Predicting the Utah Jazz Rotation for 2012-13
A slew of new additions, rapid development of young players and a deep roster cast shadows of uncertainty over the composition of the Utah Jazz starting lineup.
While significant depth at most positions is a "problem" most teams would kill to have, it does give Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin a lot of decisions to make.
Some positions have already been all but locked down, while others have two or more players gunning for the same spot.
For the benefit of you, the fair B/R reader, I channeled my inner Miss Cleo in an effort to predict Utah's starting lineup and first players off the bench for the greater part of the 2012-13 season.
Starting Point Guard: Mo Williams
Though he is a newcomer to the Utah Jazz, Mo Williams should be one of the best bets to be a starter for the 2012-13 NBA season .
While Utah didn't trade any players from the active roster to acquire Williams (they did trade away the rights to Tadija Dragicevic), the price to bring the former Jazz draft pick back into the fold wasn't insignificant.
Utah was able to absorb Williams' contract into the bulk of the trade exception Utah obtained by trading away Mehmet Okur. The trade exception was a valuable asset to Utah; something they wouldn't have frittered away on a player they didn't plan on starting.
Beside the significant price paid for Williams, he's also the youngest and most talented point guard on the roster.
Veteran Jamaal Tinsley played very well for Utah both as a backup and filling in for then-starter Devin Harris due to injury, but his age and lack of athleticism makes him a better option off the bench. Earl Watson brings leadership and toughness, but battled injuries throughout last year, making him too unreliable an option at starter.
Williams is much more of a combo guard than a pure point guard, but can still be a capable distributor and floor general. He also brings sorely needed three-point shooting to one of the worst teams in the league behind the arc in 2011-12.
Starting Shooting Guard: Gordon Hayward
Hayward battled through inconsistency and wavering confidence to end the season on a very strong note. His length, consistent motor and always-improving help defense make Hayward a very attractive starting option at shooting guard from a defensive standpoint.
Hayward was a key cog in Utah's vaunted "big" lineup, which shifted usual power forward Paul Millsap to small forward, and started Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors at the post positions.
Hayward's versatility to start at either shooting guard or small forward will likely keep him a starter for most, if not the entire season.
With a few new acquisitions that I'll get to later, Utah now also has even more roster flexibility, and can trot out a small lineup in addition to the big lineup that resulted in favorable results last year. Hayward could easily slide to small forward if coach Corbin opts for a traditional or small lineup to exploit matchups.
Starting Small Forward: Marvin Williams
The small forward position for the Utah Jazz is by far the most uncertain spot in the starting lineup. Utah has at least three legitimate options in Paul Millsap, Marvin Williams and Gordon Hayward that could all start at the three spot.
While I think the starter at this position will change at least once or twice throughout the season, I think former Atlanta Hawk Marvin Williams is the favorite to start the season as the starting small forward.
Despite the success of the big lineup in the regular season, Coach Corbin opted for a more traditional starting lineup in the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs. This leads me to believe Corbin favors a more traditional starting lineup as the default option, and thus makes me prognosticate Williams to get the starting nod.
While never living up to the hype of the second overall pick, Marvin Williams will be an immediate improvement to two of Utah's biggest weaknesses last year: three-point shooting and perimeter defense.
Some Utah fans will assuredly be vocal in their preference for Millsap to start over Williams, I think starting Williams will prove to be successful, and that the acquisition of Williams will be one of former Utah Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor's savviest deals yet.
Starting Power Forward: Al Jefferson
Jefferson's spot in the starting lineup should be concrete for as long as Jefferson is a member of the Utah Jazz and is healthy. Jefferson's dominant low-post acumen and large salary dictate that his only logical spot is as the starting power forward.
To clarify, Al Jefferson and starting center Derrick Favors should be interchangeable at the starting power forward and center positions. Jefferson will likely be guarded by the opposing team's center the majority of the time, but will draw the weakest of the two opposing post players on defense.
Starting Jefferson alongside Favors will allow Utah to fully utilize Jefferson as the dominant low-post scoring option he's come to be while hopefully hiding some of his defensive inefficiencies by playing him alongside Favors, who's rapidly developing into one of the premier interior defenders in the NBA, and with the assistance of long perimeter defenders Hayward and Williams.
Starting Center: Derrick Favors
Derrick Favors played his way into the starting lineup last year via his stellar defensive play, athletic explosiveness and continuing offensive improvement.
Favors has always been considered a raw-but-freakish athlete with a great deal of potential. Favors' performance last year upgraded Jazz fans' feelings about him from cautious optimism to downright giddiness.
Favors' defensive prowess, an attribute no other Jazz forward has, should give head coach Ty Corbin no choice but to plug the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket into the starting lineup, even if it's at the expense of Jazz fan-favorite and workhorse Paul Millsap.
Key Bench Player: Paul Millsap
It's almost unfair that the soft-spoken, hard-working Millsap will most likely be the odd man out in Utah's frontcourt and will be asked to come off the bench.
Millsap is a proud man, but he's also a consummate team player, and will undoubtedly accept the assignment with little to no protest and take out any frustration he has over not starting on unsuspecting backups.
Millsap will become an instant contender for sixth man of the year if my prediction of a bench role is correct. Having a starting-caliber power forward facing off against second-tier big men will greatly behoove Utah, provided they can get Millsap in a good rhythm with the second unit.
Key Bench Player: Randy Foye
As of this writing, Foye is the only free agent Utah has signed that was not with the team last year. The newcomer to Utah brings several assets that Ty Corbin and his staff will attempt to fully utilize.
Foye is a shooting guard that can also be called upon to defend troublesome opposing point guards if need be. Foye also brings resilience and toughness borne of a tragic childhood (Foye lost both parents by the time he was six-years-old) and upbringing in the projects of Newark, New Jersey.)
As is the case with other new arrivals Mo Williams and Marvin Williams, Foye gives Utah a dramatically better three-point option than they had last year. In fact, Utah had no three-point shooters in the top 75 in the league in terms of three-point percentage.
Now they have three in the top 40.
Key Bench Player: Enes Kanter
Call him Enes, call him Big Turkey or call him the Underkanter. By any name, Enes Kanter is a very young, very raw, and very talented big man who the Jazz hope will make a leap in his sophomore year.
Kanter will be the second big man off the bench, and has the potential to outright abuse opposing post players with his tremendous power and bull-in-a-china-shop offensive style.
Several of Kanter's warts certainly showed last season, and it's clear Kanter has a lot of work to do. But considering he's only 20, and that he's only been playing basketball for six years, Kanter still has plenty of room to grow.
Oh yes, you read that right. Enes Kanter has only been playing basketball in any capacity since he was 14-years-old.
The young and confident Alec Burks had to blanch a bit when the Jazz acquired Randy Foye, who is likely to take a good chunk of minutes away from him.
Burks may be the player with the widest range of possibility in terms of playing time and team role. Injury and/or poor play could thrust him into a starting role early on, and a sophomore slump combined with a possibly surly attitude due to decreased minutes could greatly reduce the significance of Burks' role with the team.
However, I think Burks' talent and confidence should keep him seeing regular minutes for the majority of the season.
Burks has youth, athleticism and the uncanny ability to get to the rim on his side. While he did look lost on some defensive rotations, his one-on-one defense was more then passable.
If Burks can bring along his jump shot, one of his most often mentioned weaknesses coming out of college, he could easily shoehorn himself into the starting lineup by virtue of his stellar play much the same way Derrick Favors did.