Utah Jazz: Shooting Guard Becoming Major Area of Concern

Jan 26, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz guard Alec Burks (10) reacts after a call in the second quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 26, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz guard Alec Burks (10) reacts after a call in the second quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports /

Plenty of factors have caused the Utah Jazz to experience some inconsistency this season, but significant woes at the shooting guard position is near the top of the list.

All season long, the Utah Jazz have appeared to be on the cusp of greatness. They finally have a solid point guard in George Hill, Gordon Hayward has turned into an undeniable All-Star and Rudy Gobert has become arguably Utah’s most important player as he’s turning in a monumental season.

Nevertheless, a combination of injuries and overall inconsistent play from the rest of the Jazz squad has seemingly kept them from reaching their otherwise astounding potential. Derrick Favors has been limited all year and Trey Lyles and Boris Diaw have been less than spectacular.

George Hill has been mostly solid, but has had some pretty detrimental bouts with injury and inconsistency which has also exposed a weakness at the backup point guard position which has been a revolving carousel all season long.

Therefore, the major gripes of fans all season long have had to do with Utah’s need to improve at both the power forward and point guard positions. However, contrary to popular opinion, the real issue that has faced the Jazz of late has had more to do with weakness at the shooting guard position than anything else.

Joe Johnson has filled in admirably at the starting power forward spot as a stretch-four and between Dante Exum and Raul Neto’s recent play, it seems the Jazz are at least nearing a suitable answer at the point guard spot.

The shooting guard position, however, continues to be rocky. Rodney Hood has now missed 21 games due to injury and has been in and out of action pretty much the entire season making it nearly impossible for him to find any sort of rhythm.

That inconsistency in health has certainly taken its toll on his numbers. In a year where Rodney Hood was projected to take a considerable leap forward, he’s actually seen significant regression in several key areas. His points per game are down from a year ago from 14.5 to 12.9, his assists are down from 2.7 to 1.9 and his field goal percentage has decreased from 42 percent to 41.5.

His three-point percentage has seen a minor jump as he’s improved from 35.9 to 36.5, but that still isn’t all that great for a guy whose main purpose is to stretch the floor and serve as a major deep ball threat for the Jazz. Rodney is just the fifth leading three-point shooter on the team while putting up the most attempts (5.2).

Perhaps what’s most disappointing isn’t Rodney’s numbers in and of themselves, but rather the fact that the expectations placed on him this season certainly had them coming in much higher.

But even when Hood has been somewhat healthy, he’s still had his issues particularly because his decision making has been less than solid. Hood’s indecision on offense, tendency to settle for poor shots and common reluctance to pass have at times made him more of a hindrance than a help.

These two tweets below, one from myself and one from FanRag Sports’ Andy Bailey, perfectly summarize my thoughts on Hood’s typical play this season:

Since the tweet above mentioned Hood’s backup, Alec Burks, I suppose it’s only fitting that we move onto him now. Burks has seemingly been due for a breakout season for the past three or so years. Yet time after time, injuries have caused him to fall short. This season started out no different as Burks missed the first 34 games of the year as he recovered from yet another surgery.

The hope was that upon his return in early January, Burks would have plenty of time to recover and adjust and therefore be ready to go come playoff time. However, with 36 games now under his belt, Burks has yet to prove that he can be a solid contributor.

If Hood’s numbers are discouraging, Burks are something much worse entirely. He’s shooting just 40.7 percent from the field and 31.9 percent from deep. He has as many turnovers per game as he has assists and has been a horrible finisher at the rim this season:

What’s worse is that even when Burks attacks the rim and gets fouled, he hasn’t been all that effective at the foul line either as he’s shooting just 77.8 percent from the charity stripe. Like Hood, he tends to over-dribble and both of them can be credited with causing the offense to go stagnant on several occasions.

And it doesn’t end there. The bad news continues as both Hood and Burks seem to be headed in the wrong direction given that their numbers have been even worse since the All-Star break.

In 11 games played, Hood is down to 10.2 points per game on 38.5 percent shooting from the field and 35.7 percent from deep while Burks, despite seeing a slight increase in points (7.0 to 7.8 in 15 games played) since the All-Star break, his efficiency has plummeted as he’s converted on just 36.7 percent of his field goal attempts and 31.4 percent of his three-point attempts.

There’s no questioning that it’s been discouraging to see that duo of shooting guards struggle so mightily, especially when their predicted improvement was presumed to be a key piece of Utah’s success this season. Nevertheless, guys like Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert have had to step up and shoulder an immense load to pick up the slack for their struggling two-guards.

Luckily for the Jazz, Joe Ingles could be counted in the same category as Hayward and Gobert in terms of the leap forward he’s taken this year as he has been one of the team’s most pleasant surprises.

Though he’s a technically a swingman capable of playing both the two and the three, he has typically been better suited for the small forward position. However, this season his services have been mostly used at the otherwise struggling shooting guard position where Ingles has logged multiple starts in place of the injured Rodney Hood.

To be quite honest, given Hood’s inability to mesh with the starters or find any sort of rhythm offensively, especially since the All-Star break, it isn’t a stretch to say that Ingles should remain the starter even with a healthy Hood in action.

If Ingles hadn’t stepped up the way he has this season, there’s no telling how horrific Utah’s shooting guard position would be. Nevertheless, with Hood and Burks’ constant struggles, it still would appear that finding a more permanent way to patch up the position has to be a major point of emphasis for the Jazz this offseason.

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Therefore, while it’s easy to pin some of Utah’s struggles on the inconsistencies of the backup point guard position, or the lack of depth in the frontcourt with Favors injured, it’s also hard to ignore how poorly manned they’ve been at the two-spot.

While it will likely take an improvement outside of Utah’s current roster to ultimately patch that hole, the Jazz will have to hope that for this season, Hood and Burks can find a significant groove in the final ten games of the year and that one or both of them can finally start to break out as they were projected to do at the season’s start.

If not, such a glaring weakness at a critical position could prove to be Utah’s undoing come playoff time.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com