Last year I felt like that Utah Jazz would be having a season of development and discovery. I was half right as we got some resolution after the season ended, particularly in regards to former head coach Tyrone Corbin (Teflon Corbin?) -- specifically we discovered that he wasn't interested in development. This season was supposed to be the real deal. The Jazz general manager, Dennis Lindsey, finally had "his" coach. In fact, Lindsey scouted, interviewed, and hired two coaches over the off-season if you add NBA DL Idaho Stampede Coach Cooper to Jazz head coach Quin Snyder. It's all about actual development this season. And it's really happening. Finally.
And the on court results show that the team is developing quite nicely on defense.
"Je me souviens." - Tim Duncan, probably.
The offense comes and goes from game to game, but I honestly feel like the absence of game changing combo guard, Alec Burks, would have added enough juice to prevent the team from stalling during certain stretches of certain games. But that's just me. Right now there is actual bench scoring happening from Trey Burke and Rodney Hood -- and NEXT season I expect the offense to just generally be better. More complex. More fluid. And more precise.
But the emphasis this season has been on defense. And that seems to govern a lot of the moves that Dennis Lindsey has been making. The Jazz have already made 75 roster moves since July 1st, 2015. With the season ending injury to Burks; the rotating injuries to guys like Hood; and the moves at the trade deadline -- it only makes sense to keep tinkering.
What have we seen so far?
- The Utah Jazz front office really want to see if Ian Clark can play point guard. He is a 6'3 'combo guard' which is the polite term for short shooting guard. He came on the scene undrafted after four years at Belmont. In the Las Vegas Summer league he was a "take charge" guard who can set the table for guys and hit the three. He did not exhibit those skills to that high a level in the Orlando Summer league the same summer he blew up, or last summer in Vegas. But the additions of Patrick Christopher, Elijah Millsap, Elliot Williams, and Chris Johnson (all shooting guards) during the season after Burks' injury spells it all out. Instead of giving Clark that extra playing time at the two guard they kept shuffling the deck looking for someone else. The removal of Toure' Murry, an actual 6'6 combo guard, also factors in here. Utah does not seem sold on Clark right now, who has been sent to the NBA-DL for the third time in his young career. But they like him better than some other players. Point guard minutes to not come freely behind Dante Exum (19) and Trey Burke (22), but Clark can develop into a player who provides some insurance there.
- But it's not like point guard is solid -- the top two guys are incomplete players right now and they need all the minutes, game time, instruction, video sessions, and so forth to maximize their abilities. Utah has tinkered with point guard a bit too, as mentioned above with the Murry/Clark thing. The Jazz also have Bryce Cotton on the team right now. Earlier in training camp they tried out Dee Bost (formerly of Idaho Stampede fame) but that didn't look like a win-win. The long play seems to be actual rookie Tre' Bussey -- who the Jazz signed to a short term deal during training camp to test him out, and then a few days later drafted him in the NBA-DL draft. While we never really know what's happening with Raul Neto, or if Clark will "turn himself" into a point guard, Bussey could be the actual insurance the team is looking for. And it only helps that Lindsey hired the coach who worked him out (Snyder), and also hired the coach who is playing him in games and running him through practice every day too (Cooper). Keep an eye on this kid.
- Jack Cooley is the trend setter, as the first player from a Utah Jazz NBA-DL affiliate to actually get called up to the Jazz. He doesn't seem to have made it past the first 10-day contract though, as reports are abound that he will be replaced by current Idaho Stampede player Jerrelle Benimon. Benimon played in the NBA-DL All-star game and will be the 2nd ever call up from the Jazz farm team to the Jazz major league team. Fun trivia. I'm not entirely sure how any of this tracks with what the Jazz are doing with Grant Jerrett. Jerrett was part of the Enes Kanter deal, and the 21 year old face-up four has really only played as an NBA-DL assignee from the Thunder this year. He need to play, on some level, as much as possible. He's not doing that right now.
The assignment of Clark to the NBA-DL, the move to sign Benimon, and the question mark of Cooley will push the Jazz to close to 80 transactions so far this year, and we're not even at the draft yet. Yikes. I asked Idaho Stampede PR about Cooley, and his specific situation. Will he return to the Flash after his 10 day is up? He was with Idaho before, but as of this writing there was not an official statement on Cooley's immediate future. Cooley was on the radar for a while, playing in Jazz free agent mini-camps, and was 'signed' with the Jazz/Stamps to work on his game. The idea was if he could become a face-up / stretch big to compliment his back to the basket game. A solid rebounder, he was basically a dollar store version of Enes Kanter, without the eight pack. I wish him well, and I hope he does return to Idaho.
Utah has avoided signing a player on for the rest of the season beyond Millsap, who has earned that right by being a legit NBA player, and rotation player on this Burks-less Jazz club. The 27 year old rookie has one thing a lot of these other NBA-DL call ups (save for Williams) do not have: actual experience climbing the ladder.
I have a hope for Tre Bussey, but he has a long way to go. And while I'm always going to root for Ian Clark to make it, the off the record conversations I've had with former Jazz guards who played in the NBA-DL, and their people, force me to have more realistic expectations. The Jazz will continue to tinker with their roster, as this year of development is also one where we shift into experimentation.
We're quietly seeing more of Trey Burke + Dante Exum on the floor at the same time. But that's an experiment I need to discuss in another post. The roster experiment is one that is both fluid and has many variables. Standing pat and accepting little growth is the wrong thing to do. And I am really glad that the Jazz are doing the exact opposite, they are making moves and growing in every direction.
It's not development & discovery. But it's something else. And whatever you call it, most could agree that it is long over-due.