The Utah Jazz have had an exciting start to their off-season. After drafting three rookies in Taylor Hendricks, Keyonte George, and Brice Sensabaugh, Utah traded Rudy Gay and a second-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks for John Collins. In this move, the Jazz bought-low (trading essentially nothing but cap space) on a 25 year old high-flyer who recently struggled with finding a role next to Atlanta’s ball-dominant guards. Collins, who during the 2019-2020 season averaged over 20 points per game while shooting 40.1% from three, now rounds out Utah’s athletic front-court.
While Collins will likely bring floor spacing and above-the-rim pressure in a Jazz uniform, his addition compounds on front-court that relies on playmaking from others. While both Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler played fantastic last year, they respectively only scored 25% and 32.9% of their field goals as unassisted, a number which places them among the likes of Rudy Gobert (25.6%). While that likely says more about their ability to get open as cutters, screeners, and lob threats, it also emphasizes the importance of having a consistent facilitator on the roster.
And frankly, at the moment, the Jazz don’t have one. Forward Kelly Olynyk is probably Utah’s best floor general and he played de-facto point guard for large swaths of last season. While the bumbling, stumbling, yet nevertheless effective play style of Olynyk is amusing to watch, it can’t function as the main playmaking source in an NBA offense.
Then who should the Jazz start at point guard? To help us figure that out, we will look at all of Utah’s options through the lens of basic and advanced passing metrics to get an idea of how each player performs as a facilitator in the lead-guard roll. Then, using film, we’ll discuss each of their pros and cons as well, to get a more wholistic view of their potential in the roll.
To be clear, passing metrics are not a perfect metric, nor do they encapsulate everything a lead guard does. But given the playmaking shortcomings on Utah’s roster, they are a valuable way to look at this question.
Sexton stands as the most likely day-one starting point guard for the Jazz. Last season, he averaged 14.3 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game while shooting 50.6% from the field and 39.3% from three. While healthy, Collin played surprisingly well for the Jazz, shooting efficiently and scoring well off the bench. But while there were reports that the Jazz and Will Hardy were attempting to mold Sexton into a playmaker at the beginning of the season, the numbers didn’t reflect much of a change:
- AST: 2.9
- Potential AST: 5.8
- AST PTS Created: 7.5
- AST/TO: 1.62
- AST%: 17.8
- USG%: 23.0
- MIN: 23.9
These numbers are...fine. As reference, Jordan Clarkson, a player not known for his playmaking skills, ranked higher in each of these categories by about 25%, albeit on a higher usage rate. Both the basic and advanced metrics tell a simple story: Sexton doesn’t pass the ball much for someone who has it relatively frequently in his hands. So what would Sexton offer as a starting point guard?
At the moment, Sexton stands as the best shooter out of the potential guard core. Having not been that far off of a 50/40/90 season (he only shot 81% on free throws), he would add spacing to Utah’s starting lineup. This, combined with his ability to attack the basket, could help bend defenses and provide opportunities for him to create for others. Defenses have to respect him, and Sexton showed some ability with passes like this:
Sexton also plays hard and provides effort on defense. While he doesn’t have great size, he partly makes up for it with a high motor. That counts for something.
Frankly, Sexton doesn’t have a great history of playing as a facilitator. He’s never averaged more than 3.3 assists per game in his career and can get caught in tunnel vision. He’ll get out of control and try to make something out of nothing. Sometimes that leads to forced passes like this (apologies for the poor quality on this one):
And I don't say that as a knock on Sexton. He’s good at making shots for himself! He has the ability to beat players off the dribble and bend defenses. But at the moment, I’m just not sure he’s a starting point guard in the NBA (and I’m not so sure the Jazz think that either).
Nonetheless, I’d put my money on Sexton starting on Utah’s first tip-off.
In his first season in a Jazz uniform, Talen Horton-Tucker averaged a modest 10.7 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game while shooting 41.9% from the field and 28.6% from three. Here’s a rundown on his passing metrics from last season
- AST: 3.8
- Potential AST: 7.2
- AST PTS Created: 10.0
- AST/TO: 1.95
- AST%: 27.4
- USG%: 25.0
- MIN: 20.2
There is an argument that we should use THT’s post-All-Star break stats, since he posted notably higher averages during that stretch. But in doing so, I think we miss all of the lows in THT’s shooting, ball handling, and passing that kept him off the court for large stretches of the season. The numbers above, much like Sexton’s, are relatively pedestrian. Yet THT does hold a high AST% and Potential AST rate, something which may point to more potential for him as a playmaker.
