clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Utah Jazz Optimal Lineup Combinations

New, comment

Size? Skill? Swag? This team has it all.

Utah Jazz v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Swiss army knives are a seemingly fantastic innovation, but they are more limited than they seem at first glance. However, the limits are not rooted in the design of the knives. Rather, it’s in the potential for users to lack awareness about how to maximize all the features of the Swiss army knife.

In some respects, the same could be said for the current Utah Jazz roster. We’ve never had a more versatile group of players – it’s a veritable Swiss army knife. However, that fact is only pertinent insofar as Quinn Snyder’s able to tap into the secret combinations of the roster to unlock its success.

To that end, the following are lineup combinations which can be unleashed in an array of situations, each named for the former Jazz great who best reflects the trait which that particular lineup is meant to master.

Karl Malone shoots Photo by: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Karl Malone Lineup – Best Overall

C – Rudy Gobert

PF – Derrick Favors

SF – Gordon Hayward

SG – Rodney Hood

PG – George Hill

Reasonable minds can differ as to whether the Mailman is the greatest Jazzman of all time. If you were to argue Stockton, I’d silently and humbly nod without objecting in the slightest. However, Malone was a two-time MVP (suck it, MJ), a three-time member of the NBA All-Defensive Team and the God-among-men who scored the second most points in NBA history (36,928). He was legit.

Regarding the lineup, it truly has it all. You can run the offense through Hayward and Hood on the wings, with Hill spotting up on the perimeter in preparation to send hearts into the daggers of our foes. Alternatively, Hill can initiate the offense and find Hood and Hayward as they curl off the screens set by our gigantic frontcourt. Speaking of which, Favors can step out for 15-17 foot jumpers or just physically punish smaller PFs on the block. Gobert can roll hard off pick and rolls with any of Hill, Hood or Hayward, throwing down violent dunks and saluting his way into our hearts.

Defense? Well, if you’re into that sort of thing, this lineup has it. The only average or worse defender is Hood, though I have faith that his above-average wingspan as a 6’8” SG can make him at least adequate. The rest are all long-limbed, versatile defenders who can switch easily on the perimeter, run shooters off the three-point line and funnel players to our ferocious rim protectors down low.

Utah Jazz v Houston Rockets, Game 1 Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Andrei Kirilenko Lineup – Stifling Defense

C – Rudy Gobert

PF – Derrick Favors

SF – Gordon Hayward

SG – Dante Exum

PG – George Hill

Not much to say here. AK-47 was like the modern day Draymond Green in terms of his defensive versatility, except with a way better faux hawk and back tattoo. He also achieved multiple 5x5 (at least 5 points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals) twice in the same week (2003) and three times overall. Seriously. Out of this world.

Oh, you want a lineup of legitimate, fire breathing dragons who would scorch the earth in a manner that would make Daenerys Targaryen blush? See above. You’re welcome. What are the odds that an opposing team will dejectedly say “no mas” a la Roberto Durán and walk back to the locker room in mass protest after see this lineup stroll onto the court after a timeout when the Jazz have a 12 point lead with 5 minutes to go in the fourth quarter? At least 35/65, right? Can someone look this up on Bovada for me?

Also, want to know what makes me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside? (Who are we kidding? Of course you do.) Aside from swapping out Hood for Exum, that’s the same as our Karl Malone (best overall) lineup above. THAT is what makes this team damn special.

Speaking of Exum, he’s still arguably the weak link in this lineup. He has perfectly adequate size to play SG, but he doesn’t have the *special* length and quickness for the position in order to terrorize opposing players like he does when we just play him at PG. However, he’s more than up for the job of taking turns with Hill to just beat the will to live out of the opposing team’s ball handlers.

Otherwise, not much more to say here that wasn’t said in the overview of the Karl Malone (best overall) lineup except to emphasize the fact that Hill is only marginally less of a physical freak than our widely-recognized alien, Rudy Gobert. Hill is 6’3” tall with a 6’9” wingspan. That’s just not okay (for the rest of the NBA). Coupling that with his awareness of team defensive concepts and foot speed should damn near be illegal. Fortunately, it’s not and we’ll reap the benefit of it.

