The Utah Jazz limped over the quarter-season mark having lost four of its last five games thanks to a brutal road tip. Adding insult to injury, attrition is starting to set in as Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley, the latter of whom is out today against the Los Angeles Lakers, have suffered minor injuries keeping them out of key games.
On a slightly related note, the guys filling in when starters go down, or even when they just need a spell on the bench to catch their breathe, aren’t exactly playing up to par. And while there are plenty of reasons to cite in Utah’s relatively slow start, the bench’s lack of consistency and production cannot be overlooked.
Just taking a broad look at bench production, there are already red flags. Per 100 possessions the Jazz rank 27th in bench points and 24th in bench field goal percentage. Then there are a few more subtle worrying trends. Utah is one of the teams relying on its bench the least (perhaps deservedly considering the numbers). Quin Snyder has only allotted 339 minutes to bench players this season, 25th in the league.
Among other concerning trends is the assisted field goal percentage by the Jazz bench. Just 55.8 percent of field goals by bench players are assisted, 26th in the league. The ball simply does not move around effectively when in the hands of not-starters.
One last broad example: Utah’s five-man lineups. Here are the top lineups used by the Jazz that include at least three bench players.
Utah Jazz bench lineups
|Five-Man Lineup||Minutes||Net Points|
|Five-Man Lineup||Minutes||Net Points|
|Tony Bradley | Jeff Green | Joe Ingles | Donovan Mitchell | Emmanuel Mudiay||39:10||-2.4|
|Ed Davis | Jeff Green | Joe Ingles | Donovan Mitchell | Emmanuel Mudiay||31:15||+46.6|
|Jeff Green | Georges Niang | Joe Ingles | Donovan Mitchell | Emmanuel Mudiay||22:01||-14.9|
|Jeff Green | Joe Ingles | Dante Exum | Donovan Mitchell | Emmanuel Mudiay||20:52||0.0|
|Rudy Gobert | Jeff Green | Joe Ingles | Donovan Mitchell | Emmanuel Mudiay||17:20||-0.6|
|Tony Bradley | Georges Niang | Jeff Green | Joe Ingles | Donovan Mitchell||15:22||-11.8|
|Ed Davis | Jeff Green | Joe Ingles | Royce O'Neale | Emmanuel Mudiay||12:36||-3.6|
|Ed Davis | Georges Niang | Joe Ingles | Royce O'Neale | Mike Conley||10:03||-81.6|
With the one obvious exception, these bench crews are not performing well, with all but the two being net losses on the court and one just breaking even.
So what happened? Didn’t the Jazz win the offseason? One of the dozens of praises lobbed at Justin Zanik and Dennis Lindsey for their summer was the ability to bring in top-level starters while also building a decent bench.
Well, most of the failures of the bench fall on the shoulders of Utah’s second-most tenure player, Joe Ingles. The Aussie’s move to the bench was heralded not as a step backward, but as a mere step sideways that would leave him as a potential sixth man of the year candidate. What has happened instead is a drop-off to Ingles’ worst year as a pro.
So far this season, Ingles has put forward his worst field goal percentage (.364), 3-point percentage (.309) and his worst assist numbers since 2016-17. Rather than be a bench leader, Ingles has been closer to being a drain on the entire team.
No one has stepped up to fill the void Ingles has left with his drop-off. Emmanuel Mudiay has had spurts, but lacks consistency. Jeff Green started off the season on a tear, making 52.6 percent of his 3-point shots through six games and 39.0 through 11. But that red-hot pace has cooled considerably as the 33-year old forward is now sitting at 30.7 percent from deep (that’s 20.6 percent in the last 10 games if you don’t want to do the math on how bad Green had to be to bring that percentage that far down).
The return and insertion of Dante Exum into the lineup hasn’t helped the bench at all. Mainly because Exum hasn’t played. He’s playing a paltry 7.4 minutes per game — less than half of his per game playing time last year (15.8) and easily the worst of his career.
At this point, the only solutions to this problem are trades or find the Monstars and ask if they’ve finished Space Jam 2 yet and can give Ingles his basketball talent back.
Some action should be considered soon as the Jazz can’t expect to just rely on their starters for an 82-game season and then expect to be at all ready for a playoff grind. Gobert is playing more minutes per game than any other center in the league, something you’d rather not have to see. Donovan Mitchell is ninth among guards with Bojan Bogdanovic at 22nd. Obviously you want to play your best guys more minutes, but you also want to be able to rest legs plenty, especially during the early parts of the season.
So for better or worse, how the bench plays is going to be a huge factor in how well Utah does this season — as much or perhaps more so than the play of Mitchell, Gobert, Bogdanovic or Conley.