Other than sheer loyalty, there is no reason Raja Bell should be in the starting lineup of the Utah Jazz as the 2011-12 season continues.
Bell brings a certain intensity to (most) games, and as a fan I appreciate that. His fire was obvious when the Los Angeles Lakers came to town and he was matched up against Kobe Bryant, but the Jazz need more production out of everyone in their starting five.
But right now, Bell is a liability.
Raja is currently averaging only 3.6 points per game (6.7 points per 36 minutes played [36mp], a better metric). That is the lowest raw total since his third season in the NBA back in 2003-04 and the lowest per 36mp since his rookie season with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Further, Bell is shooting an abysmal 35.1 percent from the field, again his lowest since his rookie season, while his 22.2 percent from behind the arc is the worst he has ever shot from long-range.
It may make sense to start Bell if there simply were no other options for Utah; that is not the case.
Josh Howard deserves to start.
He was a surprise addition to the team in the offseason and he has blown away most expectations in his first 10 games under Tyrone Corbin. He averages more points per 36mp than Bell (17.4 to 12.8), more rebounds (6.8 to 3.6), and more steals (marginally, 1.2 to 0.9).
More important than stats, moving Howard to the starting lineup and Bell to the second unit puts players in their natural positions.
Who would you start, Bell or Howard?
Gordon Hayward is a 2, so moving Howard into the 3 spot would let Hayward go back to shooting guard. Moving Bell into the second unit with C.J. Miles would put Miles back in the 3 spot, where he should be anyway. It realigns the Jazz and would help them match up better against teams.
Paul Millsap is a beast; that cannot be disputed, but he is an undersized beast for a power forward. With Hayward’s and Howard’s lengths, that would help the Jazz rebound against taller teams.
It would give them more opportunities to feed off one another, Millsap, Derrick Favors, or the Jazz's leading scorer Al Jefferson down low (unless Utah is playing the Lakers, apparently Big Al is afraid of Bynum and Gasol [see Salt Lake Tribune Jazz Beat reporters notes from Jefferson interview, namely “It got to the point where I didn’t want to take shots any more.”]) Ouch.
But what about pulling Bell and simply replacing him with another shooting guard?
The 2s behind Bell would not help Utah’s starting lineup much. Miles is having an off year, while rookie Alec Burks needs more experience before being matched up against other starting shooting guards.
Howard would be a much better addition to the starting five, has earned the opportunity, and would help other players on the team go back to their natural spots in the rotations.
I hope Tyrone Corbin makes the right changes, and soon.
Note: Bell did do a good job against the New Jersey Nets, putting up a season-high 12 points, but overall, he is not deserving of the starting spot.
Perhaps he knew I was writing this as I was watching the game, or maybe he is getting comfortable again on the floor. Here is to hoping it is the latter, though I still think he should be moved for the reasons mentioned above.