Utah Jazz v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Al Jefferson Lineup – Pure Offense

C – Boris Diaw

PF – Trey Lyles

SF – Gordon Hayward

SG – Rodney Hood

PG – Alec Burks

Al Jefferson had zero foot speed and a vertical “leap” that effectively involved him just going on his toes. His next impressive defensive play will be his first. However, if you gave him the ball with his back to the basket, he was a goddamn magician who deserves our respect and admiration. The dude would just put guys in the torture chamber down there and it was awesome to watch. He’s earned this lineup title.

I hate myself a little for leaving Joe Johnson out of this lineup, but life’s hard and we’re all just doing the best we can here. Same with swapping out Favors for Diaw. Without question, it’s WAY more likely that Favors will drop 30 points on an opponent at some point this season. However, I can’t help but swoon when thinking about the ways Bobo’s passing, shooting and inside-out game will create opportunities for others on the court. Put differently, Diaw may not drop 30 points in this lineup, but he’ll make it substantially easier for the other four players to do so.

Trey Lyles isn’t even old enough to enjoy a cold adult beverage. However, every time I see him catch the ball at the three-point line and put the ball on the court to blow past his defender, I want to buy him one. Or ten. Perhaps a cool baker’s dozen – depends how flush with cash I’m feeling that day. Anyway, he’s arguably the most skilled (note: this is different from “best,” so take a deep breath and calm down) offensive frontcourt player the Jazz have ever had. I daydream about what he’ll become in five years.

Also, never forget Alec Burks. Ever. He’s been injured, but his ability to toggle between PG and SG is a huge asset in this lineup, as it really unleashes the full offensive potential of the Jazz roster. As for his trait that’s often overlooked, it’s the fact that he was the Jazz’s best three-point shooter last season (40.5%). If he can build on that improvement in his game and couple it with his Houdini-esque, how-the-hell-did-he-get-that-shot-off?!?! ability near the basket, he could be the spark our bench lacked last season when the offense would stagnate with Hayward and Hood on the bench.

Jazz V Nuggets

Mark Eaton Lineup – ALL. THE. LENGTH.

C – Rudy Gobert

PF – Derrick Favors

SF – Joe Johnson

SG – Gordon Hayward

PG – Dante Exum

I guess you could say that Eaton is a “meh” selection to highlight the Jazz’s optimal, super long lineup. He merely stood 7’4” and weighed 290 lbs, with a 7’6” wingspan. Currently in the top 5 of the NBA’s list of all-time leaders in blocks, he holds the NBA record for averaging the most blocks per game at a ho-hum 3.50/game. I mean, it’s whatever. You get the point. He had the limbs for days.

This lineup. MY GOD. I just need a minute to collect myself. Only the Bucks with Giannis LastNameSoGreekThatItHurts can match (or exceed) this length, but he’s also a genetic freak to whom I humbly tip my cap. You know that scene in 300 when the Athenians shoot so many arrows at the Spartans that it blocks out the sun? Same thing here, except the blackout will last 82 games plus the playoffs (please, merciful God above, let it include the playoffs…).

I’ve avoided freaking out writing too much about Rudy until this point, but now it’s on like Donkey Kong. The Stifle Tower is REAL. Hide the women and children (and small men). Every devoted Jazz fan knows his stats: 7’2” height, 240 lbs, 7’9” wingspan (he might be an alien) and 9’9” standing reach (nevermind, he’s definitely an alien). Want some perspective on this? According to a 2015 Nylon Calculus study, the average height/wingspan/standing reach of NBA centers is 6’11”/7’3”/9’2. Overwhelmed? Sit down. Deep breaths. Drink some water. It’s going to be alright – the aberrant monster is on our team.

