“We believe Rodney Hood can be a primary scorer. It’s time for us to pivot, it’s time for us to move on.”
Hood did lead the Jazz in scoring last season, at least until December 12. But it didn’t take long for the team to pivot again. It became fairly clear, even before he officially took over the scoring lead, that Donovan Mitchell was the primary scorer.
And with Hood not even on the team a year and a few months after that quote, it’s as clear as ever that Mitchell is the No. 1 option.
But who’s No. 2?
The second-round loss to the Houston Rockets left plenty of fans and writers wondering if Utah needed another player with more a scorer’s mentality to shoulder some of the massive responsibility Mitchell carried last season.
In 2017-18, he posted the third-highest Usage Percentage ever for a rookie who qualified for the minutes leaderboard. Only Ben Gordon and Michael Jordan used a higher percentage of their teams’ possessions while they were on the floor as rooks.
Then, in the playoffs, Mitchell’s usage somehow went up. Again, he posted the third-highest Usage Percentage ever by a rookie in the playoffs (minimum 100 minutes).
Will he take another jump in 2018-19? That would put him in Kobe Bryant/Russell Westbrook territory. And maybe that’s the trajectory for Mitchell’s career. But an uptick in True Shooting Percentage would help more than one in usage. And someone else on the team being willing and able to use more of those possessions might lead there.
The obvious candidates are fellow starters Rudy Gobert, Ricky Rubio, Joe Ingles, and maybe even Derrick Favors. All four performed well following the trade of Hood to the Cleveland Cavaliers:
- Rudy Gobert: 14.8 points, .687 True Shooting Percentage
- Ricky Rubio: 14.6 points, .563 True Shooting Percentage
- Joe Ingles: 14 points, .625 True Shooting Percentage
- Derrick Favors: 12.2 points, .612 True Shooting Percentage
And honestly, that might be fine. Just look at that balance and efficiency. There are plenty of reasons Utah went 29-6 down the stretch. The balanced attack after Mitchell was one of them. And the 2004 Detroit Pistons won a championship with a similar point distribution.
But again, that heavy usage might’ve caught up with Mitchell eventually. In the postseason, his True Shooting Percentage went down about as much as his Usage Percentage went up.
One of those four in the bulleted list above may need to take on a bigger role. Which one might it be?
In some ways, this feels the least likely. Gobert doesn’t create his own shots. Dumping it down to him (or really, just about any big in the league at this point) just isn’t an efficient way to use a possession.
Last season, the best post-up team (the Minnesota Timberwolves) in the NBA scored 99 points per 100 post-up possessions. The worst overall offense in the league (the Phoenix Suns) scored 100.8 points per 100 possessions. Gobert scored 21 points on 24 post ups.
But, of course, Utah wouldn’t try to force that. And Gobert knows what his bread and butter is. We’ve never heard him griping about touches. But his teammates could look for him around the rim a bit more. And at least one has already acknowledged that.
“Being more efficient. Making better passes. Finding Rudy on lobs a lot more.” Mitchell told Utah Jazz radio play-by-play commentator David Locke, when asked about where he can improve on media day. “...There were times where I did it in spurts, you know. But now, being able to slow myself down, so I’m able to make those plays...”
One or two more dishes from each of Mitchell, Rubio and Ingles each game and you can easily imagine Gobert’s scoring average creeping up toward 16-17 points.
Sure, he’s not creating those looks himself. So, it doesn’t take pressure off the leading scorer in the traditional sense. But defenses have to account for Rudy’s presence in the lane and on rolls from the perimeter. A couple more points per game and they’d have to pay even closer attention to him.
Here’s the thing with Ricky Rubio: Is he going to need half a season to get comfortable? Or, can he get it rolling right away?
In the first halves of the last two seasons, Rubio averaged 10.6 points and 6.8 assists, with a .526 True Shooting Percentage. In the second halves of the same two seasons, he was at 15.5 points and 8.1 assists, with a .557 True Shooting Percentage.
The common thread there is new coaches and systems. In 2016-17, he went though a learning curve with Tom Thibodeau. In 2017-18, it was Quin Snyder. Now, for the first time since 2013-14, Rubio will start a campaign with the same coach as the one he had the season before.
If that means no learning curve, there’s a good chance Rubio is Utah’s second-leading scorer.
