This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Walk up to a Utah Jazz fan and ask about the most important factors to team success this season. The answers will probably vary.
No doubt, the play of Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors would top the list. Plenty would speak to the reinstitution of Alec Burks, or the success of Trey Burke, or even the offense or defense as a unit.
Bench scoring, however or bench play overall probably wouldn't be the most popular topic of most fans, at least not until deep into such a conversation. But best believe, it has the potential to play a major component on whether the Jazz make a leap from last season or not.
This wasn't a deep team last year, and part of that was due to injury. Burks missing the season with a torn labrum forced Joe Ingles to play starting minutes, when he was a deep reserve at the beginning of 2014. It forced the Jazz to sign Elijah Millsap, and eventually he too made several appearances in the starting lineup.
Now, those guys are solidly in Utah's second unit. And if the Jazz are healthy, last year could be a blessing, because they are more experienced than they would've normally been.
"I think obviously the injuries, it opened up a pretty big door for me and Eli," Ingles said. "And it helps a lot, the experience we gained. I know me personally, I didn't feel comfortable until the middle of the season when I started playing consistent minutes. That's when I started feeling comfortable and could do what I was brought here to do. There aren't many good teams playing six or seven guys. So I think we have a great squad from top to bottom and we're ready to go out and perform."
At the beginning of camp and the preseason schedule, the bench and the main characters were fluid. Nobody knew who would be the backup center. Nobody knew who would start at shooting guard between Burks and Rodney Hood.
Now, things are becoming a bit clear. Burks has been arguably Utah's best preseason player, and his job in the starting lineup appears to be cemented. That makes Hood the leader of the second unit, and it's his job to score points and create offense for others.
Raul Neto appears to have a strong hold on the backup point guard spot. He's also been good in the preseason, as a pesky defender and a willing passer, if not a consistent shooter. Millsap and Ingles have both been impressive on the wings.
Trevor Booker should be the first power forward off the bench, and Tibor Pleiss and with Jeff Withey are battling it out in the paint, behind Gobert.
"I think we're more confident offensive players than last year, and I think you'll see the results of that this year," Hood said. "With me on the second unit, with Raul and Eli, we're pressuring defensively and scoring off the defense. We have Trevor and Trey [Lyles] up front, so we have a lot of options."
Those options have led to Quin Snyder tinkering with rotations and combinations. The Jazz have gone small, with Hood, Ingles and Millsap all playing at the same time. He's gone bigger, with Lyles playing along side either Pleiss or Withey.
Generally, Hood has been the first player off the bench and the leader in bench minutes. His role in his second season will be a big one, as he's played three positions already, even playing a bit of point guard.
If anything, Millsap's been impressive, defending multiple positions, and showing an improved acumen with the basketball in his hands. The sample size is small, but Millsap isn't turning the rock over as much as he did last year. He appears to be the one who will play when Snyder needs a few defensive stops on a high-scoring wing, or guard.
Snyder points out that the bench will still be inexperienced. Hood is just in his second year, as are Millsap and Ingles. Neto, Lyles and Pleiss are rookies. Only Booker has extensive time in the NBA.
One thing Snyder could do is keep one of Hayward, Gobert or Favors on the floor at all times with the bench. That's called staggering minutes. Other than that, Snyder wants to keep the expectation low and the overall focus high.
"I don't know what the unit is yet," Snyder said. "I guess I'd like to think of it as more of a bench. I think it's important to be patient and see how it evolves."
The Jazz bench
The leader • Rodney Hood will be expected to score in double figures this year. His performance overall will be a key to how the Jazz fare once the regular-season begins
The defensive ace • Elijah Millsap is arguably the best perimeter defender on the team, capable of hounding opponents. They say you need an NBA skill to stick in the league. Millsap certainly has the ability to defend.
The emotional sparkplug • Trevor Booker will again be counted on for hustle, and rebounds and occasional scoring.
Overall • Health permitting, the Jazz appear to be a deeper team than last season. The question? Can they perform when the lights come on?