SALT LAKE CITY — On Oct. 12, Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter took to the court to begin the third game of the 2013 preseason for the Utah Jazz.
With this being a season of developing and redirecting the franchise, many people believed this group would be the main first five.
Let the kids play and learn together, right?
For a variety of reasons, which included Burke’s injury that night, Kanter’s eventual struggles, Burks’ success as a sixth man and the chemistry of another starting unit, that young crew has not started a game together since the exhibition experiment.
Utah has used eight different lineups in 44 games, but the Foundation Five, as some call that group, has not started once together in the regular season.
In fact, the five players, all considered future pieces to the Jazz’s puzzle, have only played together for 31 minutes.
Yes, 31 minutes combined. All season.
However, that PT is trending in a direction that might appease the curiosity of fans who’ve been astonished that Burke, Burks, Hayward, Favors and Kanter haven’t played together more often than that.
“It’s the progression of the season,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said.
In Saturday’s 104-101 win over the Washington Wizards, that group played together from the 5:46 mark of the fourth quarter until Kanter was replaced by Richard Jefferson for defensive purposes in the final 21.5 seconds.
“They’re understanding more the importance of the little things,” Corbin said. “I thought our pace last night, especially on the offensive end, was better with them.”
Some mistakes were made, of course. But Corbin believes the chemistry of that core is improving enough that he plans on increasing their court time. Kanter and Favors, in particular, have had spacing and on-court chemistry issues with each other, limiting their effectiveness together.
“They’re getting better together,” Corbin said of the entire group. “The more they can create a tempo that’s favorable for us, the better chance we have of putting them on the floor together.”
Like he did in the preseason, Corbin is open to giving the youngsters another shot at starting together when it counts.
“Hopefully,” Corbin said when asked if he’d consider that lineup move. “ (There) may be an opportunity to get back to it.”
Burke’s broken finger made the lineup combo impossible for the first 12 games of the season. By then, Corbin liked the offensive spark Burks was giving the team off the bench. The coach has also appreciated the veteran leadership and contributions regular starters Jefferson and Marvin Williams have provided.
The fact that Burke, Hayward, Jefferson, Williams and Favors are 12-8 in 20 starts together is another reason why Corbin has stuck with that group.
Some might not agree with his decisions, but Corbin believes he’s making choices that give the Jazz the best chance of simultaneously winning games and developing players.
Corbin is also concerned what would happen to the bench’s offensive production if Burks (13.1 ppg) and Kanter (11.5 ppg) were made starters.
“There’s two sides to it. Guys are going to play,” Corbin said. “I know everybody wants to start in this league and people have an opinion of who should start because of who they like. I have to do what I think is best for this group of guys.”
Burks recently showed what he’s capable of producing as a starter while filling in for Hayward during his five-game injury absence. Burks averaged 18.8 points, including a 34-point outing in a win over Denver.
“His play is getting better. He’s going to play, man,” Corbin said recently when asked if Burks could become a regular starter. “You should always want to start in this league. That’s a great goal to have, but he has a big role for this team whether that’s starting for us or whether that’s coming off the bench.”
Ask Burks and Kanter about whether they prefer starting or coming off the bench, and you get rehearsed-sounding lines about how they’ll do whatever Corbin wants to do.
“I’m just out there being aggressive,” Burks recently said. “However minutes I get from Coach Ty, that’s all I’m doing.”
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