Utah Jazz now giving rookies a longer look in bid to fill out rotation

Denver Nuggets' Michael Porter Jr. drives against Utah Jazz' Miye Oni (81) of the Utah Jazz in an NBA basketball game Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)

It was hardly a surprise to see the likes of Miye Oni and Jarrell Brantley get substantial playing time for the Utah Jazz in Friday’s loss against the Spurs, considering Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley and Royce O’Neale all sat out.

Seeing Oni and Brantley continue to get minutes in Saturday’s double-overtime loss against the Nuggets, however, when all those regulars were back, was something else entirely.

Maybe it’s not that surprising, though, considering a constant refrain from coach Quin Snyder in recent weeks has been the need for the Jazz to discover who they are and who they can be without injured No. 2 scorer Bojan Bogdanovic.

“We really haven’t played a lot of games without Bojan — a very, very few. So we’re still trying [to add] players to a rotation or guys that we feel like we can put in the game comfortably — in a big game or a playoff situation,” Snyder said prior to Saturday’s game. “We’ve got to still figure out — or continue to figure out, I should say — who we are collectively without Bojan. I think that process is obviously occurring.”

It now appears that process entails taking a long look at the rookie second-rounders.

In Friday’s game, Oni made a spot start and showed he may well have a viable future as a 3-and-D wing in the league, finishing with 14 points on 4-for-9 from the field (2 of 4 from deep), and also contributing seven rebounds and a steal in 30 minutes and 10 seconds of floor time.

Brantley was also productive in his 23:34, racking up eight points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals, while also going 2-for-4 on 3-pointers.

Naturally, against Denver and with all the main rotation guys back (except, it should go without saying, Bogdanovic), those two got less time and posted less production: Oni played 10:03, made 1 of 2 shots from 3-points range, and totaled three points, two rebounds, one assist and one steal. His defense was of sufficient quality, however, as to finish with a plus-15 plus/minus. Brantley’s time Saturday was more anonymous, resulting in two defensive rebounds in 7:19 of action, plus a few nice defensive sequences.

Not exactly world-on-fire stuff, but then, it doesn’t need to be.

If either Oni or Brantley can help to solve what ESPN analyst Zach Lowe calls “Utah’s ninth man problem,” that would be enough for now.

As Lowe points out, the Jazz’s already-shaky depth has been further impacted by Bogdanovic’s loss, seemingly leaving them one solid player short for a proper nine-man rotation.

“Emmanuel Mudiay got the first chance. Mudiay might grow into a solid scoring backup. … He has the build to defend both guard positions. But a dribble-happy type lacking a reliable 3-pointer is about the last thing Utah needs off its bench,” Lowe wrote Friday in his weekly “Ten things I like and don’t like” column. “Its top eight features four better ball handlers than Mudiay: Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, and Jordan Clarkson. At least two are usually on the floor. Mudiay provides zero spacing for them.”

He goes on to mention that, as of late, Rayjon Tucker has been getting a shot at that role (after the five starters, plus Clarkson, Tony Bradley, and Georges Niang) in place of Mudiay.

“I’d give Tucker a few games to earn that ninth spot. If he doesn’t, the best and only option might be one Snyder appears not to like: an eight-man rotation,” Lowe added. “Utah should be able to craft one that doesn’t stretch anyone’s minutes too far.”

Given that Snyder first tried Mudiay, then Tucker, and now is throwing Oni and Brantley out there, it would appear that the coach is trying to avoid that very scenario if at all possible.

He said after the Spurs game that he’d be remiss if he didn’t open every door to see what’s inside.

“We’ve been evaluating [the young guys] for a while,” Snyder said. “That’s why they are on our roster. That’s why we are working with them. That’s why they are competing. There really isn’t such thing as garbage time.”

And that’s why he added, before taking on the Nuggets on Saturday, that throwing the rookies out there to see what they’re capable of at this point might yet prove worth it.

“Obviously [Friday] we had some guys banged up, so the result of that was some of our younger guys that have been playing in the [G League] this year were able to get some important minutes against a guy like DeMar DeRozan. So [there was] the opportunity for us to continue to try to stretch our rotation and find some players that have the opportunity to contribute,” Snyder said. “Everybody’s always got to be prepared to do that, but to a certain extent, getting your feet wet a little bit helps you be more effective, helps your team congeal.”


At AdventHealth Arena, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Tipoff • 1 p.m. MDT

TV • NBA TV, ATTSN-Rocky Mountain

Radio • 97.5 FM, 1280 AM

Records • Jazz 43-27, Mavericks 42-30

Last meeting • Jazz, 123-119 (Feb. 10)

About the Jazz • After leading by as many as 18 points Saturday, Utah fell in double-overtime to the Nuggets for its fourth loss in six games in the bubble. … Donovan Mitchell scored a game-high 35 points against Denver. … In Utah’s last meeting with Mavs, Jordan Clarkson had team highs of 25 points and eight assists, as the Jazz held off a furious rally.

About the Mavericks • Dallas is just 2-3 in the bubble thus far, but is coming off a 136-132 victory over league-leading Milwaukee. … In that game, second-year star Luka Doncic posted an eye-popping line of 36 points, 14 rebounds and 19 assists. … The Mavs, who are likely to earn the West’s No. 7 playoff seed, lead the NBA in offensive rating (115.8) and total 3-pointers made (1,096).