We all know the feeling of a surprise $20 in our pocket (or in today’s lingo, a higher Venmo balance than expected).
Jazz fans are getting just such a surprise from Miye Oni, the 58th pick from last season’s draft. While the majority of 2nd round draft picks struggle to make an NBA rotation, Oni is making waves this season.
An alum of Ivy League University of Yale, Miye Oni is a smart, young player that is translating well to the NBA. At 6’5” and 206 lbs, sporting a 6’11” wingspan, Oni has the physical and mental tools to make an NBA rotation.
Having played 7 games, Miye Oni has helped the Jazz to a 6-1 record amidst some injury woes. All signs are pointing to a bright future.
However, the Jazz have talented players ahead of him in the pecking order. They must seriously consider adjustments to the roster allowing Miye backup guard minutes beginning next season.
Let’s take a look at why that is.
Jazz Guard Rotation is Packed and Expensive
The Utah Jazz have been sporting a core guard rotation of Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, and Jordan Clarkson. Talk about a solid, diverse, and talented group.
In spot situations, even Royce O’Neale has made his way to the guard position, primarily to match up defensively with opposing guards (much to Jazz fans’ dismay).
The point is that Utah has a host of bodies to cover all 96 minutes of guard play per game. But its not just personnel, its talent. Every single player in the four man rotation is superior to Miye Oni.
The rub comes down talent cost moving forward. Next year, Utah projects to be paying the following totals:
Mike: $25.0M (projection)
(salaries thanks to Spotrac.com)
Those totals will certainly put UTA into the top 10 rotational guard salaries in the NBA. The question is, can they afford that pay roll?
Miye has a non-guaranteed contract for next season at $1.8M. That total, at his production, is surely a factor in roster construction and one the Jazz need to be thinking about seriously.
Oni Will Get Increased Time This Season
Last season Miye Oni played just 109 NBA minutes, almost all of which took place in garbage time minutes. This season, due to Joe Ingles’ lingering injuries, Oni has seen ~18 min per night. That should continue whenever a member of the core four is out.
This is the perfect situation to ramp up playing time ahead of next season. He can continue to learn and improve in high leverage situations without the team feeling as though they could compromise a win. After all, they need him to play when they’re without one of the core four.
In Royce O’Neale’s rookie season, he played the first half the year oscillating between DNP’s or ~13 min per night. The last half of the season he saw consistent ~20 min per night playing time.
O’Neale is an accelerated case, much to the benefit of the Jazz, but Miye is on a similar trajectory. He projects to be ready for a backup guard role of ~18 min per night, especially if his production continues to improve and round out this season.
Let’s look at how Miye Oni is filling his role and making the Jazz front office and coaching staff give him a serious role going forward.
Oni Is Filling His Role...and Then Some
The Jazz have a killer eight man rotation. Every player in that rotation has a multitude of skills and in many cases have some elite ones. The role of the rest of the roster is fairly simple: hit the 3, move the ball, and don’t make defensive mistakes.
Oni is filling that role beautifully this year in Joe’s absence. Let’s take a look at each individually:
Shooting the 3
Miye Oni has hit on 38.7% of his NBA 3’s since entering the league. All 31 attempts. If only Miye had shot a couple hundred 3’s and this figure was helpful.
We can, however, turn to the G-League where he attempted 127 last season, hitting at 35.5%.
While not eye popping numbers, that’s league average. League average 3P% from a non-rotational player who can do other things will get you minutes.
We can see that the form, release, and quickness of the jumper all look good. Time will tell if he’s truly an average shooter from distance or if he can live in the 37-38% range. For now, what he’s doing is more than enough.
Moving the ball
The Jazz system is about creating advantages over the defense and compounding them (ideally) to such an extent that the Jazz have an easy look at the basket or a wide open 3. It’s imperative that the ball doesn’t stick.
Fortunately for the Jazz, Miye has done well at moving the ball and creating for others in a limited fashion.
What we really care about is how many potential scoring opportunities (potential assists) our guards generate for every turnover (loss of a potential scoring opportunity). Here’s how our four rotational guards fared since last season:.
Potential Assist-Turnover Ratio
In no is this suggesting we need Miye Oni to run the offense. What this does suggest is that his ball movement thus far is leading to a helpful rate of scoring opportunities for others.
Unfortunately the G-League doesn’t make tracking data on potential assists available to the public. However, even if his ratio were to fall due to increased playing time and stiffer competition, it’s likely not to fall to a concerning level.
Defense is much more of a team activity than offense. It’s truly an art contributed to by all five players who ebb and flow with each other.
