This season the Utah Jazz have had an opportunity to take deeper looks than they probably would have wanted to at their bench players. Dante Exum, the starter from last season at point guard, has missed all of the 2015-2016 season so far, and will miss the remainder of the 2015-2016 season as well. Rodney Hood and Gordon Hayward have remained mostly healthy all season long. But the starting duo of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert have both missed significant time this season -- such that three starters were out for weeks at a time. Quin Snyder was forced to start two rookies at the PG and PF roles this year -- something ironic for a team that had long held Hall of Famers running those two positions for decades. It's through sheer gumption that the team is even in the playoff seeding race right now. Further complicating things, the Jazz lost their most talented bench player, Alec Burks, to surgery mid-season a year after having season ending surgery last year. He has yet to return. If you add it all up, this team has had to not just look to their bench for minutes, but tread water with them for long stretches.
As a consequence, the desire to upgrade some of our bench players for more talented or reliable role players has existed for a very long time. Patch-work line-ups dotted with undrafted players and NBA D-League 10-Day contract holders rarely help you secure key wins against elite teams. Even some of the more prominent bench players have not been without due criticism this year. More time has led to more scrutiny. However, I really believe that the eye-ball test doesn't tell the whole story. So let's delve into a deep look at the Utah Jazz bench this season!
The 2015-2016 Utah Jazz Bench:
This season there have been 15 different players assigned to the 'bench' this year. Some were injured inactives but there already were too many people inactive for the game. Some were warm bodies. And some were players coming back from injury. A few were regular bench players playing their role. All-in-all, those 15 players have logged 4947.88 of the total 12680.00 total minutes the Utah Jazz have played this season. That's 39% of all the available minutes, and that converts into 19.03 MPG for PG, SG, SF, PF, and C each. Of course, it's not an even split between the five positions, Hood and Hayward eat a majority. While PG or PF has been mostly by committee this year.
Furthermore, those 4.9K minutes were not evenly split amongst the 15 bench players this season. Tibor Pleiss has spent time with the Idaho Stampede this season and isn't always available. Jeff Withey and Elijah Millsap (when he was around) picked up a lot of DNP-CDs. And, of course, injuries have hampered what would have been a fertile season for Alec Burks. If you chart all of the minutes this year by each player who has come off the bench (not including Rodney Hood, who was a "bench" player for one game, but only because of injury and NBA rules), this is what it looks like:
There are four bench players who have played over 500 minutes off the bench this season -- Trey Burke, Trevor Booker, Joe Ingles, and Alec Burks. These players are the 1st point guard off the bench, the 1st big off the bench, and the 3rd and 4th wings on the team. These four guys are your best bench players and they have played the four most minutes. It's interested to see how dominant Burke are Book are compared to the rest of their position groups (point guards, wings, bigmen). I guess if Burks was healthy we could have seen the same there.
Okay, so these are the players who have come off the bench this year. And we know which four players have contributed the most to the team off the bench. But are these players playing well?
If you discount the normal starters (Neto, Hood, Favors, Gobert) you see that some of our players are getting the minutes, but some more efficient players are not. Furthermore, the team seems to do WELL with some guys on the floor, who just aren't playing. It's hard to overlook Jeff Withey here, as he actually leads the team in +/- and at least with the bigmen, he's more efficient than the guy getting minutes ahead of him. I don't know why this is, but we can guess in the comments section.
But conjecture aside, it's nice to see that of the four main bench players this year the Jazz are +/-: +35 with Burke out there, +8 with Burks on the floor, +25 with Ingles out there, and +0 with Booker in the line-up. These are not great numbers, but compared to some of the awful that our other players product off the bench, well, at least the guys who play are not hurting the team.
Of course, +/- is not some mega stat that explains everything. So let's look at these four guys in more detail!
Four Main Bench Players:
- T.Burke -- He plays nearly half the game and shoots a lot. He is not exception at it, but he's the 3rd best three point shooter off the bench for the team. As a bench play-maker he is undervalued by his fanbase, but that's why the eyeball test has to be checked and held in balance with facts. Generally, though, Burke as a bench scorer works at an average level. He's not great or good yet. On defense is where we normally cringe, but the +/- numbers displays that over 49 games this season when he's on the court the team is doing better than their opponents.
