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Atlanta • The scramble by the Utah Jazz to compensate for the loss of Dante Exum has been a mad one at times.
Brazilian rookie Raul Neto was thrust into a bigger role in the preseason, and eventually the starting lineup in the regular season. Trey Burke's offensive touches have significantly increased and after two years of struggles Burke looks comfortable within the Jazz offense.
The last option has been the most intriguing: the three-wing alignment without a traditional point guard, giving ballhandling responsibilities to Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks.
Three weeks into the season, the experiment has worked in small doses. The three wings along with Joe Ingles and Elijah Millsap are the deepest part of Utah's roster. All operate well with the ball and their shooting and size create mismatches, which the Jazz have tried to exploit.
Heading into Sunday night's matchup with the Atlanta Hawks at Phillips Arena, playing the wing lineup may not be an option, since Hood is on the injury list with a sore foot. But the Jazz are trying an unconventional way to play a conventional game, while Exum is rehabbing a torn ACL.
"We're unique because we can all do different things," Hayward said. "We can all handle the ball, we can all shoot and we can all pass it. We do different things, we guard different positions and it's pretty rare to have guys with those kind of skill sets. We all do some things that are better than the other, but for the most part we're all-around players."
The three-wing alignment is a big reason the Jazz didn't trade for a point guard when Exum got hurt playing internationally for Australia. The front office wants to give the alignment a long look, particularly in fourth quarter situations, which is why Burks, Hayward and Hood have been on the floor at the close of most games. Jazz brass believes the team can tread water at point guard because the wings are good enough to allow it. It helps that Hayward and Burks are experienced enough to play more than one spot and thrive at it.
Also, using the three wings at once alleviates any playing time issues between Burks and Hood. Last year, both were injured at different times, which made them both starters for the bulk of their individual season. Now, they are both healthy for the most part.
"It's a really good group because they can all do a lot of different things," Ingles said. "Each guy is talented in different ways. We have shooters, we have guys who do a bit of everything and that helps us offensively and defensively."
So far, the alignment has met to positive reviews. Hayward and Burks lead the team in scoring, while Hood is fifth overall. Hayward and Hood top the Jazz in assists, and all have the length and athleticism to get their shots off against most defenders.
Thus far, Hood has been someone who can make shots and space the floor. Burks has been a creator off the dribble and a force in the lane. Hayward, as is his custom, does a little of both. He's played at four positions this season.
The alignment has also had its moments defensively. In the season opener against Detroit, the alignment was on the floor when the Jazz erased a late deficit and put themselves in position to win the game. The alignment was prominent in wins over the Indiana Pacers and the Memphis Grizzlies as well.
"Anytime you have versatility you can trust, that's a good thing," Utah coach Quin Snyder said. "We can play them any number of ways. We can go without a traditional point guard, we can be big in the backcourt, we can go small. We aren't as efficient with it as I'd like at this point, but it's something we will keep trying."
twitter: @tjonessltrib Utah at Atlanta
When • Sunday, 4 p.m. MDT
Where • Phillips Arena, Atlanta
TV • ROOT
Radio • 1280 AM
Records • Atlanta 8-3; Utah 4-5
About the Jazz • Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood both missed Utah's 102-93 loss to the Orlando Magic. Both are questionable for the matchup in Atlanta with a sprained ankle and sore foot, respectively. … The Jazz have lost three consecutive games and four of their past five games since starting the season 2-1. … Sunday's matchup marks the eighth road game in 10 to start the season for the Jazz. Utah has played the most road games in the NBA so far
About the Hawks • Sunday will mark the first time brothers Paul and Elijah Millsap meet in an NBA game. Paul is a former Jazz standout. … The Hawks are one of the best offensive teams in the NBA, averaging over 103 points per game. Utah comes into the game as one of the best defensive teams in the league. … Point guard Jeff Teague and big man Tiago Splitter are on on Atlanta's injury list. Both are day-to-day. … The Hawks lost DeMarre Carroll to the Toronto Raptors via free agency. Kent Bazemore has stepped into his place at small forward and is averaging 11.6 points per game.