The Utah Jazz entered the 2023-2024 NBA season with an intriguing problem: how to adequately evaluate their surplus of talented guards?
The Jazz’s roster boasts an impressive array of backcourt players, including the team’s longest tenured player in Jordan Clarkson, single-year vets in Talen Horton-Tucker, Collin Sexton, Kris Dunn, and sophomore Ochai Agbaji alongside recently drafted rookies Keyonte George and Brice Sensabaugh. Oh, and not to forget Josh Christopher and Romeo Langford.
If that seemed a lengthy overview, it is but a taste of how the array of skills, experience, potential, and trust exists in various doses throughout the group. While certainly there exists a natural hierarchy throughout this group, the tiers remain stacked enough to illicit serious evaluation.
Coach Will Hardy said during training camp that the competition for the guard rotation would be “vicious”, even likening it to the Hunger Games. So far in preseason, we’re seeing the unconventional path the coaching staff is taking to make sense of their options.
Speed, skill, and shooting
To leverage their wealth of guards, the Utah Jazz have decided to embrace their speed, skill, and shooting capabilities by deploying lineups with three or more guards sharing the court simultaneously. The early results of this unique strategy are nothing short of intriguing.
During the preseason, the Jazz spent over 70 minutes with three or more guards on the court. In such lineups, they have outscored their opponents by 29.3 points per 48 minutes. It’s important to note that only 13 of these minutes came in a lopsided victory over the non-NBA team New Zealand Breakers. There’s clearly something here.
When employing three guards, Utah is outscoring their opponents by a significant 22 points per 48 minutes. The most frequently used trio consists of Horton-Tucker, George, Agbaji, along with versatile big Kelly Olynyk and traditional center Omer Yurtseven.
Taking it a step further, with four guards on the court, the Jazz have been even more dominant, outscoring their competition by an astounding 52 points per 48 minutes. The combination of Dunn, George, Sexton, Agbaji, and Kessler has been the most frequently used lineup.
Again, such lineups have seen the floor in just a fraction of pre-season time, which again is only a sample with a handful of games. While the success is intriguing, we should focus more on the strategy.
Seizing the opportunity
Clearly, this unconventional approach is the Jazz’s way of achieving multiple objectives. It allows them to evaluate the depth and talent of their guard pool. Second, it provides valuable playing time and development opportunities for the young, promising players, such as George and Sensabaugh. Lastly, the Jazz’s willingness to stray from conventional lineups demonstrates their commitment to pushing the boundaries of the league’s playing style.
Kris Dunn, for example, is one of the more notable standouts in pre-season. His defense allows these multi-guard lineups to succeed despite the size disadvantage. He’s demonstrated leadership, poise, and awareness during his playing time. Many are clamoring for him to take his well-deserved place as a starting guard come opening night.
Keyonte George has also demonstrated flashes of brilliance with his passing and initiation. We all know what he is capable of from a stellar high-school career, impressive showcases in college, and a phenomenal summer league show-case. Now it’s about putting all those pieces together at the next level with enough consistency to warrant a rotation spot. So far so good.
While all guards have had their moments, Talen Horton-Tucker seems to have struggled finding the balance between an off-the-dribble attack and finding complementary opportunities from the rest of the offense.
Utah’s final preseason game tonight against the Sacramento Kings is likely to feature more three and four guard lineups. Pay attention to more of the patterns Hardy uses and who is standing out as complementary players and who struggle to assimilate.