For Horton-Tucker, the most obvious pros are related to his physical size and athleticism. He’s 6’4” with a 7 foot wingspan and can play above the rim, something the other potential point guards on this roster can’t do. This gives him an advantage when operating in the pick and roll, since he’s more able to look over the defense, pressure the rim, and make difficult passes.
At times throughout the season, he showed us that ability. Such as in this clip, where THT comfortably attacks from the handoff, notices the weak side defender out of position, and swings a pass to the corner:
On the defensive end, Horton-Tucker allows Utah to play at size advantage at all positions. He isn’t the most disciplined defender, but he can use his length to clog up passing lanes and pick the pockets of poor ball handlers.
In his stint as Utah’s starting point guard last season, Horton-Tucker had a number of ill-advised turnovers. During that stretch (March through April), THT averaged over 3 turnovers a game, with many of them coming from sloppy passes.
Take, for instance, this pass from THT, which had no chance of being caught by anyone in the NBA:
Sure, the idea was there. But if you are throwing a lob from half court, it better be more on target than that.
Or this pass, which was simply unacceptable:
Another issue with playing THT at the point guard is his shooting. At only 28% from three, Horton-Tucker isn’t much of a threat to defenses behind the arc. In a playoff setting, he could be played off the floor simply because of his shooting.
But with the turnovers aside, if it were up to me, I would probably try starting Horton-Tucker at the point guard due to his size and athleticism. A lineup of THT-Clarkson-Markkanen-Collins-Kessler has strong switch-ability on defense and would be one of the most athletic first-fives in the league.
In his 22 games with the Jazz last season, Dunn averaged near career-high numbers with 13.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game. After signing late in the season, Dunn proved his worth as a rotational NBA player, brining solid defense and efficient scoring.
Now, given his history as a shooter, it's unlikely that Dunn shoots 53.7% from the field and 47.2% from three again next year. But something that likely will translate are his facilitation metrics, which were the best on Utah’s roster post-Mike Conley:
- AST: 5.6
- Potential AST: 10.8
- AST PTS Created: 14.7
- AST/TO: 3.54
- AST%: 31.5
- USG%: 19.5
- MIN: 25.8
Compared to Sexton and Horton-Tucker, Dunn’s facilitation metrics are vastly better. He looks for his teammates more, commits less turnovers, and does a better job of finding players in positions to score. But does that mean he should start at point guard?
If the Jazz are simply looking to start the player who will most efficiently run the offense and set up others, then yes. While his sample size in a Jazz jersey was small, outside of his shooting, the numbers were on-par with the rest of his career. In that regard, his the best player for the job.
As a defender, Dunn only stands at 6’3”, but his long 6’9” wingspan helps him make up for a lack of height. While I think his reputation as a defender may overshadow his actual production (he had a -0.02 D-LEBRON rating last season, per BBall Index), he averaged 1.1 steals per game in a Jazz uniform. Even with a lack of size, Dunn likely stands as Utah’s best defender at the point.
At this point in his career in his career, Dunn won’t get significantly better as a basketball player. He is nearly 30 years old, has bounced around the league the last few seasons, and still has a questionable jumpshot. I just don’t buy that he’s become a deadeye shooter over the last year, although I’d love to be proven wrong.
On top of that, there is an argument that playing Dunn could cost you the opportunity to develop Collin Sexton, Talen Horton-Tucker, or Keyonte George. Do the Jazz really want to invest these minutes into a player who doesn’t fit within their long-term plans?
George has lit the world on fire during Summer League. In the two Las Vegas games he played before the ankle injury, George averaged 29.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 8.5 assists. He’s shattered any and all expectations held for him.
With that said, I think it's currently unjust to evaluate George’s potential as a starting guard for the Jazz, at least in the same context that we have Sexton, THT, and Dunn. Sure, he’s played against higher-level competition in the Summer League, but he’s yet to play a real NBA game. To say he can or cannot do something based on a handful of Summer League games and his statistics from Baylor feels irresponsible. There isn’t enough solid data to formulate an argument one way or the other.
However, I wanted to include him on the list since I think there is a very real possibility he starts for the Jazz at point guard at some point in the season. Given how Will Hardy handled the rookie minutes last year, George will have to pave his own way into that role. But similar to how Walker Kessler forced his way onto the the court last year, I wouldn’t put it past George to earn a larger role by the end of the season.
After looking at each player, who do you feel stands best fit for the starting job on day one? Cast your vote in the poll below:
Who should start at PG?
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