Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz’s preseason debut was full of surprises — from the beginning until the score was displayed on the massive new scoreboards at the final buzzer.
Actually, the first surprise came even earlier than tipoff of the Jazz’s 101-78 victory over the Golden State Warriors at EnergySolutions Arena.
Two hours before Utah's 2013 exhibition opener began Tuesday, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin announced that Richard Jefferson was going to start.
That meant Gordon Hayward was the Jazz’s starter at shooting guard and, despite what many anticipated, Alec Burks was slotted in a reserve role. Rookie point guard Trey Burke and returning big men Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter rounded out the first five in the unveiling of this new era.
"We’re going to look at different combinations as we go forward here," Corbin said in his pregame interview, "but this is the first step tonight."
Burks had no complaints before the game.
“I’m still playing my role, play my game,” Burks said. “That’s what I’m going to do — I’m going to do my job to the best of my ability.”
The 22-year-old, comforted by the knowledge he's going to get consistent minutes regardless of starting status, certainly didn’t balk about his new role after helping spark Utah’s win with 14 points and four assists off the bench in 22 minutes.
“He gives us a punch off the bench because he can put the ball in the hole,” Corbin said.
In another second-unit stunner, the third-year Jazz guard wasn’t even the leading reserve scorer. That honor went to Burke’s backup, veteran newcomer John Lucas III, who poured in a game-high 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
One more bench surprise: 2012 Slam Dunk champ Jeremy Evans, long lost on the Jazz bench for the past three years, scored 12 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked one shot.
“He showed that he can knock down jump shots,” Hayward said. “I’ve been waiting for him to show that in the past three years. It’s good for him to be aggressive a little bit. I’ve been telling him (to shoot more) since he got here.”
“(People have) heard of me being a dunker,” Evans said, “but I can shoot the ball a little bit.”
Burks, Lucas III and Evans helped Utah turn an eight-point Warriors lead in the second quarter into a rout.
Corbin especially appreciated his team’s effort on the defensive end, a big point of emphasis for the Jazz this season. Stephen Curry was held to 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting; new Warrior Andre Iguodala only had nine; and Klay Thompson put in just five points.
“For the most part, we competed defensively,” Corbin said. “To hold this team to 32 percent field goal shooting, I thought was good.”
“I think we all did a good job on our responsibilities on the defensive end,” Burke added. “That’s why we pulled the W out.”
Sure, it’s just a preseason victory.
But with so many variables to this Jazz team — an influx of new guys and returning guys with new roles — who knows how many wins they’ll get to celebrate.
“It was really encouraging,” Burke said. “It was good to see.”
It was interesting, if nothing else, to see how Utah played in the absence of departed veterans Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams, Randy Foye, DeMarre Carroll, Earl Watson and Jamaal Tinsley.
So far, so good.
“I thought,” Corbin said, “from the work they put in all summer to come into training camp in great shape and continuing that through camp and now to come out and give a performance like this the first night is encouraging to see.”
Six Jazz players scored in double figures, including 10 apiece from Kanter and Favors (14 rebounds). Hayward missed 8 of 12 shots but contributed eight points, eight assists, seven rebounds and three steals.
“I thought everybody gave us something," said Corbin.
That first unit — Richard Jefferson had a quiet four-point outing — eventually played well after a shaky start. Corbin credited Burke for the turnaround.
“I thought Trey started off a little slow and he got himself going,” Corbin said. “The other guys kind of followed suit there.”
Burke might’ve surprised some onlookers when he hit two 3-point attempts, something he did regularly at Michigan while earning 2013 NCAA player of the honors but struggled to do in summer league while going just 1 for 19 from deep.
“I didn’t press tonight,” Burke said after finishing with 12 points and three assists. “I let it come to me and played within the system.”
Corbin said he still might tinker with his starting lineup and rotations. He wanted to put the 33-year-old Jefferson, entering his 13th season, into the opening lineup to steady the younger starters.
"He’s come into camp in great shape. He has experience. He knows how to play," Corbin said. "He can read situations, guard bigger, smaller guys. He will be effective for us."
Corbin insisted the move wasn't a knock on Burks, whom he has also been impressed with over the offseason and into fall.
"He’s worked his butt off to get better," Corbin said. "I told him this morning ... it’s not to say that you don’t deserve to start.”
NOTES: Five of the Jazz’s 20 players in camp didn’t see action Tuesday. Brandon Rush (knee) and Marvin Williams (Achilles' heel) continue to rehab from surgeries, while Brian Cook, Lester Hudson and Dwayne Jones were not given playing time. Jazz big men Kanter, Andris Biedrins and Rudy Gobert were each called for moving screens on high pick-and-rolls. Utah outscored Golden State 42-20 in the paint.
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