The term “power forward” still holds a certain sentimental sway with Jazz fans, owing to its historical association with a certain No. 32.
These days, the guy who mans that spot is more generally simply referred to as a “four,” owing to the fact that there is increasingly a devaluation of the “power” component of that forward position.
Furthermore, in this era of “positionless basketball,” does it even really matter who’s labeled what? Beyond a reasonable certainty that Rudy Gobert, Ed Davis, and Tony Bradley will not be asked to bring the ball up the court, won’t pretty much everyone be doing a bit of everything, after all?
Then again, as recently as last season, the Jazz remained something of an anomaly, deploying a more traditional two-big starting lineup, with Derrick Favors playing alongside Gobert. And indeed, a year ago, you pretty much knew that the bulk of the Jazz’s minutes at the four position would be split between Favors and Jae Crowder.
But with both of those guys gone now thanks to a pair of summer trades, it really has opened up all sorts of possibilities about what exactly the Jazz are going to be doing there.
Veteran Jeff Green has started at the four in each of the team’s first two preseason games, but given the number of key players who’ve sat out those contests, no hard and fast conclusions can be drawn from that. So, then: who will it be? Green? Joe Ingles? Bojan Bogdanovic? Royce O’Neale? Danté Exum? Georges Niang?
Honestly, the answer is, “Yes.”
“Obviously, we had two guys that played the majority of the minutes at the four last year. This year, it’s kind of who knows what,” Niang said. “It’s just gonna go night to night, matchup to matchup, and whoever’s playing well.”
Indeed, maintaining versatility seems to be the only mandate. It’s all incredibly situational too, for that matter.
In a starting lineup sure to feature Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Gobert, and Bogdanovic, would a low-usage complement such as O’Neale make the most sense? Is Green the best candidate to replace some of the second-unit frontcourt scoring that departed along with Favors and Crowder?
With Exum frequently battling injuries and Emmanuel Mudiay an unknown quantity right now, might Ingles and his well-developed court vision be better-suited to coming off the bench to keep the offense rolling? Is more rebounding needed? More ballhandling? Shooting? Defense?
All — or none — of those hypotheticals could wind up being true. Which is the point, Green said, of cross-training guys you might not previously have ever seen at that position to be capable of playing it now.
“I don’t believe we’re all fours; we’re all players, we’re all guys who can play multiple positions, guys who can do a lot of things on the floor — create, handle the ball, shoot it,” he said. “So, it’s exciting. Any given team we play, we have something for them, we have a lineup to go to.”
O’Neale agreed that developing flexible lineups will be crucial, and that the wide variety of players available to deploy at the four seems to be a good fulcrum for putting it into effect.
“I’ll play four, Joe will play four, Bojan will play four, Jeff …” O’Neale said, trailing off. “We’ll just switch up, see who plays where. With the different matchups that coach can put out there, that’s to our advantage.”
For what it’s worth, all the parties involved are saying that who starts, who finishes, and who goes in between is of little consequence, so long as the team is earning victories.
“I’m down to do whatever it takes to help this team win,” Green said.
“Just, basically, play wherever coach wants me to,” O’Neale added.
“Whatever the coaching staff puts in for me, I will respond,” Bogdanovic agreed.
Even Ingles, who’s spent the past two seasons as the team’s starting three, said he had no ego about when and how he is put out there if it means the Jazz benefit as a whole.
“We’ve brought in a lot of talent. And from my first year here to now it’s the same thing — I want to help the team win, and whatever that is, I’m gonna embrace it and do that to the best of my abilities,” he said. “If I get to handle it some, great; if it’s playing off the ball, great; if it’s supporting other guys, great.”
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