As the Utah Jazz look to bolster their roster during the offseason, which position ought to be their biggest area of emphasis?
Although it certainly would have been nice to see the Utah Jazz put up more of a fight against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Semi-Finals than they did, there’s really not much that Jazz fans should have to complain about this season.
Sure, the injuries were a pain and the four-game sweep was frustrating, but looking at the bigger picture, it’s a big deal that this Jazz team that went to the lottery last season reached their goal of making the playoffs this year then took it a step further by winning their first-round series. In terms of growth and progress, Utah did an excellent job of taking a significant leap in the right direction.
Nevertheless, if the series against the Warriors taught us anything, it’s that while the Jazz were a phenomenal team this past season, their current group at the level they’re at right now simply isn’t enough to compete with Golden State. And that means they’ll likely need to look to bolster the roster either via a trade or free agency if they hope to give themselves any chance of competing for a title.
I’d say this tweet below perfectly sums up what I’d like to get across:
Therefore, as the Jazz look to be aggressive this offseason to not only re-sign Gordon Hayward as well as potentially George Hill and Joe Ingles, there’s no questioning that they’ll have to look outside of their current group of guys and see who would make the most sense to add to the roster. Which brings me to the question poised in the headline – which position on the Jazz roster is in the greatest need of an upgrade?
For these intents and purposes, we’ll assume that each of Utah’s aforementioned key free agents – Hayward, Hill and Ingles – will indeed be reacquired for next season. Therefore, each of them will be considered a part of the team moving forward for this exercise.
Of course, given that Gordon Hayward was a first-time All-Star this season and that Rudy Gobert isn’t far behind him for earning that same recognition, it’s pretty clear that the Jazz are well set at both the small forward and center positions. You could argue about upgrading their backups (and you likely wouldn’t be wrong) but given how good those two are, it’s hard to contend that either of their positions would be Utah’s absolute focal point this offseason.
Both of them elevated their individual games to a whole new level this season and in the wake of others among their teammates not stepping up, there’s no questioning that Hayward and Gobert’s improvements were a major reason why the Jazz made it as far as they did.
Beyond that, there is an argument that the point guard position needs some work, especially given that Shelvin Mack will very likely be allowed to walk this season, allowing the Jazz to clear some cap space to either bring in a more formidable backup point guard or to turn those reins over to the young Dante Exum. However, although Hill struggled with injuries, he was effective enough when healthy that it was clear that point guard wasn’t exactly Utah’s biggest problem.
Which leaves the two most worthy positional culprits – shooting guard and power forward.
Prior to the 2016-17 season, these were two positions that Jazz fans were pretty optimistic about. Rodney Hood had shown flashes of brilliance in 2015-16 of perhaps turning into one of the better shooting guards in the league. Derrick Favors, meanwhile, had a breakout year in 2015-16 as he averaged 16.4 points and 8.1 rebounds which gave many hope that he would be Utah’s force at the power forward position moving forward.
In fact, many had Favors pinned as a likely third piece in a potential “Big 3” for the Utah Jazz. Unfortunately, neither Hood nor Favors ended up having much of a season to remember. Both were saddled with injuries, most notably Favors, while Hood was never able to find a shooting groove during the season and for all intents and purposes disappeared during the playoffs.
Thus there’s no doubting that while optimism was high about that duo, instead they found themselves playing a major role in creating two of Utah’s weakest links in their rotation. Unfortunately, looking at their backups doesn’t make the situation all that much better either.
Of course near the end of the season and in the postseason, Hood found himself actually as the backup behind Joe Ingles. I really like what Ingles does and brings to this team, but quite honestly, I’d much rather see a more versatile offensive kind of shooting guard in the starting lineup (the kind Hood ought to be) alongside Hayward while allowing Ingles to come off the bench.
Furthermore, I’d actually prefer to see Ingles come off the bench at the three-spot behind Gordon as I feel that is a better fit for him and often facilitates a better match-up for him on defense.