- A.Burks -- Alec appears to be a huge missing piece of the puzzle right now. He's not shooting great, but does boast a 38+ 3PT% this season and he gets to the line. He is the best at creating his own shot on the team and finishes around the rim. He is another player who has a stronger offense than defense. He's the second best normal bench facilitator, in terms of APG.
- J.Ingles -- Broadway Joe is having a down season compared to a) what I thought he did last season, and b) what I thought he would do with such a big need for PG and SG help this season due to injuries. He's a fantastic passer and makes the threes when we need them the most; however, he has been a tad sloppy with the ball this year. He would be a perfect 5th wing. I thought he would be a great 4th wing. Sadly, because of injuries he was bumped up to 3rd wing, and hasn't looked that great. Some games he's playing important minutes. Other games his role is completely changed. He's a pro's pro though, so he's not going to grumble.
- T.Booker -- The Cereal Thrillah is probably the most frustrating player out of this foursome. His ability to make the amazing play, but miss the easy one is principal of all of our collective concerns. He has attempted to expand his range to disastrous results, yet will hit a needed three once every five or six games. When the Jazz were first without Favors against the Pelicans he stepped up big and had a dominant game. Other times when his name is called we get the same effort, but wildly different results. Unlike Ingles, he's not a 2nd year player. Unlike The Burkescourt, he's not in his low 20s still. He's in his sixth season in the NBA, and in a contract year. I don't think we can get a good read on him because there are many factors which are influencing his play this year. He has crashed the boards all year long. But if your third best big on your team is an energy guy then your team may not have the best inside depth of the Western Conference playoff teams.
And I guess that's it. Is Trey Burke good enough to be the 1st PG off the bench? Is Trevor Booker good enough to be the 3rd big on a playoff team that wins a round or two? I needed more data. As a result, I had to consult every player who has played this season in the entire NBA. There are over 100 players in the NBA who have played at least 500 total minutes this year, in over 20 games, where they started the minority of the games they played in. I was forced to exclude Bradley Beal and Donald Sloan from my data set because they were at .500 or above in their games started percentage. The data set I used was n=134 players divided as such: PG (31), SG (36), SF (18), PF (35), and C (14). The results of this investigation were mixed.
Alec Burks is amazing. This season he is the second most productive shooting guard off the bench this year, ahead of players like Evan Turner, Jamal Crawford, Manu Ginobili, Andre Iguodala, O.J. Mayo, Marco Belinelli, Kevin Martin, Gerald Green, and every other SG in the NBA not named Will Barton. If you include small forwards, then he drops from 2nd best to 3rd, as Omri Casspi is having a better season than him. Alec is really, really good with averages of 14.3 ppg, 38.7 3PT%, 5.0 free throw attempts per game, 51.8 TS%, and clocking in at 1.23 PPS. As a bench scorer few are deadlier this season. He is 4th overall after Ryan Anderson, Will Barton, and Jrue Holiday. Alec is that piece that makes our bench go from 'ho-hum' to 'damn'. It's just that he has played in only 28 games this season. If we saw him more our bench would look a lot better. As it stands the numbers support the theory that he is good enough to be one of the first wings off the bench. His off the bench averages of 14.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.1 apg, and 0.6 spg don't look like a lot compared to some of the starting wing players on teams that run up and down the court. But if you actually compare him to all the other bench players in the NBA you get to see where he shines.
