After an offseason that saw the Utah Jazz add guard George Hill, forward Joe Johnson and big man Boris Diaw, expectations are high for head coach Quin Snyder and company heading into the 2016-2017 season.
Over the next three days, we’ll analyze the Jazz’s point guards, wings and big men as they get ready to begin the campaign, starting with the point guards.
A season in review
Four months before the 2015-2016 campaign began, Utah received a big blow when second-year lottery pick Dante Exum tore his ACL while playing for Australia in international competition.
Not only was the then 20-year-old robbed of a crucial year of development, but the Jazz’s point guard rotation suffered mightily. Rookie Raul Neto, who was expected to be third on the depth chart, was thrust into the starting lineup as Trey Burke’s production dwindled as the season progressed.
A trade deadline deal that brought Shelvin Mack to Salt Lake City from Atlanta for the last two months of the season helped considerably, but things weren’t great by any means.
Looking at this year
The Jazz certainly bolstered their point guard rotation over the summer, sending the 12th pick in the NBA Draft to the Atlanta Hawks as part of a three-team deal that netted them Indiana Pacers guard George Hill.
An eight-year veteran who has been to the playoffs seven times, Hill has career averages of 11.3 points and 3.3 assists per game and will be Utah’s starting point guard.
Exum will be Hill’s primary backup, and has looked solid during the preseason as he makes the typically difficult return from the ACL injury. With those two in the fold, it was expected that the Jazz would keep either Mack or Neto, but after they traded Burke to the Washington Wizards in exchange for a second round pick in 2021, both will be on the roster to begin the season.
Even if there is a serious injury to Hill or Exum, point guard is where Utah should see the biggest improvement compared to last season. Things were almost surely going to be better with just Exum’s return, but in Hill, the Jazz get a player who has proven to be a steady leader both on and off the floor.
Additionally, Snyder probably won’t need him to score a whole lot while he’s playing with the first unit, especially when Gordon Hayward returns from injury a few weeks into the season, but he certainly is capable of doing so.
As for Exum, Hill’s presence will allow him to return to full speed without the pressure of running the team. In addition, the Aussie will be able to learn from a veteran, a luxury he didn’t have his rookie year.
Certainly one of the better developments of the preseason for Utah is that despite not playing in a competitive game for 15 months, Exum has looked quite good. Very passive during his rookie year in attacking the basket, he’s become more aggressive, exhibiting no fear of suffering another serious injury.
Mack and Neto will be vying for the leftover minutes at point guard, and it is likely Mack will most often get the nod.
Ryan McDonald is a sports reporter at DeseretNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanwmcdonald.