“Next man up” is one of those cliches so trite as to elicit almost universal eye-rolling at its mere utterance, but these Utah Jazz — in the wake of simultaneous injuries to point guards Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum, and Raul Neto, plus forward Thabo Sefolosha — have been embracing it with enthusiasm.
Yes, at its most basic, it means it’s incumbent upon the likes of Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles, Kyle Korver, Royce O’Neale, et cetera, to do more to fill the void. The tricky part, coach Quin Snyder explained before Monday’s win over the Pistons, is that “more” in this case doesn’t simply entail, say, Mitchell doing more Mitchell things, or even just Mitchell doing some Rubio things, now that he’s serving as the de facto point guard.
It must also include Ingles doing some Exum things, and Korver doing some Ingles things, and Georges Niang doing some Korver things, and Grayson Allen doing some Neto things. That trickle-down effect of players embracing unfamiliar roles and responsibilities has been paramount to the team’s four-game winning streak, the coach noted.
“I’m kind of gravitating back to some of the organization with different people in different spots — that taxes everybody,” Snyder said. “You know, if we’re going to try to get Donovan off the ball, that means Joe has to handle. If Joe’s in the game, Grayson’s bringing the ball up, running things out of timeouts. Sometimes Royce is handling the ball. It’s everybody, but it’s most apparent with Donovan. Guys are just in different spots and different situations.”
Indeed, Mitchell has been front and center in terms of the expansion of responsibilities. He was recently named the Western Conference Player of the Week in part, of course, because he averaged 31.5 points per game in that span, but also because he utilized his court vision and bumped his assists per game up to 5.8 in that same stretch.
Korver noted that while Mitchell is extremely talented, what he’s been tasked with is not the easiest of transitions.
“It’s a lot to ask of a guy, especially when he’s been playing a ton of minutes the last couple nights. It’s really demanding a lot of him,” Korver said of Mitchell. “The point guard position is huge in the NBA — you watch the teams that aren’t very good, they usually don’t have very good point guard play. You gotta be able to set guys up, put guys in the right spots, and if plays start messed up, they usually end up messed up. You gotta find someone who can put everyone in a good position to begin with.”
But then, Snyder pointed out, just about everybody is being tasked with doing something different right now.
“Well, our secondary ballhandlers are now our primary ballhandlers. What they’re not used to doing, as much as anything, is maybe organizing the team in a halfcourt situation, having the responsibility of communicating, defending the ball as opposed to defending on a wing,” he said. “All those things require us to communicate at an even higher level; guys have to be really attentive and listen to each other. It impacts everybody.”
And just about everybody has found a way to contribute.
Against the Lakers, yes, Mitchell had a career-high-tying nine assists. But O’Neale played nearly 40 minutes and knocked down a career-high five 3-pointers en route to a season-high 17 points. The next night against the Bulls, Gobert set a career-high with eight assists. And O’Neale added a career-high-tying 11 boards. And on Monday against Detroit, Ingles couldn’t really get his shot to fall, but he made the most of his playmaking opportunities, to the tune of eight assists.
“You have no choice,” Mitchell said of players stepping up. “It’s easy for us to say, ‘Oh, we’ve got six guys out.’ No — we have a group that takes that challenge head-on.”
Snyder said it was important for the players to treat their present short-handed situation not with woe-is-me despair, but with a been-there-done-that demeanor.
“That’s what we’re talking about — how you respond to adversity,” Snyder said. “The more that happens to you, the more you realize it’s actually normal. If a team or someone isn’t going through or hasn’t been through adversity, it’s probably right around the corner.”
Korver is actually encouraging his teammates to treat the adversity as opportunity.
“You never want guys to be hurt, but in the big picture, this always plays out for the betterment of the team,” he said. “… You never know what the playoffs are going to bring, and that’s what it’s all about — how do we find the groups and the rotations and the matchups that we want for the playoffs? This is a time for us to kind of tinker and try a bunch of things out, and it’s been working these last few games.”
Perhaps that’s why Utah’s own response to its present predicament has been so … well, cliche.
“This team is always staying together, fighting for each other,” said O’Neale. “It’s just next-man-up mentality.”
JAZZ AT CLIPPERS
At Staples Center, Los Angeles
Tipoff • Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. MT
TV • AT&T SportsNet
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 24-21, Clippers 24-19
Last meeting • Jazz, 117-95 (April 5, 2018)
About the Jazz • Even with a rash of injuries to the likes of Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum, Raul Neto, and Thabo Sefolosha, the team has won four straight games. … Utah has displayed a knack for comebacks of late, and is now 5-0 in the month of the January when trailing at the half. … The team has scored at least 100 points in nine consecutive games.
About the Clippers • Los Angeles is coming off a 121-117 loss to NewOrleans on Monday, and has dropped three straight overall. … Tobias Harris is leading the team in both scoring (20.8) and rebounding (8.0). … L.A. gets a big contribution from its second unit, leading the NBA with 52.5 bench points per game.