Utah Jazz: 2 positional battles to keep an eye on during training camp

Utah Jazz (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Utah Jazz (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Utah Jazz enter into the 2020-21 training camp as a mostly fully-formed, fully-operational machine. There will be no positional battles in the starting group: every spot is fully entrenched. So are the first two spots off the bench, as they’ll be reserved for reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson and reigning runner-up Joe Ingles.

Nonetheless, there will be intrigue surrounding this Utah Jazz squad heading into 2020-21. There are two key areas wherein we’ll see positional battles in Salt Lake City during training camp.

Utah Jazz positional battle: fourth guard

The Jazz boast one of the strongest backcourt rotations in the entire National Basketball Association. Donovan Mitchell is a star, Mike Conley Jr. just submitted the first All-Star season of his 14-year career, and as mentioned, Jordan Clarkson was deemed the best reserve in the league last year. After those three, however, the rotation thins out somewhat quickly, and it’s unclear who will be the fourth guard in Quin Snyder’s rotation.

Jared Butler seems like the obvious first choice. Selected with the 40th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, many observers feel that Butler has a chance to be a steal. He could make an immediate contribution with his solid, low-usage, high-IQ brand of basketball.

On the other hand, Trent Forrest is coming off of a spectacular Summer League performance. He’ll have an opportunity to increase his usage this season if the Utah Jazz decide that his passing vision and increased size merit his prioritization over Butler.

Miye Oni and MaCio Teague round out the guards on this Utah Jazz roster. They both project as unlikely to feature as regular members of Quin Snyder’s rotation, but they’ll both be looking towards training camp as an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities and earn a spot as the fourth guard in the rotation for the Jazzmen.

The Utah Jazz enter training camp with a lot of options behind Mitchell, Conley and Clarkson, and it isn’t clear which they’ll select. That conundrum should make for a competitive training camp environment in which each player involved is motivated to demonstrate growth.

Utah Jazz positional battle: Rudy Gay vs Eric Paschall

The Jazz acquired two very similar players this offseason in Rudy Gay and Eric Paschall. Both men at this respective stage in their careers project as a quality backup 4 / small-ball 5. A look at their statistical profiles from last season provides little clarity regarding which is likely to earn more minutes in Snyder’s rotation.

In 2020-21, Gay averaged 19.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes. Meanwhile, Paschall averaged 19.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 0.6 steals and 0.4 blocks by the same measure.

The only meaningful distinction between the two last season, evidently, came by way of defensive stats. Not only were Gay’s per 36 defensive counting stats significantly more impressive, but his Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM) was also much stronger than Paschall’s, at -0.2 compared to -1.5.

Indeed, it would seem likely that each of these players was acquired primarily to beef up Utah’s defensive versatility, after watching Rudy Gobert struggle against the Los Angeles Clippers’ small-ball attack in last season’s Western Conference semi-finals. With that in mind, the veteran Gay must have the advantage over the younger, less developed Paschall.

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On the other hand, Paschall does have room to improve at the young age of 24, while the 35-year-old Rudy Gay could be due for regression. Hopefully, these two men develop a sort of protege/mentor relationship as members of the Utah Jazz. In the meantime, Gay is likely to begin the season ahead of Paschall in Snyder’s rotation, but look for Paschall to use training camp as an opportunity to make his case as the Jazz’ primary backup 4 / small-ball 5.