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Utah Jazz should focus on player development first, playoff wins second

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The Utah Jazz have a special opportunity in the Bubble and it’s not a chance at a championship.

Rio Grande Valley Vipers vs Salt Lake City Stars Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

With playoff seeding on the line and a chance to rise to fourth in the West, the Utah Jazz put it all on the line and trotted out a lineup of Miye Oni, Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles, Georges Niang, and Ed Davis to face the San Antonio Spurs. Ed Davis, Jordan Clarkson, and Joe Ingles would only play 10-20 minutes while Miye Oni, Juwan Morgan, Georges Niang, Jarrell Brantley, and Tony Bradley play huge stints. Need we remind you that this was a game in which Utah could move up to fourth. The Utah Jazz were surprisingly competitive in the game and ultimately fell apart to the Spurs in the fourth quarter, but that was after Utah gave them a good scare. While Utah was full focused on tanking avoiding a matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder or Houston Rockets, Utah was also employing a strategy that other non-contender teams are using: develop players for next year.

Most NBA teams were looking at the upcoming free agency as a weak class. The big names were not going to be hitting the market until 2021 and there were not a lot of teams with a lot of cap space. That was before coronavirus. Now teams are looking at huge shortfalls in revenue. Teams that may have been aggressive in trading for more salary could be looking to shed salary. Teams that are maxed out on salary are now seeing their options for next season become very limited. The Mid Level Exception for teams under the tax apron is ~$9.3M. But if the salary cap drops, Utah is not eligible for the non-taxpayer MLE and is suddenly only able to work with $6.3M for being a team that’s paying the Luxury Tax. That’s before we even factor in Jordan Clarkson’s potential contract.

Other teams are in the same situation as Utah which is why we see teams like Indiana and Denver—teams that are facing injury problems and salary cap limitations—going full steam ahead on youth and development. Denver is starting Michael Porter Jr. Indiana is throwing TJ Warren and Aaron Holiday to the wolves. For the most part it’s working out. Even non-tax teams that are working more for player development like the Suns are seeing success.

Which brings us to the Utah Jazz. It’s abundantly clear Utah has a bench problem which almost correlates to their youth problem. Mike Conley and Joe Ingles are approaching 33. Bojan Bogdanovic is 31. Rudy Gobert, Jordan Clarkson and Georges Niang are 28, yes they’re all the same age. Royce O’Neale is 27. This Utah Jazz team is low on upside. They need an injection of youth. They need athleticism. They also won’t have a lot of money to out and get help. Especially in a very shallow free agency class.

Utah also needs size and length. Utah badly needs someone who can guard on the wings. That’s where the San Antonio game comes into play. Miye Oni and Jarrell Brantley saw a lot of time. They played really well. Miye Oni had 14 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal, and only 1 turnover. He also played stellar defense on DeJounte Murray. Jarrell Brantley while not putting up big points had a line of 8 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, and 2 turnovers. Even more importantly, he bothered the hell out of DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan did not have a fun time. He was 4 of 10 from the field with only 2 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5(!!!) turnovers. Jarrell Brantley’s defense was remarkable. Even more remarkable is Brantley has the size and athleticism to switch onto bigger wings as does Miye Oni.

Why? * Jay Bilas voice * WINGSPAN

Miye Oni is 6’5 and has a wingspan of 6’11.

Jarrell Brantley is 6’6 (and 1/2) and has a wingspan of 7’1.

These two are Utah’s future of defense first. Here’s a potential Jazz lineup for next season:

Donovan Mitchell - 6’1 Height - 6’10 Wingspan

Miye Oni - 6’5 Height - 6’11 Wingspan

Bojan Bogdanovic - 6’6 Height - 6’11 Wingspan

Jarrell Brantley - 6’6 Height - 7’1 Wingspan

Rudy Gobert - 7’1 Height - 7’9 Wingspan

Now all of a sudden, Utah is a tough team size wise and can switch at every position. The only problem is Miye and Jarrell are incredibly raw. They don’t have many games under their belt outside of a Salt Lake City Stars uniform that meant anything. Until the game against San Antonio. Their above average play got them minutes against Denver. They played well again. Miye Oni had 3 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and the Jazz outscored Denver by 15 points while he was on the floor. He took Mudiay’s minutes. Jarrell Brantley didn’t score any points but pulled down 2 rebounds and played great defense. He even had a screen that freed up Donovan for a wide open three. His tempo was Jae Crowder like.

The Utah Jazz are not a contender this year. Injuries, lack of depth, chemistry issues, and Mike Conley not being Mike Conley for much of it is why they’re not going to the NBA Finals. But they have an opportunity to build some of their depth the old fashioned way: through development. Brantley and Oni were a big reason why the Salt Lake City Stars were so successful. They took well to Martin Schiller’s coaching and they improved quickly. This season will end by the second round of the playoffs, but Utah can make this Bubble worth the trip by investing as much time into their young players. If they do, Utah will be a team on the rise rather than a team falling prey to age.