Despite Adding George Hill, Utah Jazz Still Have Point Guard Issues

Nov 20, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum (11) during the game against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 105-91. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 20, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum (11) during the game against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 105-91. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite George Hill’s phenomenal play, the point guard position has still been a point of weakness for the Utah Jazz given the inconsistency of their back-ups.

Aside from injuries, if asked what was the number one reason the Utah Jazz missed the playoffs last season, most fans would resoundingly answer that the point guard position was the weak link.

With Dante Exum out for the season with a torn ACL, Raul Neto playing in his first year in the NBA and Trey Burke being an atrocious defender and a streaky shooter at best, it wasn’t a pretty situation for the Jazz.

They tried to patch the hole by trading for Shelvin Mack last season and while he added a little more experience and scoring punch, it was clear he was not the long-term answer. I apparently tend to like Mack more than the average Jazz fan based on the rampant Mack hate on Jazz Twitter, but I still recognize that he’s far from a reliable second option on a team that has high playoff aspirations.

His tendency to over-dribble, take poor shots with better shooters on the floor and turn the ball over were weaknesses last season that have become even more glaring issues this year.

However, the Jazz made it a point of emphasis over the offseason to bring in some more talent at the point guard position and while they didn’t make an overly flashy move, they still won big by trading a first-round draft pick to acquire veteran George Hill.

While it was a move that went largely unnoticed by the casual fan and the national media, it was certainly recognized by NBA GMs who in the 2016-17 GM survey ranked Utah’s acquisition of Hill as the most underrated move of any team over the offseason.

And in Hill’s time in Utah, he’s certainly proven that to be the case as, injuries aside, he’s been a phenomenal starting point guard for the Jazz. He is averaging 18.1 points per game while shooting a scorching 50.6 percent from the field and 44.9 percent from deep, all of which are career-highs by a significant margin.

So the simple fact that the Jazz added Hill has made them exponentially better at the point guard position than what they were last year. His keen ability to run the offense, his calming presence and his surprising shooting efficiency have all helped the Jazz immensely to reach their current 27-16 record.

Unfortunately though, he alone hasn’t entirely fixed Utah’s point guard problems. In fact, it turns out the Jazz still have a long ways to go. However, the problem hasn’t been when Hill is in the game, but rather when he’s not, which with 24 games missed due to injury has been a pretty common occurrence this season.

Prior to the 2016-17 season, Jazz fans were ecstatic at the prospect of having a savvy vet like George Hill be the starter at the point guard position while the young, athletic and up-and-coming Dante Exum, who appeared in his rookie season to be a lockdown defender, would run the second unit.

After having to cope with the likes of Mack, Neto and Burke, the addition of Hill and the return of Exum were bound to be a heaven-sent. But while that has held true with the former, the latter has certainly not been the case.

Dante Exum has absolutely struggled on both ends of the floor this season. Of course, some difficulties are to be expected as the young guard out of Australia missed an entire season and is working back from a major knee injury. However, there’s still some significant reason for concern based on how poorly he’s played this season compared to where he was at to end his rookie year.

He’s shooting 40.3 percent from the field and an abysmal 27.3 percent from deep. He also has the worst plus/minus on the team by a long shot at -2.6. Once considered an up-and-coming stopper, Exum has seemingly lost his lateral quickness and hasn’t been able to stay in front of opponents well at all this year.

To me, Utah’s win over the Phoenix Suns last night perfectly personified the issue with Dante as well as Utah’s overall point guard problems. I mentioned that when Hill has been absent, the Jazz have been unsure who to turn to, but even in instances such as last night when Hill was having a rare off night, it was frustrating to not have a reliable back-up.

Hill still finished with 17 points and was +10 for the night, so it’s hard to criticize him, but he clearly wasn’t himself as he shot just 7-of-18 from the field and 1-of-7 from deep. It surely would have been nice to have a second guy to come in and carry the point guard load effectively in the wake of Hill’s struggles. Nevertheless, the Jazz seemingly fell apart whenever he wasn’t on the floor.

Exum logged just seven minutes and didn’t put up a point (or any other meaningful stat for that matter) and Coach Snyder was forced to yank him because he was being badly beaten by Eric Bledsoe or Devin Booker nearly every time. Granted, both had exceptional nights and every Jazzman was having a hard time containing them, but it was apparent that they were targeting Dante and fully exploiting his defense that is a shell of what it was his rookie season.

Coach Snyder then went with Raul Neto who wasn’t brilliant but in 10 minutes of playing time did enough to keep the Jazz afloat and certainly did a better job containing Booker and Bledsoe than Exum did.

