Utah Jazz newcomer Jonas Jerebko should have a heightened opportunity in his new role and it will be entirely up to him to take advantage of it.
In an interesting turn of events, while the Utah Jazz lost Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics this offseason, as it turned out they were able to take one of the C’s players in return by signing free agent Jonas Jerebko. Of course, adding a guy who averaged 21.9 points per game versus one who averaged 3.8 doesn’t exactly mean the Jazz came out as winners in the pair of moves by any stretch of the imagination. Nevertheless, it’s quite possible that Jerebko could end up being an underrated pickup.
The six-foot-ten big man out of Sweden quickly won over Jazz fans in a number of ways upon being signed by posting a photo of an autographed Andrei Kirilenko jersey, showing off a variety of Jazz gear for his daughter and making it clear in his introductory press conference that the Jazz were a team he had liked for quite some time and that Utah was where he wanted to be.
Of course, the mere fact that he wanted to play for the Jazz won’t be enough in and of itself to make Jerebko a sensation in Utah, he’ll have to show it on the court as well. Fortunately, he may very well find himself in an ideal situation to do just that.
Jerebko will be utilized in Utah as a stretch-four who can help extend Utah’s offense beyond the three-point line and open up the middle of the floor. His career three-point shooting percentage is 35.2, but at his best he’s been right in the high 30s approaching into the low 40s.
The Jazz will need him to be at or above that mark consistently as well as provide versatility on both ends of the floor. He’ll need to step up his game significantly from his final season in Boston if he’s going to prove to be a crucial piece of Utah’s success, and although he’ll certainly be granted that opportunity, it’s also nice to know that on a two-year, $8.2 million contract with a team option in year two, regardless of how things pan out this season, Jerebko is essentially a zero-risk addition.
Best Case Scenario
There’s no doubt whatsoever that the power forward position was one of Utah’s weakest last season. Between Derrick Favors’ constant injuries, Boris Diaw’s struggles with consistency and Trey Lyles’ essential disappearance, it was a challenge to get reliable production out of the position. Joe Johnson who quite regularly would fill the power forward spot was solid, but in certain occasions he wasn’t always ideal for the slot.
If Derrick Favors can remain healthy and if Jonas Jerebko can reach his best case scenario level of play, the power forward position could take an absolute 180 degree turn this season. In order for Jerebko to do just that, he’s going to have to be a reliable three-point shooter right about in the 38 percent range or better while establishing a solid versatility on defense.
Jerebko and Favors are clearly very different players, but Quin Snyder’s offense functions extremely well with a gifted stretch-four in the mix, but unfortunately he hasn’t really had that luxury before now. Last season for example, Boris Diaw and Trey Lyles shot 24.7 percent and 31.9 percent from deep, respectively. Jerebko ought to be better than that from the get-go, so he should instantly provide the Jazz with even more versatile lineup options than what they had last season.
Jerebko’s best case scenario is that he will earn the full-time backup power forward position where he’ll log about 18-20 minutes per game, which would be a decent uptick from last season. Hopefully the Jazz can utilize Jerebko significantly enough to help preserve Joe Johnson’s playing time at the four in the regular season so that they can then have him refreshed and ready to go once postseason play rolls around.
Beyond the minutes, points and shooting percentages, the Jazz will need for Jerebko to be an effective spark plug off the bench. He had moments last season – most memorably in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers – where his presence energized his teammates, aroused a little bit of testiness between the teams and ultimately helped stir his squad to victory.
The Jazz have missed that kind of presence ever since the departure of Trevor Booker and it would be ideal for Jerebko to be able to fill that void in some fashion. He’ll certainly be granted a larger opportunity in Utah than he was afforded in Boston and as long as he can come through in the areas described here, he could be in for an exceptional season as a reserve glue guy in 2017-18.
Worst Case Scenario
The worst case scenario for Jonas Jerebko will be that he fails to live up to the extended opportunity that the Jazz provide him. Although he’ll certainly be a role player off the bench, that doesn’t mean that his minutes won’t be absolutely critical to the Jazz’s game plan. Utah will find success next season by each piece of their depth surpassing expectations to provide a daunting second unit, and if any one link in the chain fails to perform it could be very detrimental.
If Jerebko struggles to do the things listed above, his worst case scenario would be that he falls out of the rotation almost entirely, with Coach Snyder opting to use Joe Johnson or perhaps Thabo Sefolosha heavily at the four. This isn’t exactly ideal as neither is as well suited to defend opposing power forwards or play extended minutes at that position over the long haul of the regular season as Jerebko.
In addition to becoming a solid deep ball threat, Jerebko could certainly use an improvement in his field goal percentage making him a more versatile and dangerous offensive weapon, but if he’s unable to diversify his offensive game, this could be a further reason why Quin Snyder and Co. opt to keep him off the floor in a worst case scenario situation.
Jerebko logged a career low in points per game last season at just 3.8 and mustering a similar amount or less this year would be absolutely a disappointment.
It’s interesting to note that Jonas Jerebko logged his highest minutes and points per game as a rookie in Detroit in 2009-10 (27.9 MPG, 9.3 PPG). While I don’t exactly expect him to be at that rate in Utah, given that the team will have such a need for a backup power forward that can produce consistently, if he can even come close to his best case scenario, I expect a large improvement from where he was at last season.
He’ll certainly be granted that opportunity and it will be intriguing to see if Jerebko can have a bit of a career revamp or if he’ll continue the trend from the past couple years in Boston of only providing a minimal impact.