Utah Jazz: Regardless of match-up, Thabo Sefolosha needs to play

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 27: Thabo Sefolosha #22 of the Utah Jazz watches his shot against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on December 27, 2017 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 27: Thabo Sefolosha #22 of the Utah Jazz watches his shot against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on December 27, 2017 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

Thabo Sefolosha didn’t see any minutes in the Utah Jazz’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night, and that’s a trend that absolutely has to change.

Wednesday’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans was yet another disappointing all-around performance for the Utah Jazz. One game removed from a thrilling victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers and with three days off between contests, one would expect that the Jazz would come out with a little spring in their step. Unfortunately, such wasn’t exactly the case.

The Jazz kept the game competitive for the majority of the contest and, quite frankly even while trailing, this felt like a game the Jazz should and could win practically all night long. However, when all was said and done, the Jazz didn’t have enough juice, didn’t execute well-enough and ultimately their flat-footed play led to them falling short in a discouraging 108-98 home loss.

To say it wasn’t exactly the way to start off the new year would be absolute understatement. The Jazz just had a brutal December and were supposed to bounce back in January. However, that figured to be easier said than done given that they’ll be on the road quite a bit this month, and a home contest against a mediocre Pelicans team was one that certainly was figured as a necessary win if the Jazz truly were going to right the ship.

Unfortunately, that ship might be further from being righted than we suspected.

And perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of last night’s bout was that while Rodney Hood (1-of-10 from the field), Alec Burks (3-of-7 from the field, -13 on the night) and Jonas Jerebko (-17 on the night), who started at power forward, all played poorly, one of Utah’s most consistent and reliable players, Thabo Sefolosha, sat on the bench.

It’s been reported that Quin Snyder is rotating Sefolosha, Joe Johnson and Jerebko based on match-ups on certain nights and I suppose that one could make the argument that starting the bigger Jerebko against New Orleans’ daunting frontcourt makes some amount of sense, but Sefolosha has never been exclusively a four at any time during his career, and he easily could have and should have been inserted last night over guys who were struggling.

Sefolosha is one of those rare guys who’s capable of guarding multiple positions, thus he easily could have been inserted in place of two-guards Rodney Hood or Alec Burks. In all honesty, despite match-up concerns, I have a hard time believing that he would have done much worse on defense than Jonas Jerebko did, so he even could have been put in at the four-spot where Coach Snyder has largely used him this year.

Of players who have logged significant playing time this season, Sefolosha leads the team in plus/minus (2.2) and net rating (6.2). He’s easily been the team’s most reliable defender with a defensive rating of 101 as well as 1.4 steals per game. He also has been a surprisingly consistent offensive player as he’s shooting 48.4 percent from the field and 37.2 percent from deep.

Above all that, time and time again, he has appeared to have an exceptional chemistry with Utah’s leading scorer Donovan Mitchell. So it’s pretty surprising to me that the Jazz couldn’t find a way to get him on the floor last night. And moving forward, these DNP-CDs (Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision) for Sefolosha absolutely have to stop. Be it at the two, the three or the four and regardless of the opponent, Quin has to put Sefolosha in the rotation every night.

Regardless of how deep Utah’s roster is and how many talented guys can play each night, the best players have to play. Minutes simply can’t always be shared equally. And since Sefolosha has clearly separated himself as one of Utah’s most effective players, he has to be on the court. No. Matter. What.

Now, there are a couple of hypotheses circling Twitter in regards to why Sefolosha’s missed seemingly random games and occasionally seemed like the odd man out in the rotation. One is that the Jazz are being cautious with him, trying to prevent aggravating any sort of wear and tear injury. However, if there is such a concern, it would be pretty easy and acceptable for Snyder and Co. to just come out and say it like it is rather than sort of sweep it under the rug.

The other theory is that the Jazz are giving extra minutes to the likes of Burks, Johnson, Jerebko, etc. while conserving Thabo’s stats and playing time for the most fitting moments in order to raise each of their trade value. In other words, Sefolosha and the others are being dangled as trade assets, little more, and are playing in the situations that hypothetically would be most advantageous for them.

KSL’s Andy Larsen had an excellent thread on Twitter regarding this theory, which I’ve included below:

In some ways it seems a little far-fetched, but in other aspects I could definitely see there being quite a bit of merit to this theory, mostly because I can’t come up with any other reasonable or logical explanation for why Quin would continue with the puzzling rotations he’s rolled out, specifically shying away from Sefolosha in games where he could have a major impact.

If this showcasing of trade-worthy players is what’s truly going on, I completely understand the reasoning behind it, but that doesn’t mean I like it. Letting winnable games slip through the team’s fingers in hopes of getting a higher draft pick or bringing in more value in a trade is a risky venture that doesn’t always pay off, and the negative impact it could have on culture, player attitude and future free agent decisions very well might blow up in Utah’s face.

More and more it’s looking like the playoffs are a far cry this season. Nevertheless, there’s no reason why the Jazz should throw in the towel and stop putting their most competitive team on the floor. Sefolosha has been instrumental to Utah’s limited success this season and as such he deserves to play.

Next: Utah Jazz can’t stop hot shooting Pelicans, fall to 16-22

Limiting a veteran’s minutes to further an agenda outside of winning games doesn’t exactly make for a nice pitch to future free agents, so if that’s really what’s going on here, it needs to stop. The Jazz need Sefolosha in order to reach their utmost potential and regardless of what position he plays due to the match-ups Utah faces, Quin needs to find a way to get him consistent minutes in the rotation night in and night out, especially ahead of players that are struggling.

Doing so could have very well produced a win over the Pelicans last night and could very well save several critical defeats in the future. Hopefully, the lesson was learned last night and the DNP-CD we saw on Wednesday for Sefolosha will be the last one we see this year barring any sort of injury setback.