Most frightening is the fact that unlike Eaton, Rudy can jump and run like a substantially smaller human being. The length isn’t going anywhere, but the real fun will be when he continues to gain lower body strength. That’s what will allow him to stay in a defensive crouch and PGs on a 1-5 switch pick and roll defense before exploding from said crouch to smash the ball in into a plume of dust. (Want to know how rubber can be smashed into dust? Learn French and ask Rudy yourself.)

Rudy’s “petite” frontcourt mate, Mr. Favors, is merely 6’10” height, 265 lbs, 7’4” wingspan and 9’2” standing reach. Seriously, I’m not making those up. I’d compare him to other PFs, but that’s boring. Instead, consider that those match (or exceed) the average dimensions of an NBA center. However, the guy is freakishly good at staying with guards off the pick and roll, with quickness and leaping ability for days. Absolutely insane.

Utah Jazz point guard John Crotty dribbles the ball

John Crotty Lineup – Small Ball Lineup

C – Derrick Favors

PF – Gordon Hayward

SF – Joe Johnson

SG – Rodney Hood

PG – Dante Exum

A blast from (obscure) Jazz past. Was John Crotty the smallest jazz player ever? Probably not. I seem to remember Raul Lopez being a fairly petite human being. But that’s neither here nor there. John Crotty was a small, pesky dude from what I can remember, so this is his memorial lineup. If you have a superior small ball representative for the Jazz that hasn’t been used already, then hit me up.

This is the type of lineup that can plausibly give Golden State Warriors trouble. Maybe not beat them, but definitely avoid getting steamrolled by the “Lineup of Death” like everyone else in the league. There are really two things that make this possible.

First, Hayward is really, really good. Really. He’s in almost every conceivable lineup combination because he’s so damn versatile. With his added bulk, he can credibly play PF for stretches. However, he also has the foot speed to slide down to SG in the length-focused lineup referenced above. Coupled with his shooting, playmaking, defense and boyish good looks (men, hide your wives ASAP), there’s a reason why other teams will be falling over themselves to give him a max contract this season.

Second, Favors has the kind of foot speed and grown man strength to not only survive, but thrive at center in a small ball lineup. His existence on Earth ensures that the Jazz can always have an elite rim protector at C for 48 mins a night, no matter what lineup combinations are thrown at us. It’s really unique and is a grossly underrated skill that is frequently overlooked when all-star teams are selected, Favors is inevitably snubbed and all Jazz fans do serious cost/benefit analyses as to whether to bludgeon their TVs with baseball bats in rage when the rosters are announced.

John Stockton dribbles Photo by: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

John Stockton Lineup – Ball Movement

C – Boris Diaw

PF – Gordon Hayward

SF – Joe Ingles

SG – Rodney Hood

PG – Dante Exum

The epitome of a traditional point guard, Stockton looked like a choirboy but would gladly scowl while stepping on your effing throat on the way to winning a game. Incredibly unselfish, he’s the NBA’s all-time leader in assists (15,806) and 2nd place in that race (Jason Kidd – 12,091) isn’t even particularly close. He also averaged over 11 apg for 9 straight seasons, with a single-season high of 14.5 apg in 1989-90. Redonkulous. My indelible memory of him is how he’d drive into the thicket of players around the block and would somehow wrap his arm around a defender to get the ball to Malone at an impossible angle. Sigh. Simply the best.

I’ll be frank – on the whole, this lineup doesn’t wow me. It definitely has high points, but is dragged down a bit by the fact that neither Hayward nor Hood are particularly great passers. Not bad, but not exceptional. However, it’s a good opportunity to highlight Joe Ingles – perhaps my favorite Jazz passer. He’s a below average athlete who is an average shooter, but he’s get an exceptional basketball IQ. This allows him to see the game a bit faster than other players, placing the ball ahead of the action to put his teammates in good positions to succeed. A reflection of this? He’s easily the best “touch passer” I’ve seen on the Jazz, which is a fun skill.

Boris Diaw is new to the team, but his passing abilities are beyond exceptional. He had a sick pass recently against the Lakers where he drove towards the right corner with a defender on his hip. Just as he was approaching the baseline he whipped a no-look bounce pass behind his back to Rudy, who caught it in the perfect position to finish an and-1 around the defender. See below for visual evidence of this feat.

