Utah Jazz: Lineup changes could be in store as Jazz face Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY — Three games after his NBA debut, Trey Burke could start for the first time in his professional career Sunday night in Oklahoma.
That might not be the only tweak Utah Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin makes to his first unit, which has consistently struggled during the team’s 1-13 start.
Enes Kanter might not start. Marvin Williams may return to being a starter. Or something else could be decided.
“We may look at changing some things,” Corbin said.
Going forward is a concept the Jazz are hoping to embrace soon after going backward in the first half of so many games this season. That happened again Friday night when the Jazz found themselves behind the Dallas Mavericks by 28 points near the end of the first half.
During the break, Corbin made two personnel switches, inserting Burke and Williams in with the starters and putting point guard John Lucas III and Kanter on the bench.
The lineup change was among the things that sparked the Jazz to mount a big comeback attempt, pulling within five points of the coasting Mavs with less than five minutes remaining of an eventual 103-93 loss.
Don’t be surprised if Burke returns to his preseason role as starter and if Williams begins this game against the Thunder as power forward along with shooting guard Gordon Hayward, small forward Richard Jefferson and center Derrick Favors.
“Everything’s open right now,” Corbin said. “We seem to flow better with that group. In the beginning of the third quarter, the ball moved better; our bodies moved better; and we got a chance to get back into the game.”
They’re two of the Jazz’s top three scorers, but Kanter (14.1 ppg) and Favors (13.6 ppg) just aren’t meshing together very well on the court at the same time. While the Jazz have lost their 13 games by an average of 11.1 points, the team is being outscored by 20.3 points per game during the time when Favors and Kanter are out there together.
“It’s not flowing as well as I thought it would,” Corbin said. “Because of being short-handed, we’ve stuck with it a little bit. If we make the change, we can always come back to it. Some nights it’s the best thing for us.”
But isn’t this rebuilding season about letting the young guys flounder and flourish with new playing opportunities?
Corbin insisted that will continue to happen.
“That’s one of the major focuses of why we are where we are — for those guys to play and develop,” Corbin said. “But you want to try and have a chance to win as much as you can while you’re in that process. You want to do everything you can to have a chance to win while you’re developing.”
Some development has happened so far, but chances to win have been rare through the first 14 games.
Corbin is hoping this change will give Favors more opportunities with Williams’ ability to take opposing big men out of the paint because of his outside shooting. The Jazz coach is also looking forward to seeing what Kanter can do off the bench.
“It’s still the priority,” Corbin said of that development element of this season. “We just want to have a chance to win the game while we do it.”
That unit that started the second half — and could be out there for Sunday's tipoff — didn’t play for long. But the spacing and effort were enough to impress Corbin while also opening the court up for Hayward to snap out of his funk.
“It spreads the floor and allows there just to be a lot more space for everybody,” Hayward said. “We got a couple of more open looks. Defensively, we got some steals that led to some easy buckets in transition for us.”
Another aspect of a potential lineup shift is that Burke continues to be cleared for more playing time. He logged 12 minutes in his first game and 20 minutes Friday after sitting nearly six weeks with a broken finger on his shooting hand.
“He’s coming along,” Corbin said of the No. 9 pick in June’s draft. “He’s working his way back into shape. He’s getting a better understanding.”
Burke will be the Jazz’s fourth starter at point guard this season whenever he makes that inevitable move. This would also be the fourth different starting unit Utah has used. Incidentally, the Jazz won their only game a week ago Wednesday against New Orleans with the current first five of Lucas, Hayward, Jefferson, Favors and Kanter.
Considering the team trailed by 28 points early in two games this past week, something clearly has to change.
“We’ve got to get off to better starts,” Corbin said. “We‘re digging ourselves in such a hole, as I told the guys, ‘It’s encouraging to see the fight, to fight back, when we got down, but let’s try not to get down so much and by so many points.’”
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