Utah Jazz: Small-ball should be used more frequently

Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images /

With a season of change upcoming, the Utah Jazz have some options if they wish to move closer to the cutting edge of the league’s trends.

As small-ball and the philosophies therein have taken over the NBA, the Utah Jazz have adapted their playstyle along with the rest of the league, regularly slotting in wings at the power forward spot in favor of spacing and movement.

However, the Jazz did run against the new wisdom last year in that they ran out a bigger lineup more consistently than most other clubs. With Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert constituting the starting frontcourt for as long as the latter was healthy, Utah was effectively running a two-center configuration.

In fact, five of their top six most-used lineups last season used either a combination of Gobert/Favors or Gobert and Boris Diaw, a stretch-4. Although he did shoot just 25 percent from three last season, playing Diaw (or for next year, Jonas Jerebko) at the 4 shouldn’t affect spacing in practice.

However, with two non-shooting bigs clogging up the paint in Gobert and Favors, it becomes hard to run any kind of offense built on ball screens or post-ups. The Jazz’s offensive rating decreased by 2.4 points when Favors and Gobert were both on the court, according to NBA.com.

When playing with Diaw at the 4 last year, the Jazz were also disadvantaged, although that was more due to Diaw’s specific deficiencies than any stylistic shortcomings. The 6’10”, 245-pound Blake Griffin repeatedly torched him in Utah’s playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Generally, Jerebko should be able to keep up with players of his quickness and perhaps a bit more, but asking him to consistently stay in front of wings playing a position down is a recipe for disaster.

Playing small forwards down a position at the 4 has been a fast-growing trend over the last decade for so, and for good reason — it’s virtually impossible to counter without surrendering to the opponent’s methods.

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Trading John Collins already is a very bad idea for the Utah Jazz, especially for Kyle Kuzma /

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  • If opponents play a stereotypically one-dimensional stretch-4, they’re disadvantaged on both ends, while playing a traditional big compromises spacing while functioning even worse on defense.

    The Jazz jumped on the train last season by using Joe Johnson and occasionally Gordon Hayward in the spot, but they still defaulted towards more traditional lineup configurations.

    There are few players the Jazz will see next season at the 4 that can hurt them through posting up, and in those situations, they can always exploit the mismatch on the other end of the court.

    Johnson, Ingles, and Thabo Sefolosha should all see time at the 4 at some point or another, and the team could take it a step further by running out Jerebko at the center spot, where he spent 21 percent of his minutes last year.

    It will be tough to do consistently, as Utah will go into next season with four potential centers on its roster in Gobert, Favors, Epke Udoh and Tony Bradley. Of the four, only Bradley’s minutes will come on a developmental basis.

    Ricky Rubio and Dante Exum running the point means the Jazz’s spacing will be in a precarious position already, and running out a third non-shooter at the power forward spot would all but cripple their ability to function.

    We can predict already that Utah’s offense will have trouble scoring, given that they’re losing their top two contributors in scoring and usage rate in Hayward and George Hill.

    Thus, pursuing mismatches should become a habit as they seek to maximize any small advantages they can incur.

    The easiest way to do this? Go small. At the least, they’ll force a change in their opponents’ strategy that could alter their gameplan on the other end of the court.

    Next: Ranking the 10 NBA teams who have 'next' after the Warriors

    The Jazz aren’t built quite like a modern team, but adopting some of the principles used by those franchises on the cutting edge could get them closer to being a more effective team on offense.