Bobo’s numbers will not likely wow us and it’s clear that he’s on the downside of his career in terms of his athletic ability, but he can absolutely pass with the best of ‘em.

Finally, the young fella. Dante has a ton of growth ahead of him and I’m honestly not sure if he’s going to be a good player. Hell, I’m not even certain he’s better than Shelvin Mack (who I kinda love, admittedly) right now. But the kid has a strong feel for the game, allowing him to make passes that people a decade his senior wouldn’t even try. In particular, his chemistry with Rudy is heartening. Dante routinely hits him with combinations of pocket passes and lobs at the rim that forebode special things between them for years to come.

Jeff Hornacek

Jeff Hornacek Lineup – Shooting

C – Boris Diaw (.527/.362/.737)

PF – Trey Lyles (.438/.383/.695)

SF – Joe Johnson (.406/.371/.852)

SG – Alec Burks (.410/.405/.752)

PG – George Hill (.441/.408/.706)

I’ll be honest. I didn’t like it when we traded Jeff Malone for Jeff Hornacek. I was too young to know that Hornacek was the superior player and I’m sorry for my youthful ignorance. In some respects, he was the ideal third banana to Stockton and Malone. His shooting splits (2pt/3pt/FT) were (.493/.403/.877). He was thisclose to finishing his career in the elusive 50/40/90 club, while definitely finishing his career as the all-time leader in the number of times he rubbed his face at the FT line during the season. He was an assassin and is a Jazz icon.

Next to each player’s name I included the same shooting splits (from the 2015-16 season) as for Horny, just for comparison purposes. Really, each player above was included based on their three-point shooting figures last season. Honestly, this lineup is flexible. I sense your outrage at my omitting Hayward and Hood from the wing spots, but deal with it. They’re each very talented shooters, but they’re quite inconsistent. Hood will have some stretches where he’s unconscious from the three point line, but others where he misses so many that you wish he were unconscious. I value some modicum of consistency. So sue me.

Worth noting (#TakeNote) is that this lineup would not have been possible last season, an important reason why the ceiling for this team is so much higher this season. Diaw, Johnson and Hill were all picked up in the offseason, while Burks was injured most of last season. This means that the ceiling for our team’s potential this season is exponentially higher this

Pete Maravich Lineup – Swaggiest

C – Rudy Gobert

PF – Boris Diaw

SF – Joe Ingles

SG – Joe Johnson

PG – Alec Burks

Pistol Pete represents everything that’s right with the world. He averaged 44.2 points/game during his three-year career at LSU, was a devastating offensive talent and could (and would) jack it up from anywhere on the court in way that should make Steph Curry request a paternity test. He’d also throw passes that would’ve caused Jerry Sloan to probably storm onto the court to bludgeon him to death for their carelessness, though they somehow always landed. That’s all impressive. Fine. However, the guy did it with a majestic mustache, flair and zero f****s-giving attitude that makes him the Jazz’s swag godfather. He barely played in Utah, but we’ve adopted him as our own and will take up arms against any New Orleans resident that challenges us otherwise.

This team. I love it. It’s not the swag it has, but the diversity of said swag. Let’s recount them quickly:

  • You have the assertive, “I’m the baddest alpha male in the galaxy” swag represented by Rudy.
  • There’s the “I make some of the most ridiculous basketball moves look easy (and I know it)” swag of Burks.
  • Iso Joe has that old man, “don’t worry about me, I’ve been doing this since before you were born” swag.
  • Ingles has that “I’m gonna mess around with you and constantly give you crap, but I know I’m gonna get away with it because you love me” swag.
  • Bobo has that “most interesting man on Earth,” cultural savant and coffee aficionado swag.

Those 5 types of swag could basically be the foundation of the cast of Oceans 11. Seriously. They’re well-rounded and complementary, without threatening or duplicating each other. It’s more personality than this team has in a while (We miss you, Fes!) and will be a fun subplot to this season.