Utah Jazz: Who can step up to fix the broken bench?

Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Utah Jazz
Royce O’Neale, Utah Jazz. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Start Joe, make Royce the Sixth Man

One thing that has stood out to me from the past three games is the improved play of Joe Ingles. Since replacing the injured Mike Conley in the starting lineup, Ingles has averaged 7.7 assists per game and shot nearly 43 percent from three point land. He has performed so much better as a starter, much of which has to do with the fact that he has a better partner in the pick and roll in the starting lineup.

When Ingles and Ed Davis tried running the pick and roll in the second unit, it was awful. Davis has mostly been a defensive and rebounding specialist for the Jazz this year, and isn’t quite replacement level for the hole Derrick Favors left offensively. That lack of an elite rolling big man has contributed to Ingles’ offensive slump this year.

When Slo’ Mo Joe plays with Rudy Gobert, their lineups outscore opponents by 2.3 points per 100 possessions. When he plays with Ed Davis, those lineups get outscored by 1.3 points per 100 possessions.

This obviously helps Ingles stay effective, but how does it help Utah’s bench?

One role I’d like to see Royce O’Neale take on is a defensive anchor as a perimeter player. It’s a tough task to ask from someone in just his third year in the league, but I think Royce would be up for the challenge.

Surrounded by good defenders in Ed Davis and Dante Exum, I envision O’Neale being the vocal leader helping his teammates know when and where to rotate, when to help, when to switch on the pick an roll, as well as pulling his own weight guarding positions 1-4.

It’s a role that has propelled Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics into conversations for Defensive Player of the Year award. Smart and O’Neale have very similar physical profiles. Smart is 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot-nine wingspan, and O’Neale is 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan. Smart is listed at 227 pounds and O’Neale is listed at 226 pounds.

Smart was drafted as a point guard with shooting guard size, and has morphed into a bulldog on the defensive end with a point guard mentality on offense (4.6 assists per game). Royce O’Neale made the cut for the Jazz roster as a backup shooting guard/small forward, and has emerged as a valuable 3-and-D player that doesn’t require the ball in his hands. He’s technically been Utah’s starting power forward for 23 games this season.

I figured if Utah doesn’t have the personnel of a typical sixth man that is a microwave scorer a la Jamal Crawford, they could use Royce O’Neale as a defensive sixth man leader. At this point it seems a little unreasonable to expect Jeff Green or Emmanuel Mudiay to be the go-to scorer for our bench, as they fall in love with low percentage shots way too often.