Since the Jazz modeled their rebuild after the Spurs, they have carried over many Spurs practices and philosophies to their organization, such as heavy ball movement on offense, acquiring high-character players who put the team first, and putting a high emphasis on development. The two organizations with the most similarities to the Jazz are the Spurs and the Hawks, who have also brought a lot of Spurs ideas and practices to their organization.
One area the Jazz have not copied, however, is heavy resting of players. Pop rests his players more than any other coach in the NBA. When asked how he keeps his players motivated, he said, "It’s a long season and …. it’s a lot of games. What I do is I play my bench a lot. And some coaches are afraid to do that because- maybe you’re going to lose. But, it’s important to develop the bench. And the bench, it’s going to be very motivated, especially it’s nice when you’re playing a poor team, and maybe they get an opportunity to get more minutes tonight. Maybe you rest one of your better players or instead of playing x number of minutes, it’s x-10, and I think your bench is really important for that motivation, in those games, you’ll be surprised sometimes, you’ll find a player, you’ll find that so-and-so deserves more minutes, or compliments the starting team very well. So that’s one way to motivate in those situations".
This is reflected in how much San Antonio played their starters last year:
Kawhi Leonard: 33.1 mpg, but only played in 72 out of 82 games.
Lamarcus Aldridge: 30.6 mpg, only played in 74 games.
Tony Parker: 27.5 mpg, played in 72 games.
Danny Green: 26.5 mpg, played in 79 games.
Tim Duncan: 25.2 mpg, played in 61 games.
After that, Patty Mills played 20.5 mpg, and no one else averaged more than 20.
You have to go all the way back to the 2008-2009 season to find an instance where a Spurs player averaged more than 33 mpg. (in 2008-2009, Tony Parker averaged 34.1 mpg, and even in that season, he still only played in 71 games).
The Hawks have also copied San Antonio’s practice of not playing their starters heavy minutes, although they do not rest their players. Here are the Hawks’ leaders in minutes last year:
Paul Millsap: 32.7 mpg, played all 82 games.
Al Horford: 32.1 mpg, played all 82 games.
Kyle Korver: 30.0 mpg, played 80 games.
Jeff Teague: 28.5 mpg, played 79 games.
Over the last two seasons, no Hawks player has ever averaged more than 33 mpg.
Compare that to the Jazz last year:
Gordon Hayward: 36.2 mpg (tied for 5th in the NBA, by the way), played 80 of 82 games, missing two because of his Plantar Fasciitis injury.
Rodney Hood: 32.2 mpg, played 79 of 82 games, missing three due to injury.
Derrick Favors: 32.0 mpg, played 62 of 82 games, missing 20 due to injury.
Rudy Gobert: 31.7 mpg, played 61 of 82 games, missing 21 due to injury.
Shelvin Mack: 31.4 mpg, played all 28 games for the Jazz, starting 27.
The Jazz’ leader in minutes, Hayward, averaged nearly 4 mpg more than Millsap, the leader for the Hawks. 32 mpg for Hood, Favors, and Gobert may not sound like much, but Hood’s minutes went up after Alec’s injury, while Gobert and Favors both had a lot of games where they were injured and didn’t play much to drag their minutes averages down. When they were in close games that mattered, they were playing heavy minutes.
It’s clear the Jazz have yet to adopt the Spurs’ or Hawks’ egalitarian minute distribution, or the Spurs’ practice of resting their starters. But should they?
Looking at the Jazz roster for next year, the Jazz are incredibly deep. This is how I would rank their depth chart for next year:
8. (Joe) Johnson
Currently, there are not even enough minutes for qualified players that will be playing. Burks probably deserves more than 20 mpg, as does Johnson, and Lyles will probably want to see his minutes from last year increase, not stay the same. In addition, it will be very hard to find playing time for Diaw, and impossible to find any time for Ingles, Mack, Neto, and Withey, unless injuries occur. Exum will also want to challenge for more minutes towards the end of the year, but this may be hard to do without further pushing out qualified players.
By making themselves so deep, the Jazz have created a minutes problem for themselves, where it will be almost impossible to give everyone the playing time they deserve. One possible solution to this might be to start resting players. Here are the arguments for and against:
- It keeps everyone happy.
