Whenever the Jazz lose someone to injury, the team’s mantra is always the same: “Next man up.”
What do you do when you run out of men?
That’s the problem the Jazz face after Raul Neto was diagnosed with a groin strain he suffered during Wednesday’s game against Orlando.
“He plays so hard, he’s going to work to come back, but we can’t rush it,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Sometimes when you’re playing, you don’t feel those things exactly when they happen, as the adrenaline kicks in.”
The Jazz say he’ll be re-evaluated early next week, so that means the Jazz will play at least two games without any point guards at all — Dante Exum will also be out due to his ankle sprain, and Ricky Rubio out due to his hamstring strain.
As a result, the Jazz will essentially rely on Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles to play point guard, even though they aren’t point guards.
“Donovan’s played the position, Joe’s played the position. We don’t call them that because they’re not slated on our roster that way, but those two guys have to find a balance between organizing and attacking,” Snyder said. “Probably attacking is more important, as our team is used to Donovan attacking.”
Mitchell called back to his experience in the Houston playoff series last spring, when Rubio was injured. Then, he found that the most effective approach to playing the position well is to not think about the fact that he’s playing the position.
“It’s about not thinking I have to pass, pass, pass because that’s when you miss open shots,” Mitchell said. "And vice versa. When you think shoot, shoot, shoot, you miss open passes. I’m just letting it come to me.”
The Jazz are reducing the playbook to fewer plays without their point guards, trying to emphasize just their most efficient sets. And they know that defense will be part of the equation too: As Snyder said, “There aren’t positions in transition.” If the Jazz can force turnovers, they’ll have better shots than in trickier half-court scenarios.
And the team has to go back to the basics. “Collectively, we all have to help one another. If things are discombobulated, you have to space. It doesn’t matter if Jae is in the strong corner or if Kyle is, so long as someone is.”
The league’s rules say that the Jazz can apply for a hardship exception from the NBA league office once four of their players have missed three games and figure to be out for more time. Grayson Allen looks close to returning, so the Jazz will refer to the injuries to Rubio, Exum, Tony Bradley, and Thabo Sefolosha to apply for a hardship exception on Sunday.
If that were approved by the NBA, they would be able to sign one extra player, bringing the roster count to 16 players. However, as soon as the Jazz have fewer than four injured players, they would have to waive a player to bring the total back down to 15.