Trey Burke exists here, in the most objective way to see him. By the numbers, his production on the court this year places him as a Top 10 Bench PG. That defaults to him being a Top 40 overall PG in the NBA. That's probably not what we all hoped for him when we traded up for him on draft night three years ago. But being amongst the top 10 best bench point guards means that there are 20 other teams out there with worse options playing the same role. In a vacuum his 11.8 ppg, 2.6 apg, 2.0 rpg, and 0.6 spg do not inspire much confidence. But when put within the frame of reference of all the other bench point guards this year who have played at least 500 minutes . . . Trey does impress. Let's start with the fact that he's shooting 4.3 three pointers a game and making 34.7% of them. Again, in a vacuum that looks okay if it's the 1990s. But compared to the other Top 10 bench PGs this year (Jrue Holiday, Darren Collison, Jeremy Lin, Zach LaVine, Dennis Schroder, Marcus Smart, Jerryd Bayless, Mario Chalmers, and Norris Cole), only two (Collison and Bayless) shoot better from deep. And only one (Bayless) shoots more from deep per game than Trey (4.6 is slightly larger than 4.3). If you extend this to the better "name brand" bench PGs than Burke you see they aren't shooting that well either: Jameer Nelson (29.9 3PT%), Ramon Sessions (31.5%), Mo Williams (33.0%), Devin Harris (33.7%), Ty Lawson (33.7%), Shaun Livingston (16.7%), Beno Udrih (34.1%), and so on. There are some PGs who are shooting better, like Matthew Dellavedova, J.J. Barea, and a few others. But that list is few (12 of 31 players), but only one shoots more threes than Trey does (again, Bayless).
If we grade Trey by the disappointment he is for being a Top 10 pick and former multiple NCAA award winner, then we're not going to ever like him. If we actually look at what he does on the court compared to other bench PGs, then maybe, just maybe you see that it's not going to be that easy to upgrade that position -- because there are just a handful of players better than him at this role. How much would Dennis Lindsey have to give up to get Dennis Schroder -- a guy who is shooting worse from three, scoring less points per game, and averaging only one (and change) more assists per game than Trey? Sure, we hope the defense improves, but there's no way Atlanta gives him up without a fight. Lindsey already HAS Burke and paid for him with two 1st rounders. This season Burke isn't half as bad as some people want to see him as. He's not bad at all when you actually compare him to the other 30 regular bench PGs in the NBA.
Trey's not perfect. But I was surprised to see him as a Top 10 bench PG by the numbers. He's actually fourth best out of the entire data set (regardless of position) when it comes to on court production by personal fouls. A bench point guard may not have to be depended upon for big minutes. But with the minutes he's on the court you don't want him making a lot of mistakes. He's fourth in overall production over fouls. And he's only beaten in turn overs by two point guards who play the same amount of minutes. (Yes, I'm discounting the fact that guys like Ronnie Price and Shabazz Napier have fewer turn overs per game than Trey, they play less than 15 mpg.)
Trevor Booker is averaging 5.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.9 spg, and 0.5 bpg while hustling his butt off. His good plays are noticed much more than some other players on the roster, and it's hard to see him in a completely negative light. That's the case until you actually compare him to the rest of the bigs off the bench this year. Alec was the 2nd best SG and 3rd best wing over-all. Trey was a Top 10 PG. Trevor? Trevor comes in as the 11th best bench power forward producer out there, and 17th best bench big overall. Of the power forwards ahead of him, five of them are much better three point shooters, and five of them are much better defenders than him. Booker's overt generalism hurts in these comparisons because he's bad to average at almost everything, but is good to great at very few. For example, Mirza Teletovic is generally a less overall skilled player than Booker, but his ability to hit 40.5% of his threes while taking 5.1 threes a game really gives him a nice, observable, defined role on a team. Another? Okay. Ed Davis is grabbing down over 7 boards a game, shoots over 60% from the field, and averages a combined 1.3 steals and blocks per game. Booker is getting over 6 boards a game, shoots 45% from the field, and averages a combined 1.4 steals and blocks per game. But Davis has a more legit niche because he's bigger, taller, and a better defender. Both Davis and Teletovic are playing fewer minutes per game than Booker too, and specializing in a defined way.
Subjectively there are a few guys who produce less than Booker does that could be called a PF upgrade, Frank Kaminsky, Derrick Williams, David West, Brandon Bass, Boris Diaw, Josh Smith, Patrick Patterson just to name a few. But as I eliminated subjective rankings in favor of actual statistically facts (E.G. Trey is better than Jameer this year because of better stats, including a better three point percentage and attempts) for the point guards, I'll do so here, and place Booker in the 11th to 20th ranking for PF / Bigs. This tells me that the Jazz could upgrade this position easier than point guard. But that's just how I feel. Booker's role with the team, and his minutes, have been one of few constants this season. He has done amazing things. But I feel as though his on court performance has been lesser than the role he has been given.
