John Lucas III stood off to the sideline moments before a buzzer sounded to signify the start of practice. He tried to explain what the Utah Jazz bench, which he likely will be expected to steward, might look like.
“Our job,” Lucas said, “if we come off the bench, is if our starters get the lead, we maintain the lead. If we don’t have the lead, we try to cut down the opponent.”
It was a sincere, but non-specific try. On opening night, the Jazz could send out a starting lineup without a single player older than 23, but the unit backing them up somehow remains a bigger question.
The young players will be thrown in the deep end, but what of the depth?
If coach Tyrone Corbin opts to start Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and Trey Burke, it could leave the Jazz with one of the thinnest benches in the NBA.
“We are concerned about the starting lineup and the guys coming off the bench to keep us going,” Corbin said.
For a young squad whose core players have never been regular starters, depth will be key. The question is, do the Jazz have any of it? Key veterans include Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson, but Williams is coming off surgery to remove calcium deposits on his heel and Jefferson, acquired in an offseason trade, is a 12th-year forward who played 10 minutes per game last year.
Brandon Rush came to Utah in the trade with Jefferson and Andris Biedrins, but he is recovering for a catastrophic knee injury. A former starter in Golden State, Biedrins was a non-factor in the Warriors’ playoff run last season.
Lucas is a former All Star — but in the Chinese Basketball Association.
Still, the Jazz seem confident that they will be able to milk productivity out of the group.
“We definitely have a lot of guys that can play,” Hayward said. “There’s some veterans mixed in there who have proven they can score a lot of points in this league and playing big-time situations.”
The concerns about depth could lead Corbin to opt to bring Burks or another young player off the bench, or even start Lucas over Burke, the No. 9 overall pick who struggled in summer league and could benefit from a gentler transition.
“You look at all of that,” Corbin said. “What starting lineup gives you the best chance? How can you have a start and substitute and not drop any, maybe pick up some? It’s a little early to get a true idea of where that’s going to be, as guys mold their way into the team.”
Another question facing the Jazz bench: Is this the year Jeremy Evans, the likable former Slam Dunk champion, plays his way into the rotation? Even on this team, it could be difficult for him to find his way onto the floor.
But as is always the case with training camp, he is blanketed with optimism. General manager Dennis Lindsey said Evans performed at a high level last season, despite low numbers.
“When you graded him on an individual level using advanced stats and analytics,” Lindsey said, “he always played well. So you could make an argument that he was as much a victim as anybody with our unique big man rotation.”
Jazz projected starting lineup
PG • Trey Burke
SG • Alec Burks
C • Enes Kanter
PF • Derrick Favors
SF • Gordon Hayward
Player Pos. Team Min PPG
Richard Jefferson SF GSW 10.1 3.1
Andris Biedrins C GSW 9.3 .5
John Lucas III PG TOR 13.1 5.3
Marvin Williams SF/PF UTA 23.7 7.2
Jeremy Evans PF UTA 5.8 2.0
Rudy Gobert (R) C N/A Played for Cholet Basket of French league
Brandon Rush SG/SF GSW Appeared in two games due to injury
Note: Stats from 2012-13 season