man unit with his mix of athleticism and floor vision.
So it's not Dante or Trey to start the season, at least. It's both of them, both doing their thing.
Backing them up will be the strange combination of three guys who grew up playing shooting guard: Ian Clark, Toure' Murry, and Alec Burks. Clark gets a look here because he's just a short shooting guard, but has leadership ability as we saw back in the Las Vegas Summer League two summers ago. He hasn't had a shot in the NBA, but his performance in the NBA-DL indicates that he's more than just a shooter. He set guys up there frequently. Alec Burks actually got his first start in the NBA at point guard, and out of all of these guys, is the closest we have to an actual defender at the position. (Remember that open court elimination of a Ricky Rubio possible game changer during crunch time, last year?) He's not really able to set people up though. Playing him at point guard is like running the Wildcat formation in the NFL. You get the ball in the hands of someone who has a lot of moves earlier, but we all know that no one else is going to be able to get the ball where they can do something with it. And that brings us to Murry, who is listed as a point guard because that's what he played with the New York Knicks last year. Murry was actually a shooting guard who was tasked with distributing a little more in the NBA-DL. He's 6'5, and he's here now. If you add it up they probably do turn into 1.38 point guards though, which is the Jazz average.
You have many looks at point guard with these five players, however the vast majority of the minutes will go to Trey and Dante. As they should.
Big money bags Gordon Hayward is the leader of this pack, and his running mate is the absolutely amazing Alec Burks. We've actually WANTED them to start for a while, but you know, Josh Howard, Randy Foye, Marvin Williams, and Richard Jefferson happened. We've been waiting for them to be paired up for so long you could basically just call them Mulder & Scully -- they don't even kiss (in a non-Bermuda triangle episode that takes place on a Nazi boarded cruise ship) until season 7, if I remember correctly. Back in Utah you're going to see a lot more action between these two young guys, and sooner. Both can handle the ball, drive the ball, pass the ball, hit spot up jumpers, and have the respect of the referees. Alec Burks is faster, finishes crazier, and gets to the line. Gordon is nearly perfect in his form, bigger, and has clutch instincts. Both also have some warts, Alec has trouble when suffocated in the paint and Gordon isn't as good at making shots as he looks taking them.
Regardless, I don't think many other teams in the NBA would complain if they started Gordon and Alec. It's the bench for the Jazz that's going to be interesting. Rodney Hood can drive, dish, score off the bounce, or spotting up from deep. In this way he's a natural for what the Jazz will be doing with Gordon and Alec on the floor. He's just not as adept on defense right now, but that's a rookie thing more than anything else. He can play the two and the three, and personally, I'd love it if he took Steve Novak's minutes at the four too. But that may not happen. BEYOND Hood there's a drop off.
Ian Clark is a combo guard, like Burks, and Dante Exum is a tall point guard. Both Clark and Exum will get some looks at the two this season. So will Gordon Hayward, but he's going to be Wing1 for this team anyway, I don't think he needs to be Wing4 as well. Exum can make threes, and is a headache to match up with. If he can consistently play back up PG / back up SG equally well then we're going to be very happy. Clark is a more natural shooter, but he did not have a very convincing rookie year. After that you get Carrick Felix, who played even fewer minutes than Clark did last year (Clark played 172, Felix only 38). Felix is athletic and could be a defender with three point range. We don't know because there's so little data on him in the NBA.
Last, but also least, is Brock Motum. He's a bigman, but I'm listing him here to go with that 3 - 6 - 6 breakdown. It's either him or Steve Novak, and I went with which guy is more capable to defend wing players right now. If the Jazz do envision Novak as a 3/4 then, well, it isn't going to be the end of the world. Hayward, Burks, and Hood will take the majority of the 96 minutes at the wing spot. There isn't going to be a lot left after Clark and Exum get some reps in at the two. And Novak IS the best shooter on the team. I can see some situations where putting him in at the three is a good thing. But they are situations, not sequences.