Then there’s the third-string shooting guard for the Jazz, Alec Burks who, to be quite blunt, has turned out to be an absolute disaster for the team. Forget that the guy can’t stay healthy, but so often this season Burks was awful at finishing at the rim and frankly doesn’t bring much else to the table. All the while he’s eating up a healthy chunk of Utah’s payroll.
With the guy who’s starting (Ingles) actually being a better fit off the bench, the backup (Hood) more fit to be the starter but failing to find any glimpse of consistency or reliability whatsoever, and the final option (Burks) being essentially made out of glass, it’s pretty clear that the Jazz could use some fresh blood at the shooting guard spot.
Then there’s the power forward position where a Derrick Favors who was beleaguered with injuries this season had an extremely disappointing year. He was one of the league’s most promising young big men coming into this season, but he failed to justify that sentiment in any way, shape or form.
And unfortunately Utah’s other options at the position came up short as well. Boris Diaw bounced back and forth between the starting lineup and bench as well as between the center and power forward position. He without a doubt brought several intangibles to this team, but all in all he would’ve been much better served if he had been able to play more of a “veteran off the bench” role with limited minutes rather than a consistently key figure in Utah’s game plan.
Joe Johnson was obviously a bright point at the power forward position where he played for much of the latter part of the year. However, age and fatigue certainly caught up to him in the series against Golden State, leaving the legitimate question of how much he has in the tank and how productive he can be in that position over the long haul.
Then there’s Trey Lyles who completely worked himself out of the rotation this year. This is a guy who was once viewed as having mammoth potential, but his horrific shooting and poor defense have started to put the reality of that sentiment very much in jeopardy. It came to the point where he absolutely couldn’t be trusted to be on the court and if that continues, then there will be little hope for Utah’s power forward spot improving based on how it’s currently constructed.
Therefore, it’s quite obvious that both the power forward and shooting guard positions are in need of an upgrade. But which one takes the cake as the most vital point of emphasis for next season? Well, it’s close, but I’m going to go with the shooting guard position.
If Derrick Favors is the same player next year as he was this past year, then I’m absolutely wrong on this one given that his struggles on the court throughout 2016-17 made even a Joe Ingles-led shooting guard position look more proficient than what the Jazz rolled out at power forward. However, the reason why I think that the four-spot is less of a concern than the two, is because I fully believe Derrick Favors will be primed and ready to have a better season next year.
He’ll be playing in the final year of his contract with plenty to prove, and if the man’s healthy, even if he only matches his level of play from 2015-16, that will serve as a huge boost for the Jazz.
Beyond just Favors himself, having Joe Johnson available as a backup stretch four as well as a savvy Boris Diaw to be used when the situation is just right could be a game changer, too. Throw in a major and unexpected leap forward from Lyles this summer and the power forward position could transform from a weakness into a solid position that Jazz brass has little to worry about.
The shooting guard position, though, is a completely different story. Although Ingles was one of the best three-point shooters in the league during the regular season and even though Hood has shown at times an uncanny ability to fill it up from deep, it was painfully clear during the playoffs that Utah needs an additional wing scorer to help the Jazz produce easy offense when nothing else seems to be working.
That isn’t something that either Ingles or Hood seem all that poised to rectify. For all the good each of them does for the team, neither packs enough consistent offensive firepower to really give Utah the boost they need to be looking for. Could Ingles and Hood improve significantly next season to bolster this position? Sure they could and hopefully they do!
However, given each of their inconsistencies as well as the aforementioned preference to bring Ingles off the bench at the three-spot rather than force him into the action at the two, I’d say that the potential and likelihood for the improvement of Utah’s shooting guard position as it’s currently composed is significantly less than that of the power forward spot.
Therefore, as Utah looks to fill its most vital need and add more reliable offensive firepower to the rotation, seeking a fitting shooting guard should absolutely be the Jazz’s biggest area of emphasis in terms of offseason trades and/or free agent acquisitions.
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The Utah Jazz are a formidable young team with several enticing and solid pieces with high potential. However, if they hope to truly take the next step into contender status in the NBA, it will be of vital importance that they find a way to patch up their currently lackluster shooting guard position for the season ahead.