Utah Jazz May Have Found Their Answer at Power Forward

Feb 4, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Joe Johnson (6) shoots against Charlotte Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14) and forward Marvin Williams (2) in the fourth quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Utah Jazz defeated the Charlotte Hornets 105-98. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 4, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Joe Johnson (6) shoots against Charlotte Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14) and forward Marvin Williams (2) in the fourth quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Utah Jazz defeated the Charlotte Hornets 105-98. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports /

After Joe Johnson’s incredible performance at the four-spot in his team’s latest win, the Utah Jazz may have very well found their answer at the power forward position which has been one of their key weaknesses this year.

With last night’s breathtaking comeback victory over the Charlotte Hornets, the Utah Jazz moved into sole possession of fourth place in the Western Conference with a record of 32-19.

Given all that the Utah Jazz have accomplished so far this season and where they stand currently, it’s hard to find much to complain about. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that there have been a few issues that have nagged them all season and have prevented them from reaching their full potential.

Of course injuries have been a big one, but some of the other ones that I have touched on have been the need for a more reliable backup point guard and issues in the frontcourt when Rudy Gobert is on the bench. However, the problem that has seemingly been the most noticeable and detrimental for the Jazz has been their inability to get any sort of consistent play out of their power forwards.

Derrick Favors has been one of the biggest disappointments of the season thus far as he simply cannot seem to get his legs or his shot right after dealing with an ongoing knee injury. Boris Diaw, the aging veteran, and Trey Lyles, the young gun with untapped potential, have largely failed to meet expectations as well.

Nevertheless, in last night’s win over the Charlotte Hornets, the Jazz didn’t just prove once again their ability to come through in the clutch, but more importantly they discovered that the power forward they’ve been missing all season may have been right under their noses the entire time.

And that man is none other than Joe Johnson.

Although Joe Johnson has largely been considered a shooting guard or small forward for most of his career, at six-foot-seven and 240 pounds, he’s proven on several occasions that he’s capable of checking and challenging opposing power forwards.

And by no means has it been a secret that Johnson is a capable stretch-four, as last season in Miami that was largely his role as he started at the position alongside Hassan Whiteside at the five and Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng filling in at the one through three-spots, respectively.

In that capacity, he averaged solid figures across the board with 13.4 points per game on 51.8 percent field goal shooting and 41.7 percent shooting from behind the arc. His ability to out-maneuver and out-shoot opposing fours while still proving capable of contesting them on defense helped provide favorable match-ups for him that led to his incredibly efficient scoring figures.

Nevertheless, while he has logged some minutes this season at the four for the Jazz, it hasn’t been all that common of an occurrence as Coach Snyder and Co. have largely stuck with slotting him at the three and keeping two more traditional bigs on the floor together.

But as the Jazz went into the fourth quarter of last night’s contest against the Hornets trailing by nine, they made the switch to put Joe Johnson in at the power forward slot and it paid enormous dividends.

Not only was Johnson able to come up with eight points in the fourth quarter, hitting shots in the most absolutely clutch moments possible, but he finished the game with 18 total points on a phenomenal 7-of-12 (.583) from the field and 4-of-7 (.571) from deep while logging a plus/minus of +20 for the night and helping Utah close on a 23-6 run.

Much like he was able to do in Miami, by playing at the power forward spot Johnson created an unsolvable match-up problem for the opposing Hornets and was able to come through time after time to help will his Jazz team to victory.

Therefore, while the position has been a serious weak point for the Jazz, perhaps the answer they’ve been searching for was right in front of their noses the entire time. Joe Johnson was brought over to this team to add veteran experience and versatility and he most definitely showed both of those by thriving at the power forward position last night.

Of course if Johnson is to be Utah’s go-to guy at the four-spot for the remainder of the season, there are still a few questions that would have to be addressed to ensure that it would truly work out for him and the Jazz.

Should he be their permanent starter at the four? Will that work out with the Jazz noticeably limiting his minutes this season to keep him fresh for the playoffs? How will he cope against teams with monster power forwards such as LA’s Blake Griffin, Memphis’ Zach Randolph or San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge?

In terms of his minutes and whether he starts or not during the regular season, I believe the Jazz can still utilize him as their main power forward without having to worry too much about those details. He didn’t start the game against Charlotte, but by playing in the finishing group alongside George Hill, Joe Ingles, Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert, he performed masterfully.

In terms of minutes, regardless of whether he starts or not, the Jazz still enjoy the depth to substitute him in and out as they see fit to prevent running him ragged during the regular season grind.

Finally, while Johnson has proven largely capable of containing nearly any opposing power forward that is thrown at him in the past, it’s very likely that some (such as those I mentioned previously) will be able to overpower him on the offensive end. In these circumstances, there’s no questioning that it’s still of the utmost importance that the Jazz find a way to get some kind of reliable production out of Derrick Favors.

Just like Johnson himself, the Jazz have turned into a very versatile team and while Iso Joe may have very well proved last night that he is Utah’s answer at the power forward position under most circumstances, there will certainly be situations where the team will need to adapt, make adjustments and perhaps roll out a different guy who matches up better against a certain foe.

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Yet regardless of those rare situations and the few questions surrounding Joe’s shift to playing more permanently at the four-spot, it was made quite clear in last night’s victory that the Jazz have a very plausible and effective solution to their season-long weakness at the power forward position in Joe Johnson.

He’s been phenomenal for the Jazz all season in the capacity that he has filled, but as he makes that more permanent switch, he is bound to become even more effective and the Utah Jazz will then turn into all the more daunting of a threat in the Western Conference.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com