Locker room issues is the worst thing that could happen to the Jazz next year. Although the Jazz have such a high-character group of players that I doubt this will happen, it is likely that many players will be unhappy with their playing time. For example, without injuries occurring, we may not get to see Neto at all this year, after being our starting point guard for most of last year. Joe Ingles may only play 10-15 games. Instead of trading these players to teams where they might get more playing time, it makes a lot more sense to hold on to them and play them in games where players ahead of them are being rested. As Pop explained, the players will be more motivated to play in these situations, as they will want to prove themselves and show that they deserve more playing time.
2. More data collection/development.
As Pop also said, "you’ll be surprised sometimes, you’ll find a player, you’ll find that so-and-so deserves more minutes, or compliments the starting team very well". Who knows? We might discover a certain lineup that works really well that we would not have known about, or we might discover that two players play really well together. If we can find some good combination that we can pull out during the playoffs, then that’s great. It is also good for development. Players can’t develop if they can’t play.
3. Keeps players fresh/motivated.
This is the biggest positive. I think anything we can do to keep our players healthier throughout the season ought to be done. Injuries really took a toll on us last year, and we want to do everything we can to try and stay healthy. It’s also clear that players like Hayward and Favors wear down throughout the season, so resting them could be important, especially if we want them to be 100% during the playoffs. The Spurs, with their consistent resting of players, have usually experienced less injuries than the typical NBA team, and the Hawks have been mostly healthy throughout the past two seasons as well, in terms of their starting players. While I can’t prove that correlation = causation here, it is certain that resting players will decrease their risk of injury and keep their bodies fresh.
Another issue is motivation. Resting players will help the players near the end of our roster be more motivated, since they will actually get to play, and help our starters as well. Playing 82 games with little to no breaks could be very repetitive, and getting to take a game off every 10-15 games could be valuable to make sure they don’t get bored with the marathon length of the season.
1. We might lose a few more games.
This is the only argument I could think of against resting our players. The Jazz will be in the hunt for a good playoff seed this year, and are squarely in "win-now" mode. If last year taught us anything, it’s that every game matters, and on an even deeper level, every possession of every game matters. If resting players puts us at the 6th seed instead of the 3rd seed, then I don’t want to do it. However, will it really hurt us that much? Consider the following scenarios:
We rest Burks. We still have Joe Ingles. Is that that much of a downgrade?
We rest Hood. Let Burks start, play Joe Johnson more and Joe Ingles more. Does that hurt us that much?
We rest Joe Johnson. We give Joe Ingles his minutes, and maybe Exum a bit more playing time, or Mack or Neto if we don’t want to do that.
We rest Exum. We still have Mack. That much of a downgrade? Not really.
We rest Hill. Let Exum play more, give Mack and Neto some minutes. Still much better than our roster last year.
We rest Hayward. Joe Johnson starts and Ingles and Burks get more time. Remember, we beat Cleveland last year with Hayward resting and Joe Ingles defending Lebron James, while starting Mack, and not having Burks, or any of the other depth we have right now.
We rest Favors. Let Lyles start, and actually play Diaw some minutes.
We rest Gobert. Play Withey and Diaw more.
As you can see, we are well equipped to rest virtually any player we want without suffering too much of a drop in production, as long as we do it one at a time, and not three or four players at once. We have so much depth that we can really afford to do it. With that in mind, I think it’s a good way to solve our minutes crunch. I think it’s something that Quin might want to do, but, for obvious reasons, we couldn’t do it last year. Here’s how I would do it:
No player averages over 33 mpg. Hayward gets 8-10 games of rest throughout the year. Favors and Gobert get 7-8, but never at the same time, and only against bad teams, since those are probably the two that could hurt us the most. Hill gets 5-6, maybe more if we want to give Exum opportunities. Hood also gets 5-6. Burks gets 3-4, and Joe Johnson maybe gets 10-15 (I think we should really try to preserve him so he’s still productive next season). Exum never plays on the second game of back-to-backs and also gets rest whenever he needs it, because of his ACL. If any player starts to develop an injury they are rested.
I think this is a good way to sort out the minutes crunch without hurting us too much, and will also help us in other ways. I also feel like it might be something Quin’s wanted to do for a while, but couldn’t because we lacked the depth. As Amar said, we have never been this deep. What do you guys think? Worth it or not worth it?