Utah’s bench got a lot of attention last year from local media and fans. Understandable given that many of the team’s biggest problems could be traced to the second unit.
The front office made improving the bench a priority at the trade deadline and acquired Jordan Clarkson, which as we know now was a brilliant move. But holes remained, namely in the frontcourt. That came back to bite the Jazz in the playoffs, proving to be one of its downfalls when Quin Snyder was reduced to starting undrafted rookie Juwan Morgan twice in the series against the Nuggets.
This offseason, the Jazz made no earthshattering moves in the vein of last year’s acquisition of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic. But two smaller additions were made that could turn Utah’s bench from a problem into one of its biggest strengths. Those two additions being Derrick Favors and Shaquille Harrison.
Favors brought the most excitement among the offseason moves. Understandable as his signing is something of a return of the prodigal son so to speak. Feel-good stories aside, Favors is poised to give Utah some of the best bench center minutes in the league. It will be a great breath of fresh air after the failed Ed Davis and Tony Bradley experiments.
Harrison, the man who was somehow listed as 6-foot-7 by a few too many official sources (he’s really 6-foot-4) will be on his third team in just four seasons in the league, but Harrison has a skill that makes him valuable despite his journeyman status: defense. The 27-year old has been a turnover-forcing machine in his short career. He’s averaged 2.3 steals per 36 minutes across three seasons and his On/Off swing in opponent’s turnover percentage with the Chicago Bulls last year ranks in the 93rd percentile.
Shaq Harrison On-Off Stats 2019-20
|On/Off Swing||Percentile Rank|
|On/Off Swing||Percentile Rank|
|Overall Pts/100 Poss||+13.2||97th|
|Opp Pts/100 Poss||-6.3||90th|
Simply put, teams have had a hard time hanging on to the ball when Harrison is on the court and thus have found it noticeably more difficult to score.
So for the time being, the all bench unit appears to be Harrison, Clarkson, Joe Ingles, Georges Niang and Favors. That lineup right there projects to be a solid unit, but more importantly there’s balance between offense and defense. Harrison and Favors will star as a perimeter and interior defensive duo, Clarkson can create points without help and the Ingles/Favors pick-and-roll is another source of offensive production.
This potential second unit also has shooting with Ingles and Niang being 40 percent 3-point shooters, Clarkson shooting above-average and if Harrison maintains some of his 38 percent shooting from last year it’ll be a healthy serving of gravy on top.
The pure bench unit looks good on paper, but obviously NBA teams don’t do full line changes to transition to the bench. Even still, each of these bench guys can seamlessly slide in among the starters without altering the function of the lineup. Clarkson can sub in for Mitchell as a scoring punch, Harrison can come in for O’Neale and play the role of primary wing defender, Niang can replace Bogdanovic’s shooting (though not his overall scoring to be fair), Favors can replace Gobert’s rebounding/rim protecting and Ingles can replace the point play from Conley.
All of the pieces fit seamlessly together to create any number five-man lineups be they big lineups, small-ball, shooting or whatever Quin Snyder can dream up. This level of similarity between starters and bench guys also helps when injuries inevitable occur and guys need to step into the starting lineup or simply up in the overall rotation.
Outside of Clarkson, these bench guys aren’t going to be making too many headlines. Individually, none are truly dominant (again, Clarkson being something of an exception in a good way). However, they provide Utah with everything they need out of their reserves. They can generate offense, they can defend, they can do the little things. It’s hard to see other teams walking all over this bench unit when its healthy.
The one hole noteworthy hole in the bench unit is at power forward. Niang became quite the controversial name among Jazz fans last year and that talk hasn’t truly stopped. We’ve seen how Niang does in key, volume minutes during the playoffs and it wasn’t pretty. If he stays in a lower role as he did for much of last season.
A more competent rebounder and defender might be a more apt option, even though it would mean sacrificing the 40 percent shooting Niang brings to the table. Morgan and two-way forward Jarrell Brantley are Utah’s only other options on the roster at power forward, but neither appear to be good enough right now to supplant Niang’s spot in the rotation.
If you’re being picky, you could also point out a lack of point guards beyond Conley and Mitchell. As you may know, those two will start alongside each other so long as they’re both healthy, which makes the question of backup point guard minutes a little tricky. As already mentioned, Ingles has the passing to be the de facto point guard off the bench with Harrison nominally playing point where needed, though not necessarily being the man with the ball in his hands. The backstop at point guard is two-way rookie Trent Forrest.
A storyline to watch on the bench is second-year wing Miye Oni. His preseason minutes distribution suggested he’s crawled his way up into the every-night rotation, but some of that may be due to Harrison not being there for two of the three preseason games.
As it stands, the bench shouldn’t be a problem. But it is 2020 so this could wind up being a cold take in two days.