Jazz’s guard rotation is crowded, but there might be a creative way out of it

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder talks with Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) and Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum (11) as the Utah Jazz take on the Houston Rockets in Game 3 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Friday, May 4, 2018 in Salt Lake City.

While coach Quin Snyder called it “a good problem to have,” the depth the Jazz have at the guard positions still is a problem.

Just look at the Jazz’s roster and you’ll see seven players with a "G" next to their name: Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Dante Exum, Royce O’Neale, Alec Burks, Grayson Allen, and Raul Neto all will make the roster, and all have pretty good cases to earn playing time at their preferred position.

Rubio and Mitchell will take up the lions' share of the minutes, though. Mitchell, after his meteoric rise, is the Jazz’s best scorer and face of the franchise, it seems reasonable to pencil him in for 35 minutes a night. Rubio has become part of the Jazz’s identity too, and it’d be a shock to see him play significantly less than 30 minutes a night.

So just doing the math, there’s only about a half-hour of playing time for the other five guys at the traditional guard positions. Even if he were healthy, Neto would likely be pushed to the side to begin the season, and his hamstring injury threatens his availability for Oct. 17′s opener.

But Exum, O’Neale, Burks, and Allen all have significant ambitions for career-defining seasons. Exum truly believes he can become one of the best guards in the league, but will need the playing time to show off how far along he’s come. O’Neale’s confidence is sky-high after finishing the season as a starter against Houston, and he wants to consolidate the gains in playing time he earned in the second half of the year. It’s a contract year for Burks — enough said. And the rookie Allen has earned some pretty positive reviews on the record, and in some private conversations as well. It sounds like he’s a real candidate to get 8-10 minutes a night to begin the season.


• Thabo Sefolosha sat out of Thursday morning’s practice due to a mild left ankle sprain.

• On Friday, the Jazz are hosting a “Meet the Team” event at 6 p.m. at Vivint Arena. While all of the players will be introduced and interviewed for the audience, the main attraction will be a 3-point contest. The roster will be paired off in groups of two, with each team featuring a big and a guard or wing. Each player will shoot three racks of five balls each in 45 seconds.

On most NBA teams, that might lead to some problems, but the Jazz seem pretty optimistic about how the group will handle it. “I don’t think our team doubts those decisions,” Snyder said. “You want guys to compete, and you want guys to ultimately be about the group as much or more than themselves.”

That’s easy for everyone to say for now, but we’ll see what happens when the playing time is actually doled out, especially during the natural lows of an NBA season. At some point, the Jazz will have a losing streak, and that’s when it’s most frustrating for the players who aren’t on the court to accept their roles.

There is a solution, though, that might alleviate the playing time crunch somewhat: for the Jazz to put three guards on the court at the same time. In particular, Exum pointed to a three-guard lineup featuring himself, Rubio, and Mitchell as a possibility the team’s discussed.

“I think it’s going to be really good. It gives me the chance to run the floor on kick-aheads and show my speed in transition,” Exum said. And while that lineup would probably match Exum against the league’s small forwards, he’d be up for that challenge.

“I’ve been playing this summer in L.A. against a lot of the threes, and I’ve been doing well.”

That’s not the only three-guard lineup that the Jazz could use, and Snyder likes the small looks for another reason, too. With three guards on the floor at once, the Jazz would presumably have three players who are capable of scoring and creating out of the pick and roll plays. The effectiveness of Joe Ingles as a third playmaker showed itself repeatedly in the playoffs last season; when he rests, it’s good for the Jazz to be able to fill that role relatively seamlessly.

“The game is going this way, going small ball," Rubio said. "Having multiple ballhandlers out there is going to help everybody, with the way we play. We create for others, and others create for us... Having another guard is great.”



At Vivint Smart Home Arena

When • Saturday, 7 p.m.

TV • None

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