Head Coach Quin Snyder leads the Utah Jazz into his third season with the hope of securing the team’s first playoff berth under his tutelage. It will be a challenge to get off to a successful start with the first three of four games coming on the road versus Portland, Los Angeles Clippers, and San Antonio Spurs. Since Snyder took on the Jazz, the club has increased its win total in 2014 to 38 and 2015 to 40. Just one game separated the Jazz and Houston Rockets for the eighth and final seed. In an attempt to get over the hump, the Jazz brought in three veterans via free agency and trades including forward Joe Johnson, center Boris Diaw, and guard George Hill. All were brought in to complement the team’s young core players.
First, George Hill formerly of the Indiana Pacers provides veteran leadership and production that lacked in the previous year. Hill contributes statistically in points, rebounds, assists, and shoots at a high percentage from the floor, three point, and the free throw line. Importantly, he is effective away from the ball unlike his predecessors. He will be a strong mentor to Dante Exum who should take over as the starter in 2017. Exum is coming off of an ACL injury, so Hill allots Exum time to get his game back in line versus rushing him back into the lineup. This is the final year of Hill’s current contract, so he has plenty of reason to play his best to cash in on a multi-year deal in 2017.
By adding Joe Johnson, the Jazz have the ability to utilize four solid forwards in multiple ways. Rodney Hood and Gordon Hayward are the main backcourt pieces for the next five years. Alec Burks and Joe Ingles will continue to get time off the bench to spell Hood. Yet Joe Johnson will provide the Jazz with a proven shooting guard and small forward that lacked with previous Snyder teams. The Jazz will be able to hedge Johnson as protection for Burks who has struggled to stay healthy. During crunch time, the Jazz can move to a combo of Hayward, Johnson, and Hood which provides even more options to take the final shot to secure a win.
Boris Diaw will give the Jazz a more versatile offense, namely when teams decide to go to smaller lineups. Now the Jazz have four options that can play the five spot with Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, and Trey Lyles. It will be up to Snyder to tinker differing lineups which will come with time. Gone are the days that the Jazz ran out an eight or nine player rotation. Managing time for all of the options will be a tough job for Snyder. All around depth is a good problem to have, yet the Jazz must manage playing time properly to clinch a playoff berth in 2016.
The Jazz have built through the draft for the past five years and now have used their cap space to bring in veterans so that the team can end their four year post season drought. This team is built to win this year yet have the challenge of trying to do so in the Western Conference. Expect the left over cap space should be paid out to Derrick Favors, plus the Jazz have left it clean enough to avoid any issues with resigning core players Gobert, Hayward, and Hill in 2017. The key will be Exum’s health. If he comes back as expected, the Jazz will be able to rid of Raul Neto or Shelvin Mack to fill another need at the time of the trade deadline.