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Utah’s ‘death lineup’ is looking as scary as ever

Rudy Gay has fit right into the spot waiting for him.

Utah Jazz v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

In the 2019-20 NBA season, Quin Snyder began experimenting with the Utah Jazz bench lineups. He decided to stagger minutes between his two starting guards, Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell. This decision resulted in a lineup featuring two starters in Conley and Joe Ingles against opposing benches. Joined by bench scorer Jordan Clarkson and two young and unproven front-court players, Georges Niang and Tony Bradley, this lineup dominated other second units. That was the beginning of Utah’s death lineup.

Snyder seemed to find a group that just fit together. Clarkson’s volume scoring approach doesn’t work with just anybody, but paired with Conley and Ingles, both of whom are willing to play on-ball or off-ball, there was immediate chemistry. Toss in a rim-rolling center and a floor-spacing forward, and you have a very balanced and efficient lineup. Although young and flawed, Niang and Bradley were highly effective in this lineup. That group played 189 possessions together and was highly productive. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Conley, Clarkson, Ingles, Niang, Bradley lineup outscored its opponents by 17.6 points per 100 possessions.

Sacramento Kings v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Fast-forward to the 2020-21 season, Quin Snyder has made another adjustment. He began to stagger Rudy Gobert’s minutes between the first and second unit. Gobert has famously been a huge positive impact on basically any lineup he’s been a part of, and Snyder knew that. If a lineup is struggling, let Gobert fix it. Well, in this case, Snyder injected Gobert into an already thriving lineup, and to nobody’s surprise, the lineup continued to dominate steadily. The Jazz utilized this unit far more, solidifying it into the rotation. The bench, which used to be a significant weakness for Utah, became a major strength.

Utah Jazz v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

In the 2021-22 season, Georges Niang has moved on, and the Jazz added two different forwards, Rudy Gay and Eric Paschall. When Gay was out with a heel injury, Paschall took the forward position in the death lineup. Upon Gay’s return, he’s taken that spot. Both the variation of the death lineup with Paschall and the version with Gay have been electric.

Utah Jazz Death Lineup

PG SG SF PF C Possessions Point differential/100
PG SG SF PF C Possessions Point differential/100
Conley Clarkson Ingles Niang Bradley 189 17.6
Conley Clarkson Ingles Niang Gobert 624 14.4
Conley Clarkson Ingles Paschall Gobert 214 17.3
Conley Clarkson Ingles Gay Gobert 186 17.1
Utah Jazz Death Lineup Calvin Chappell

Quin Snyder has used this lineup more and more every year, and for a good reason. The strength of the Utah Jazz is in its depth. Some teams are built around a central superstar. Some have a big three. While the Jazz have three All-Stars, their true strength is having the best top to bottom 9-man rotation in the NBA.

Most teams will play a second unit comprised of four or five bench players. The Utah Jazz primary bench lineup includes two starters, both of which are All-Stars, then adds the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, and his runner-up, and a veteran who used to be a star and is now one of the best floor-spacing power forwards in the league. As an opposing defense, how do you expect to guard a Mike Conley/Rudy Gobert pick & roll with Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles, and Rudy Gay spotting up on the three-point line? That unit is currently scoring 126.3 points per 100 possessions, good for the 93rd percentile. That’s hard to stop.

Quin Snyder has created a weapon. Over the last couple of years, he’s perfected it. Now it’s time to sit back and see just how good it can get as the chemistry improves.