The NBA is a league of stars. If you have a star player or a player you believe will develop into an all-star caliber player, you have set your team up for success. If you don’t, much like the Jazz last year, you can be a fringe playoff team or you could be terrible (I’m talking to you Charlotte). Something that gets lost in the shuffle though is the fact that the stars and starters of a team can’t do it alone. They are not immortal and do need to come out for a rest every once in a while. Enter the bench. The bench unit is a very important part to an NBA team’s success or failure.
The main job of the bench is to maintain the lead the starters have given them, extend the lead if possible, or bring the team back into the game if the starters have stunk it up. The Jazz bench did this quite often last year with the young guys getting the team back into the game only to see the starters be put back in and see all the bench’s hard work go to waste. More often than not the bench can have the opposite effect. As my editor Josh Haslam pointed out in his article on Wednesday, the Portland Trailblazers bench only averaged 10.5 points per game!! That is terrible! Which makes their season that much more incredible when you see they won 33 games with that type of production. Damion Lillard definitely deserved his Rookie of the Year award. This offseason, the Blazers did an amazing job of upgrading their bench and I expect them to leap into the playoff race this year.
Now to the Utah Jazz. The Jazz are in a youth movement. The youngsters will be starting and playing big minutes while the veterans we’ve brought in will be taking on reserve roles. These young players are going to need help at times and it’s going to be important for the bench to be ready. But who’s name will be called upon first on a nightly basis? If Derrick Favors gets in foul trouble it will be a big guy, possibly Jeremy Evans even. If he is able to stay out of foul trouble though, I expect the first man off the bench to be Brandon Rush. As I’ve stated before, Rush’s future in Utah could very likely end up going past this year. Before his injury, he was a very solid player. In the 2011-12 season with Golden State, in 65 games played he averaged 9.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg and shot 45.2% from 3. He is also known as a solid wing defender and he just turned 28 years old so he is entering the prime of his career. If he is healthy, he could easily give the Jazz those types of numbers and more. I can see him playing in the 4th quarter of games if Burks is struggling and if he’s hot from 3. Defense is also very important in the 4th quarter and as I’ve said, that’s one of his specialties.
He’s not alone though as other members of the bench will be needed to make key contributions this year. John Lucas III mentoring of Trey Burke will be huge. I think Trey will need to lean on him many times this year to get through the mental battles that an NBA season gives a player. Ian Clark should be a great player to have at practice pushing others to get better. He’s a very good outside shooter and a great insurance policy to have. Richard Jefferson will hold down the fort at the 3 until Marvin Williams gets back. That battle for minutes at the backup 3 should be very interesting to watch. Marvin can be used as a stretch 4 in a pinch and so can RJ depending on the match ups. When Marvin was moved to the bench last season, he played much better and more comfortably. He’s only 27 years old and because he has the versatility to play both the 3 and the 4, he would be another candidate to stick around and be a key contributer on the the Jazz bench for many years to come. Having said that, I don’t want to count out RJ either. Five seasons ago he averaged 19.6 points per game, and as a role player for the Spurs in 2010-11 he shot 44% from 3. Maybe he is rejuvenated by the change of scenery and gives the Jazz some nice bench production.
The Jazz also have 3 big men at their disposal off the bench. Jeremy Evans, Rudy Gobert and Andris Biedrins. Jeremy Evans has a lot to prove to be a back up 4 in this league. He needs to get stronger and develop a 15 ft jump shot, which from all accounts he has been working very hard on. Andris Biedrins is only 27 years old even though he is a 9 year vet. He’s only 5 years removed from averaging 11.9 ppg and 11.2 rpg before the Warriors also decided to go young and then acquired Andrew Bogut. He is a very good rebounder and defender and I think the Jazz brought him in to mentor Rudy Gobert. Speaking of Gobert, his height and defensive intensity gives him a chance to be a shot blocking machine in the limited back up minutes he gets this season. I’m very excited to see how he does against NBA competition.
Overall I think the Jazz bench will be one of the most underrated benches this season. National media have written off the players the Jazz received from Golden State as washed up. I hope they use that as motivation and they come in with chips on their shoulders. There is no way this bench only gives the Jazz 10.2 points per game this season. I think Brandon Rush could end up averaging that by himself. Brandon Rush and Marvin Williams will be looking to secure long term deals next offseason, RJ will be looking to sign his final deal and Jeremy Evans will be wanting to show that he belongs. This may not be the best bench in the NBA this season, but it definitely won’t be the worst.
Utah Jazz to Hire Assistant GM
As reported by Jody Genessy of the Deseret News, the Utah Jazz are set to hire former agent Justin Zanik as Assistant GM. Jody quotes Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com in his article as saying “Great hire for Utah in Justin Zanik. One of the smartest agents in the business. Will be a great asset for them w/the cap/contracts and more.” I personally think this is a great move and I can’t say enough of how impressed I am with the Jazz front office. This is another commitment to bringing the Jazz into the 21st century way of running a franchise in the NBA. Lindsey is a numbers guy and has brought in a guy who was universally considered to be the best “capologist” amongst NBA agents. Dennis Lindsey now has someone to not only back up his numbers and support him but to possibly point things out that he did not see. It’s another voice in the numbers movement and a great move by the Jazz and Dennis Lindsey. My faith in the front office has never been higher.