The Utah Jazz got a major upgrade at point guard in Mike Conley, but who’s next on the depth chart? Ultimately, it may not be worth worrying about.
Even before their transformation this summer, the Utah Jazz had done an impressive job of building themselves into a force in the Western Conference over the last several years. Through it all, though, the team definitely had its issues at the point guard spot.
George Hill was great at running the offense, but he spent a lot of time behind the bench in street clothes and his defense definitely slipped. Ricky Rubio always showed heart and had some big moments, but — to put it bluntly — he was a mess on both sides of the ball at times.
It came as no surprise when the Jazz elected to move on from both players.
In the season to come, however, we can probably rest easy. Mike Conley is here and, well, he’s awesome. Without question, his putting up 21 points, six dimes and three boards per game last season and coming in with past All-Defensive Team cred to boot does a lot to ease the fears of a fanbase.
But what about the next name on the depth chart?
Sure, Conley is great, but he can’t play for 48 minutes. And at age 32 you probably don’t want him logging the 32.6 minutes per game he logged over 12 years with the Memphis Grizzlies, either.
Also — the other point guards on the roster all come with some baggage. Dante Exum can’t shoot, doesn’t finish at the hoop well and he’s never been able to stay healthy. Emmanuel Mudiay was better last season, but he has struggled as a shooter and playmaker as well.
Meanwhile, Nigel Williams-Goss hasn’t played a minute of NBA basketball.
That’s definitely enough to give fans pause over the backup minutes heading into the 2019-20 season. Ultimately, though, it may not be a situation worth worrying about.
Because your backup point guard is Donovan Mitchell.
Just as Derrick Favors started at power forward and moved to center when Rudy Gobert sat in recent years, Mitchell will largely be the guy to run the show when Conley is taking a breather. And, really, it’s nothing new for him.
Per Basketball Reference’s positional estimates, Mitchell has spent nearly a third of his career minutes running point. Moreover, he’s continually shown improvement in the role since entering the league in 2017. He’s even shown he can handle extended minutes there.
Last season, when Rubio missed a chunk of games in January with injury, Mitchell was sensational as the floor general. Over a seven-game stretch, he averaged 29 points, five assists and four rebounds per game and the Jazz outscored opponents by nearly 16 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor.
The Jazz were 6-1 over that stretch, with the sole loss coming in the game Rubio played (and got hurt) in.
Point guard isn’t his natural position and he needs to be able to get his teammates in their spots and deliver the ball as well as score, but that’s something that’s coming along as well.
During Mitchell’s run with USA Basketball at the FIBA World Cup, the Jazz guard led the team with a 5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and beat out Kemba Walker for the most total assists with 40.
If his teammates can hit shots, which they should, he’ll rack up the assists. He’s proven himself more than capable of putting them into positions where they can succeed.
Really, anything the Jazz get from Exum, Mudiay and/or Williams-Goss is icing; the cake has already been baked.
Jazz fans should stave off the backcourt pessimism and take a bite.