Derrick Favors is the man. He's a double double machine who can send shots back and, when he remembers, completely humiliate players when he uses his full range of basketball skills and Olympian like athleticism. He headlines the bigmen for this team, and there's no big secret why. Favors is just really, really good. Who he plays with on the floor will go a long way towards determining what the Coach will ask of Favors. (And I think this is backwards. They didn't make Karl Malone do different things on the floor if he was on the floor with Mark Eaton or Greg Ostertag or Danny Manning. He was always Karl Malone and asked to do Karl Malone things.) Paired up with Enes Kanter means that Favors' paint dominance is someone relinquished, as Kanter is a 20/20 threat when he is rolling. Paired up with Trevor Booker means that Derrick is more in charge of clearing the glass and outlet-ing the ball. Booker is Mr. Hustle and has an outside shot. Favors is more traditional here. And last, paired up with Rudy Gobert moves Derrick to the four, and then becomes the primary inside scoring option. The changing demands on Derrick will be something to watch this season.
The Kanter / Booker / Gobert discussion will be on that goes beyond their conjugate ability with Favors, though. I think we like all three of them, and know that they are vastly different players. Kanter is more like Malone than anyone else on our team in terms of being an actual offensive finisher from 20 feet and in. He works on the glass and defensive effort vacillates from game to game though. When he is "on" he does play like a #3 draft pick. He's just not "on" as much as we'd want.
If Kanter is a flawed version of Karl Malone than Booker is a flawed version of Paul Millsap. But a hybrid Millsap, the hustle and energy of his first two season coupled with the shooting range of the current Millsap version. He brings toughness to a group of guys who were conditioned not to express toughness (but we've seen episodes where Favors of Kanter did not back down during games. Let's see more of it!). Trevor is going to push people around in the paint, and in practice. I don't see how he's anything more than the fourth big on this team though.
Rudy Gobert is just so amazing I don't know where to begin. He's perfect off the bench because he gives the bench guards a Big Brother on defense to help them, and is a huge target on offense who cleans up any messes around the rim, or is a perfect recipient for a dump-off pass. He's big. He's agile. He finishes well around the basket. And he's not horrible at free throws. It's not crazy to believe that he could start at some point during this season. It's crazy to believe that he didn't deserve much more playing time last year as Brandon Rush did. (But that happened)
The Jazz have two specialists left in their deep bigman rotation: Steve Novak and Jeremy Evans. Both are pure finishers. Evans is a great finisher near the basket. And Novak is a great finisher on spot up jumpers. Novak spreads the floor but can't play a lick of defense and doesn't rebound. But he's the best shooter on the entire team. He's the most experienced (in age), but has been little more in his NBA career than someone to throw a few change-ups on the floor. Evans can defend, but isn't a threat at all to make jumpers. He did last year, but we haven't seen a lot of it this preseason. Dude can't get on the floor, which is so ironic because his leaping ability means he doesn't spend much time actually on the floor when he's in the game either. Both players are in a numbers crunch as bigmen behind a very deep foursome. If they can steal some minutes at the three they may actually see 10 minutes in a game now and then. Neither is capable of defending the three though.
I think Brock Motum is slightly better equipped, but he's a face up four / hustle guy hybrid too, in reality. It's likely that he's going to spend more of his time in Idaho than Utah, though. I could be wrong. Maybe he's the Australian version of Dirk Nowitzki? Probably not though.
It's hard not to look at this squad and be amazed by how young they are, or how inexperienced they are. But the Jazz brass are determined not to skip any steps this time -- for reals. And that means it's a learning process for the players, coaches, front office, and fans too. There are going to be good nights, great nights, and forgettable ones too. But this roster is one that's going to compete most nights against playoff teams, and not back down. It's a team you can root for. A team that will play an exciting style of basketball that takes advantage of the skills and talents of the players up make up the roster.
Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, and Derrick Favors are going to straight up ball this year. And the rest of the team will follow. Alec Burks could be our leading scorer. Enes Kanter could start to reach the surface of his potential. Dante Exum could be facing off against Trey in the Rookie/Soph game. Rodney Hood is already regarded as the steal of the draft. Trevor Booker is a freight train. Steve Novak is hilarious. And man, Rudy Gobert. Dude is going to get some 6MOY, MIP, and DPOY votes if he stays healthy and gets a shot.
You're going to love this team. You're going to love this team because they are bringing the Jazz back to Utah basketball.