If we expand the sample from last season a bit, back to January 24 till the end of the season, Rubio averaged 16 points a game and shot 43.8 percent from three.
And while we’ve thought of him creating for others for most of his career, in 2017-18, Rubio showed us he can do a little bit for himself too.
Pretty much since the day Ingles arrived in Utah, Jazz fans have been dying for him to shoot more. It just doesn’t seem to be in his DNA. Though he did show a little more aggression in his first season as the starting small forward, sans Hayward.
His field goal attempts per game jumped from 5.5 to 8.8. And despite the uptick in shots, he still posted a career-high .623 True Shooting Percentage. The shots went up again in the playoffs (to 11 per game) and the True Shooting Percentage didn’t budge.
At some point, diminishing returns have to be on the way... Right?
Or, will Ingles just continue his rise? He’s improved in each of his NBA seasons. And now, he’s had a full year to get comfortable in this role.
If he stays in the neighborhood of the 11 shots per game he took in the postseason, averaging 14-15 points is within reach. And, like Rubio, Ingles can get plenty of his buckets on his own.
Last season, he was in the 61st percentile as an isolation scorer. Not the kind of number to blow your socks off, but comfortably above-average. And his percentage on dribble pull-up threes (37.2) was better than C.J. McCollum, Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, Victor Oladipo and Lou Williams, just to name a few.
Favors’ role on this particular team probably precludes him from being the No. 2 option. Utah plays so well when it goes to a small-ball 4, which naturally limits Favors’ playing time.
But he’s coming off one of the most efficient seasons of his career and may ride that momentum and a new contract into a few more looks.
Last season, he posted career highs in True Shooting Percentage (.593), dunks (150) and Win Shares per 48 Minutes (.179). His Offensive Box Plus-Minus of 0.5 was the second best he’s ever posted.
The league is increasingly distancing itself from the traditional big, though. Favors lost weight this summer and is working on his three-point range, but it’ll be tough for him to leap-frog players who start far more possessions with the ball in their hands.
Still, it wasn’t long ago that Favors averaged 16-plus points in back-to-back seasons (2014-15 and 2015-16).
I probably could’ve just titled this section “Dante Exum.” There are certainly some interesting bench players on this team, but few figure to put up a ton of points this season.
Grayson Allen is a rookie (who may struggle to even make the rotation). Alec Burks struggled to maintain a consistent role last season. Royce O’Neale, Thabo Sefolosha and Jae Crowder just aren’t that kind of player.
But then, there’s Exum. This is a long shot, which is why I put him in “wild cards.” But Mitchell and Hood were the only Jazz players who averaged more points per team possession than Exum last season. And in Year 1 of a new eight-figure-per-year contract, there may be more incentive to get Exum onto the floor.
We’ve been waiting for the leap from the No. 5 pick in 2014 for a few years now. Will we finally get it in 2018-19?
Exum, perhaps more than anyone else currently on this roster, represents the chance at a long-term, viable No. 2. That may seem like a reach given his production to this point in his career, but his combination of length and explosiveness is tantalizing.
Now, having said all that, I return to the argument I briefly touched on above. Maybe the Jazz don’t really need anyone on this team to emerge as a clear-cut No. 2 this season.
The attack with Mitchell as scoring alpha, followed by four players between 12 and 15 points was effective. Again, they went 29-6 down the stretch in 2017-18. And their offense in that span was a respectable 11th. That’s probably good enough if you’re rocking a top-two or -three defense.
There’s certainly a chance (probably a good one) Mitchell gets even better this season too.
Mitchell, Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Ron Harper, Mitch Richmond, Darrell Griffith, and Tyreke Evans are the only rookie guards in the three-point era to qualify for the minutes leaderboard and average at least 20 points.
And while all but one (Richmond) of those predecessors’ scoring averages decreased in Year 2, there’s little reason to forecast the same for Mitchell.
Utah didn’t bring any scorers in this season. The rookie Allen was the only addition, and he would have to obliterate expectations to horn in on Mitchell’s role.
One or two more shots per game, a couple more trips to the line and a few extra percentage points from three, and suddenly Mitchell is averaging north of 25.
If he develops into one of the NBA’s top scorers, which he certainly has the potential to do, one of the most balanced “2 through 6 or 7” groups in the league may make up for a lack of an obvious No. 2 option.