Utah Jazz: Answering Injury Questions


The art of crafting an NBA rotation can become a tricky endeavor. It's no easy task for any head coach. Coaching staff's around the league spend countless hours in their respective offseasons -- attempting to map out contingency plans regarding the distribution of minutes among players.

Many things go into the craft of constructing an NBA rotation -- from matchups on that particular evening to health to on-court production, these variables often serve as important indicators on who merits being out on the court. Unfortunately for the Jazz -- health has already become a concern.

When the Jazz took the floor in Portland on Tuesday for the first time this season -- two distinct members of their starting lineup were absent. As Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and even Alec Burks continue to recover from injury -- the NBA schedule refuses to be kind, stopping for no one.

Everything becomes a little bit more difficult when your team is missing top-end talent due to injury. If the Jazz end up taking the next leap into the playoffs this season they will certainly have to be operating at full health. Fortunately, for the time being, Quin Snyder and his staff will be able to mask specific injuries due to the excellent work accomplished in the offseason, addressing pressing roster needs, ensuring the proper depth that will look to keep the team afloat during a tough opening stretch of the season.

As the injured players continue to rehab from their various ailments -- the third-year head coach will have to test and measure a variety of lineup combinations.  With the new pieces looking to acclimate themselves as quickly as possible into live action,  expect tweaks and adjustments to be made along the way until rhythm and continuity are established. 

So #TakeNote & let's try to identify two prominent questions that Snyder and his staff may face to open up the season.

Filling in for Derrick Favors - Who will play more minutes: Boris Diaw or Trey Lyles?

After a lackluster 2016 playoffs by the Frenchmen, the Jazz pursued Boris Diaw and brought him into cap space via trade this summer. Diaw brings a stable veteran presence with championship experience.  The Jazz have not had a passing, talent from the big man position quite like Diaw. He can change any player's games due to his sheer passing brilliance. Diaw will also bring a spacing element in which the Jazz lack with their traditional starting front line of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert.

With one game in the books, Boris Diaw made his debut with the Jazz in a starting role, replacing the 7th-year veteran Derrick Favors who is currently nursing a left knee bruise to go with an IT band syndrome. Diaw played a total of 32 minutes on Tuesday, posting a non-flattering stat line of 2 points, 3 rebounds, 5 fouls on 1-8 shooting including 0-3 from the 3 point line. Diaw also did not post an assist during Tuesday's contest versus the Trailblazers, he only had 12 games of his 75 total played last year where he did not commit an assist. Diaw's overall plus-minus numbers came in at +1 overall. When looking at Diaw's debut numbers, his minuscule inefficient numbers tend to look bleak -- but the starting lineup's advanced statistics reflected differently.

According to NBA.com/stats, Utah's starting lineup which played 23 minutes together, currently third in the NBA -- posted an offensive rating of 141.8 which is first amongst 20 different lineup combinations around the league that played together 10 minutes or more. Obviously, this is a VERY tiny sample size, but it could be an indication that no matter how inefficient Diaw's play is, the mere fact that he is out on the court spreading the floor and making high basketball IQ passes, the offense can operate at a very high level. 

Trey Lyles has a very bright future in the NBA -- not many 20-year-olds with his size at 6'10 can shoot jump shots off the dribble. Lyles made timely improvements with his perimeter game in his rookie season. He is still very raw on the defense end, but like that of Diaw, Lyles gives the Jazz an inside-outside offensive element that Favors lacks. If Lyles makes the necessary improvements on the defensive end, he should be able to beat out Diaw's minutes on a per-game basis by around 5 minutes per night.  Diaw got the initial starting gig with heavier minutes 32 compared to Lyles 18 on opening night, but look for Snyder to lean on Lyles more -- while preserving Diaw's aging body.

Answer: Trey Lyles.

Filling in for Gordon Hayward - Who will pick up the scoring load?

If opening night was any indication, filling in for the 19 points per game that Gordon Hayward leaves behind will be no problem for these Jazz. The trio of George Hill, Rodney Hood, and Joe Johnson combined for 74 of the Jazz's 104 points on Tuesday, 71% of their scoring output.

Hill is a  game-changer for the Jazz who've lacked a competent point guard since the day's Deron Williams roamed the position. Looking back on last years team, the Jazz were trotting out a bottom 5 point guard each night they hit the court. Now with Hill manning the duties, they have one of the most underrated point guards in the league. Hill is one of the better spot-up shooters in the NBA, connecting on 45% catch and shoot 3's last season. During the 2014-2015 season with the Pacers key offensive weapon Paul George out of the lineup due to a leg injury, Hill took on the scoring burden, posting a nightly scoring average of 16.1 points per night, 5 points above his career average. It would not be surprising if Hill provided somewhere between 14-17 points per game during Hayward's time on the sideline.

Early season success may hinge on the maturation process of the 3rd year shooting guard Rodney Hood. Hood's mixed outside-in game could serve as the key ingredient for the Jazz if they want to stay around .500 in the Western Conference standings without Hayward.

Hood plays beyond his years, a crafty 6 foot 9 lengthy shooting guard who can navigate the pick-n-roll and also extend the defense due to his excellent range from long distance. The Jazz higher up's may view Hood's time as a potential alpha dog offensively without Hayward as sort of a dress rehearsal. With Hayward's impending free agency looming, early reports indicate that Hayward will test the open market, Hood's breakout potential, especially as a playmaker, may give Dennis Lindsey and his staff a cheaper permanent wing replacement. 

For Rodney Hood to take the next step in his development as a player, he will have to become more consistent on a nightly basis. According to the Jazz's radio play-by-play analyst David Locke, Hood posted 9 points or fewer in 18 games and 20 points or more in 15 games last year.  Those kinds of scoring discrepancies will need to improve without Hayward.  Hood obviously can improve on his inconsistency issues that plagued him last season-- he had a magnificent game against the Blazers on Tuesday, scoring 26 points on 9-17 shooting including this monster slam. 

Joe Johnson was brought in on a two-year $22 million dollar contract to serve as a key cog on a revamped bench unit. Ironically enough, Johnson has started in 962 consecutive regular season games in which he was available to play -- last coming off the bench in a loss to the Miami Heat on December 9th, 2003. The Jazz will be looking to capture the skillset in which Johnson displayed during his limited stay in Miami, where the veteran managed to play 24 regular season games, averaging a shade over 13 points per game while shooting a very respectable 52% from the field and 42% from 3.

Johnson will be asked not only to bring his veteran leadership to a relatively young team but he will be vital in terms of stretching the floor and hitting shots from the perimeter,  especially when the floor is clogged with the aforementioned Favors and Gobert floor pairing.  It will be interesting to see how good of a job Quin Snyder does managing Johnson's minutes.  Johnson currently sits at 24th all-time with 41,164 career regular season minutes played.  

Answer: Committee between George Hill, Rodney Hood & Joe Johnson.

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