Since the end of the Utah Jazz's 2014-15 season many arguments have been made about what the team's "biggest need" is to take the next step in progression forward and compete for a playoff spot. Some have speculated that Quin Snyder needs a Stretch 4 to run the offense he really wants. Others have suggested that since point guard was statistically the worst position on the team, the biggest need would be to bring in a veteran upgrade to help tutor the young Dante Exum and/or Trey Burke. Still others have suggested what is merely needed is more time for the young guys to grow.
While there is not necessarily a consensus on what Dennis Lindsey's next step should be, there does appear to be close to a consensus that the Jazz are sitting pretty good with 5 good young prospects, one at each starting position. The argument further goes that with the Jazz holding a solid starter at each position, the team can focus on just drafting the best prospect available and filling out the bench with role players that will provide the depth that was filled primarily with D-League call ups last season.
Despite the overwhelming majority of those making the argument above, (#UnpopularOpinionAlert) I'd like to propose that the Jazz do in fact have a major hole, one which if not filled, will leave the team scrambling to compete with the upper echelon teams in the west and perhaps leaving them unable to bridge the next gap in their development. That need is for a utility small forward who is competently capable of playing a large share of minutes at the power forward position.
One need look no further than the 2015 NBA Finals teams to see where this might bear out. Golden State for example has been most successful when it is utilizing lineups with non-traditional big men playing down low. In the Finals, the Warriors have even taken it a step further and gone with a lineup of Draymond Green at Center and Harrison Barnes or Andre Iguodala playing power forward.
Looking on the other side of the ball, the Cavaliers have played a heavy amount of minutes with LeBron James at the PF position. This of course is nothing new for LeBron who has played a lot of PF minutes in several of Miami's Finals visits the past few years, though at times the Heat were also known to insert SF Mike Miller into the PF position.
This trend of course is not exclusive to Cavs and Warriors. Several other successful teams over the past few years have made the transition to playing SF's at the 4 spot from playing a Stretch 4 or traditional 2 big man lineup. The Spurs (Kawhi Leonard), Mavericks (Shawn Marion), and Thunder (Kevin Durant) have all reached the finals with similar concepts since 2011.
So where does this leave the Jazz? Clearly, the strength of the end of season run that Utah experienced was on the backs of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. While there is always the theory that it is best to zig when everyone else zags, and build on those superior front-court rotations, I'd argue it is also necessary to be prepared to matchup with the smaller lineups at times. Further, it isn't necessary that the Jazz start with a small front-court player. Despite Golden State relegating Iguodala to the bench, he still has averaged more minutes per game than Andrew Bogut, both in the regular season and in the playoffs.
While the Jazz have 3 pretty good wing prospects right now in Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Rodney Hood, it is tough to envision any of them competently defending big men like Tristan Thompson as is necessary at times. The Warriors on the other hand have not been scared to throw Green, Barnes or Iguodala at bigs in stretches, which may be the key to the whole thing.
In order to fill this potential hole in the lineup, the Jazz can look no further than the upcoming draft as there are a few players in the Jazz's draft range which I believe will be able to fill this role for the Jazz in the upcoming season and beyond. Below is the list of the ideal candidates at the Jazz's draft spot and just for giggles, I've included the players potential Golden State Warrior comparison.
(Please note, I am not advocating that the Jazz's shouldn't draft the best player available, but rather that there is a good chance that each of these 4 are in fact the best player available AND fill the team's biggest need)..
The Player: Stanley Johnson
Weight: 242 pounds
The Warriors Comp: Harrison Barnes (6'8", 228 pounds, 6'11.25" wingspan, 8'5.5" reach).
Of the players I've listed, Johnson may be the strongest of the bunch and thus the most capable of defending NBA big men at times. His strength could also potentially help him develop a low-post game to take advantage when teams may choose to put a smaller player on him. To start his NBA career, and like Barnes, Johnson probably works best off-ball and camping out on the 3 point line. This is ideal with both Exum, Hayward and Burks initiating a lot of the offense and the team needing more dependable outside shooters..
The Player: Kelly Oubre
Weight: 219 pounds
The Warriors Comp: Andre Iguodala (6'6.75"", 217 pounds, 6'11" wingspan, 8'10" reach)
Oubre represents the most athletically gifted of the small forwards that may be available to the Jazz at 12. If he chooses to, and like Iguodala, he could hone that athleticism and learn to defend 1-4 at a high level. Also like Iggy, Oubre probably needs the most work on his outside shooting, but should be able to develop a competent enough 3 point shot to force other teams to respect him from the outside. If Oubre is going to live up to the Iggy comparison, he'll need to fill out his frame in order to get the strength necessary to cover bigger players in the post..
The Player: Sam Dekker
Weight: 219 pounds
The Warriors Comp: Klay Thompson (6'7.25", 206 pounds, 6'9" wingspan, 8'7.5" reach)
Over his college career Dekker has not been a dead eye 3 point shooter, like Thompson has developed into, but he did have an outstanding tournament run from beyond the arc. If Dekker can develop consistency on his outside shot and learn to step up his defense in the pro game, much like Thompson did, then he could become something of a Klay-lite. Perhaps the greatest similarity between the two will be if Dekker can learn to work off screens to get some good looks from the 3 point line..
The Player: Kevon Looney
Weight: 222 pounds
The Warriors Comp: Draymond Green (6'7.5", 236 pounds, 7'1.25" wingspan, 8'9" reach)
Of the players listed, Looney is probably the most traditional big men of the group. Height and reach wise he is superior to Green, but he currently lacks Draymond's strength and hustle. While most peg Looney as a power forward in the NBA, I think that underutilizes his skill set quite a bit. A former point guard, Looney is a willing passer and able to set up his teammates. This same skill has perhaps been the biggest reason Green jumped from a good role player to a maximum contract recipient this summer. Looney has a lot of things to learn on defense before he can truly be compared to Green, but with time, and due to his versatility, it isn't out of the question that he could end up capably guarding positions 3-5 in the NBA.