Joe Ingles also doesn't look too good in comparison against his peers. He is the 17th best small forward, out of 18 small forwards. He has played the 93rd most minutes out of this group of 134 players. So it's not like he's damaging out there when he's on the court, but because of injuries the 4th wing has been upgraded to the 3rd wing for much of the season. And that isn't helpful. But what really hurts Booker also hurts Ingles here. Joe is a Jack of all trades, he can help with shooting, defending, play making. But some of the top playoff teams have a fourth wing who is a specialist, not a generalist. (Can being good at a lot of things be his specialty? Er. Maybe?) As a generalist, Joe is averaging 4.0 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.1 apg, and 0.6 spg while shooting 36.6% from outside. His overall scoring efficiency is below league average, and his great free throw shooting has only had 10 total chances to shine this year. (Seriously, 10 FTA for the season so far.) The numbers don't help Joe out; but more than anyone else on the team, I think his benefit is seen least through the numbers. Joe is someone I'd want to have on the team until the day he retires.
That said, I don't think that he's the specialist at the 4th wing spot that changes the game for the Jazz. He's not a dead-eye shooter. (Yes, he makes a lot of threes though, but he's not on that elite level.) He's not a lockdown defender. He's not a guy with some cheap vet move that's unguardable, like an old man guard post up. Is it possible to find a specialist to be that 4th wing, in a more clearly defined and observable way? Yes. Does that mean Joe should be off the team? No. But no one can actually say that Joe is having a good year.
In a vacuum Ingles is having a potentially better season than last year, while taking on a much smaller role with the team. Compared to the other bench wings in the NBA, I am not so sure. With injuries his versatility is invaluable. On a healthy team aiming for some playoff wins I need to his role evolve to better suit his talents and performance.
Upgrading the Bench:
Yes, it can happen. Though it's going to be hard to find someone who performs as well as Alec does when healthy. Furthermore, Trey isn't as bad when you actually look at him. No doubt the Jazz have. (Of course, the x-factor here is "Will Raul Neto be a better bench point guard than Trey Burke?" and in that case we speculate that he will. Burke isn't competing against Neto right now, but he will next season if he's still on the team.)
The Jazz may have the future specialist 3rd big in the wings with Trey Lyles. He turned 20 during the season and already does a number of things better than Booker.
As for the 4th wing? I don't think we can keep throwing NBA D-Leaguers at our depth there and expect something good to happen. Chris Johnson has had some nice games, but Elijah Millsap, J.J. O'Brien and others are not the guys you need playing rotation minutes if your team is a playoff team.
And that's the rub. Right now the Jazz *are* a playoff team. It's okay to improve your roster. And Anthony Morrow or Kyle Korver type would be nice. I know everyone wants that "Three and D" player. But trawling the NBADL for one is really a fool's errand for the most part.
Ultimately, I think the Jazz do not have to make a trade. Play this season out with the players we have, and readjust in free agency and the draft.
But the bench isn't that great:
Yes, I know. For this season, 52 games through, those 15 players average 34.33 ppg (.4302 FG%, .3392 3PT%, .7443 FT%), 16.12 rpg, 6.87 apg, 3.17 spg, 1.46 bpg, and only 3.33 made threes a game. It's nice to upgrade if you can. But some of the answers may already be on the team already. Jeff Withey and Trey Lyles should eat into Booker's minutes. Withey is a better defender and more reliable finisher near the hoop. Lyles has all the room in the world to improve and has demonstrated a smoother offensive ability.
Having Alec back will give the bench a shot in the arm that they've been missing for so long. And having him back means that someone like Ingles is the 4th wing, and not the 3rd wing anymore. That's another nice bonus.
Point guard isn't ever going to be resolved in Utah until Dante is back, healthy, and thriving. For this season Raul and Trey can do enough good to keep the team in games. I again feel like an immediate upgrade isn't needed. And after looking at all the data, I know this team's bench hasn't been the best. But they've been through the fire together. And that means something. With an increasingly healthy team I expect everyone to look better out there on the court.
As a fan that's what you want to see. As an arm-chair GM you never stop wanting to tinker with your team. The Jazz don't have the best bench in the land, and as a result, the need to tinker exists. Looking at where our key bench players rank against their peers it's interesting to note that we have less to tinker than previously though.
JUST. STAY. HEALTHY. JEEZE!