Utah Jazz: Ever-changing lineup presents new opportunities for players
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — For most of the last three games, the Utah Jazz have played without key players Marvin Williams and Derrick Favors.
It appears as if that will be the case again tonight when the slumping squad hosts the suddenly hot Orlando Magic, who've started off a Western trip with wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors.
Williams continues to suffer from concussion-like symptoms a week after his head crashed into the court at New Orleans, and Favors is improving but is experiencing soreness from the plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
The starting small forward and backup big man are both doubtful to see the court for a third consecutive contest, according to the Jazz training staff.
In order for Utah to snap its three-game losing streak, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin needs players to stretch their roles and expand their responsibilities for the greater team cause.
"Your role," Corbin said, "is to play basketball."
Hours after he talked about players needing to be versatile and flexible, a prime example of that took center court. Down the stretch, the Jazz tried to counter the Los Angeles Clippers' seemingly unstoppable pick-and-roll by putting 6-8 forward DeMarre Carroll on star point guard Chris Paul, who stands 6 feet tall.
Paul made a couple of crazy-good plays in the waning moments to help the Clippers escape with a 105-104 win at ESA, but Carroll chased him around screen after screen to make him work hard for every attempt.
"It's a different role, but I'm up for the challenge and the opportunity. Every time I step on the court, I just feel like it's a new opportunity for me," Carroll said. "That’s what I'm here for — to be versatile and do whatever it takes for my team to win. My versatility is my key to me playing in the NBA."
Along with Carroll, bench mainstays Alec Burks and Jeremy Evans are getting more opportunities. Burks provided a scoring punch in Houston on Saturday, and Evans had a few dazzling dunks to go with some solid defensive moments in his time Monday.
Point guard Mo Williams, whose role has expanded this year to be more of a playmaker and leader with Utah rather than an offensive sparkplug with the Clippers, believes this is when the Jazz's depth has to shine.
"We've got guys that are going to play, guys are going to step up," he said. "I thought DeMarre did a great job in the starting lineup. I thought Jeremy did a great job coming of the bench (and) Burks.
"The more those guys get minutes, the more comfortable they're going to get," Williams added. "I think we'll be all right."
To make up for the absence of Williams and Favors, Jazz players must expand their defensive impact through a combination of personal responsibility in their own match-ups — namely, staying in front of their guy — and by communicating, rotating and helping when necessary.
Corbin agreed that the lengthy and athletic Favors probably would've altered Paul's go-ahead drive with 39.9 seconds remaining, but Utah has to adjust knowing that the 6-foot-10 defensive stopper isn't there as a safety net.
This leaves more responsibility on guys like Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter to step up bigger on the defensive end.
"We have to do it by committee," Corbin said, noting the Jazz also have to make better adjustments when teams change angles on their pick-and-rolls.
"There's not one guy other than Jeremy who's as springy as Derrick is. (Evans is) just not as physical," Corbin said. "We have to do by group. Being in the right spots, taking it more on us to stay between your man and the basket.
"We can't afford to (allow) guys going to the rim, because we don't have that shot-blocker in Derrick to come across and save us."
Backup point guard Earl Watson sees this is a prime opportunity for growth. The Jazz still has 63 of their 82 regular-season games remaining. They’ve had six starting lineups for various reasons and dozens of rotation combinations, and that's only going to increase as the season progresses.
"The players out are big for us," Watson admitted. "Marvin is big in a X-factor type of way. And Fav is just Fav. He controls the paint."
But new opportunities for other guys present chances for improvement.
"I think it's a positive," Watson said, regarding players getting to try different roles. "I think it's a chance for us to get better and grow as a team, because you never know with foul trouble or injuries in the future what we might need to happen."
The last thing Corbin wants his players to do is to become fixated on specific roles, especially because the situation is fluid.
"Play ball," Corbin said. "Play basketball that's what everybody's role is and we'll figure things out from there."
In that sense, players can learn from Carroll's willingness to take on one of the quickest and most talented guards in the world. Guarding a point guard isn't usually his role — neither is starting, for that matter — but he embraced it just as he's tried to diversify his game with outside shooting.
"We don't want guys to be narrow and thinking I'm just a rebounder, I'm just a ball-handler, I'm just a shooter," Corbin said. "We want you to play basketball and we'll put you in a position to show what your talents are within that."
Sooner rather than later, they hope that helps produce wins again, too.
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