Defenses that sport a defender who disrupts the defensive game plan and synergy amongst the group can survive, though, with a large enough sample, will indicate the deficiencies of the defensive player.
During last season’s G-League, the Salt Lake City Stars defense was a +2.0 with Miye Oni ON the court rather than OFF. Given that most of Oni’s NBA playing time has come in garbage minutes, there’s no meaningful On/Off data as of yet.
Miye is bringing a lot more than hitting the open 3, making the extra pass, and not getting lost on defense. He’s doing a lot more
Doing the Little Things
Miye Oni doesn’t take a lot of shots so he has to make an impact in other areas.
Miye is energetic, communicative, focused, and passionate. Many of these qualities will show up in an aggregate fashion in how he impacts the team when playing, though they are nearly impossible to quantify at an individual level.
In areas we can quantify, Oni not only holds his own, but provides some unique skills.
Take rebounding. Since coming into the NBA, he secures 10.6% of all rebounds when he plays. During last season’s G-League, he grabbed 9.6%. Joe Ingles is the best rebounding guard in the rotation, grabbing 7.3% since last year.
Miye Oni is an excellent source of steals at 1.9% of possessions in last year’s G-League. Since last season, Mike Conley is the only rotational Jazz guard at or above 1.5%.
Miye Oni has been extremely lucky in blocks this season at 2.6% in the NBA. Last season’s G-League was a much more sustainable 0.9%, which would have been the highest among rotational guards for Utah.
He’s Far from Perfect
As well as Miye Oni played in the G-League and is performing this season, there’s clearly a host or reasons why he’s not a staple in the lineup yet.
He hasn’t displayed much off the dribble creation ability. He can overcommit and fall out of defensive position, leaving him burned in 1-on-1 defensive situations. He doesn’t go to the free throw line very much. He’s not very experienced and doesn’t have a great feel for his rotational teammates.
But, when you make $1.8 and only need ~18 min per night, you aren’t expected to be perfect. Though he may ready for serious, consistent guard rotation minutes, there are better guard options at the moment if everyone is healthy.
The point is he’s coming and the Jazz have to plan for his regular presence beginning next year.
How the Jazz Make Room
Unfortunately, the reality is the Jazz will need to move on from one of the core four guards in their ideal rotation.
With Donovan and Jordan’s extensions, and Conley and Ingles’ high impact, veteran presence, they all demand more playing time, leaving no room for Oni.
So who do the Jazz move? And how?
The best shot the Jazz have is to “sell high”. We’ve all done it with fantasy sports or Halloween candy; take the best prize and sell it at a premium.
Most dislike the idea of selling high because our hearts fool us into thinking the “high” is sustainable, when most of the time our minds know better.
So how do the Jazz sell high?
Donovan is staying put...obviously. Trading him isn’t out of the realm of possibility, rather he’s not a sell high candidate at the moment. Furthermore, the star Utah would want in return would have to check A LOT of off the court boxes.
Ingles is signed for another year. Given his age, recent injuries, and slump in production from his prime, it’s unlikely teams are lining up to grab Joe. Furthermore, Joe is as much a part of the state and team as Rudy and Donovan. Jazz aren’t likely to part with him for just “anything”.
That leaves Mike and Jordan.
Mike is a UFA after this year. Given the season he is having, its hard to imagine Utah won’t try to bring him back on a $20/3 yr or $25/2 yr contract, especially if the team advances to the 2nd round or beyond.
It’s possible Mike makes the decision easy on the Jazz and passes on an extension. This possibility would definitely make the Jazz think twice about a trade before the deadline.
Mike is an excellent sell high candidate. He, along with some of the other aging guards in the league, is showing few (if any) signs of slowing down. Perhaps the Jazz could get a nice return for him, since he’s playing at an even more impactful level than his final year in Memphis.
The biggest issue is the contract. At $34.5M, there are limited ways in which a trade for high value could work. Not impossible, just limits options.
Jordan is also having an amazing season and is locked up for 2 years + player option. The current favorite for the 6MOY award, Jordan has overhauled his entire offensive strategy and is the absolute best version of himself.
Many doubted he could do what he did last season. Thus far, he’s exceeded it handsomely. Jordan Clarkson, like it or not, may be one of the best sell high candidates in the league.
He’s in his prime, his contract is long but manageable. He’s succeeding and positively impacting a playoff bound team. It’s honestly hard to come up with reasons other teams wouldn’t come knocking.
If the Jazz have salary concerns going forward and are excited about the development of Miye Oni, the Utah Jazz must look into selling high on either Mike Conley or Jordan Clarkson.
What will be interesting and exciting is seeing what the Jazz could do (trade permutations) and what the Jazz will do in the near future.