Surprising though it may be, Neto could very well be the one who ends up winning the back-up spot as he’s looked the most reliable in the few minutes he has logged recently. He did start 53 games last season, so filling a bigger role would be far from a new experience for him.

Strangely enough, Shelvin Mack who for a time appeared to be Snyder’s lock as back-up point guard has suddenly found himself out of the rotation entirely. After a poor showing in five minutes played against Detroit, Mack was benched and has yet to play since.

In his previous four games he’s scored just six total points in 44 minutes and hasn’t posted a positive plus/minus since January 2nd. This along with his turnovers and overall poor shot selection likely all added up and ultimately led to his benching.

One could argue that over the course of the season, Mack has at least provided the best offensive production, but this is more of a result of his playing time than anything else. Interestingly enough, when looking at points per 48 minutes, Neto’s 16.6 points is only barely behind Mack’s 17.1 and those points are coming at a much more efficient shooting clip than Shelvin’s.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Toronto Raptors
NBA: Utah Jazz at Toronto Raptors /

Furthermore, it’s interesting to note just how much better the Jazz are when George Hill is on the court as compared to when one of the back-ups is playing. The Jazz are 17 points per 100 possessions better than their opponent with Hill on the court. With Mack they’re only 0.9 points better and with Exum, they’re seven points worse.

With Neto, they’re currently 13 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents when he’s on the floor, but that’s in a very small sample size. Still, in extremely limited minutes this season, Neto is quickly making the case that he could very well deserve that back-up point guard spot.

But the fact remains that so far on the season, the Jazz have looked pretty poor at the point guard spot whenever Hill isn’t in the game and it’s been a glaring problem. In the game against Phoenix, Coach Snyder was clearly looking for an answer by inserting Exum then Neto, but a big part of the second unit’s problem has also been that they haven’t had a consistent point guard all year.

While it would be nice to give Dante the reins and let him develop at the point guard spot while running the second unit, he just hasn’t proven nearly capable enough so far this season. For a while it appeared that Mack would be the one who settled into that position, but that experiment has apparently failed as well.

Unfortunately, now with Mack benched, necessary though it may be, the Jazz do lose the bit of cohesion and consistency that they had developed in the second unit with him running the show. And trying to play dual-point guard with Exum and Neto for the rest of the season clearly isn’t the way to fix that either.

So as now it should be abundantly clear, the Utah Jazz have a bit of an issue at the back-up point guard spot and it’s one they need to solve sooner rather than later. George Hill has provided an undeniable boost to this team, but just as Utah’s offense has gone stagnant when he’s been out with injury, the same thing happens to the second unit when Hill has to sit.

In all reality, the lack of point guard depth is the biggest thing hindering the Jazz bench from reaching their sky high potential as one of the most dangerous reserve units in the league.

Related Story: Has the Utah Jazz Bench Lived Up to Expectations?

And it’s possible that the Jazz won’t be able to fully fix that with the personnel they currently have. However, although that may very well be the case, at the very least Coach Snyder and Co. have to come to a decision about who will officially get the nod as back-up point guard and soon. Perhaps a trade to shore up the spot will be forthcoming but as of yet there has been no indication that that will happen.

With the season already half over, the Jazz reserves need to build consistency and adjust to the most capable reserve point guard – be it Exum, Neto, or Mack – so that they can be dangerous come playoff time. If the point guard carousel simply continues, the struggles with Hill on the bench likely will as well.

From what we’ve seen so far and as I’ve alluded to, I honestly think that Raul Neto ought to be that guy. He’s been fourth-string practically all year but with Dante seemingly unable to guard anybody and Shelvin serving as a constant detriment to the team, the second year Brazilian guard may very well be the Jazz’s best hope.

He’s not flashy, but he plays hard defense, makes smart decisions and can hold his own while Hill rests. Unfortunately, a back-up point guard who merely holds his own won’t be enough to fix all of Utah’s issues at the position, yet it may very well be the best chance they have.

More from The J-Notes

There’s no question that it’s disheartening that Dante Exum’s presumed role as the leader of the second unit isn’t panning out nearly how fans or the team might have hoped. However, it’s a reality that the Jazz have to face as they look to patch up the deficiencies in that area.

Struggling at the back-up point guard spot won’t doom the Jazz’s season by any means as we’ve already seen what they can do even with Hill sidelined due to injury. But having a more dependable figure below him on the depth chart would definitely add a nice boost and some much-needed insurance.

Nevertheless, the cold hard reality is that while we may have thought that our point guard woes would end with the arrival of George Hill, unfortunately they have not. Until that back-up spot gets sorted out, the issues appear bound to continue for the Utah Jazz.

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