SALT LAKE CITY — On most NBA teams, the wing players are the ones who do most of the scoring for their teams. Look at the list of top scorers in the NBA — James Harden, Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant — all wing players, some you’d also call shooting guards and others, small forwards.
It’s also the case for the Utah Jazz, where shooting guard Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the past two seasons. Utah’s other primary wing players, Joe Ingles, Kyle Korver, Royce O’Neale and Grayson Allen, are scorers, although O’Neale might be more known for his defense. Other players such as Jae Crowder, Thabo Sefolosha and Georges Niang sometimes see minutes on ther floor as wing players, but usually play the four, or big forward position.
With the Jazz possibly looking to add another wing player to next year’s team to take some of the scoring load off Mitchell, here’s a look at each of Utah’s wing players, how they performed this year and what their futures might be going forward.
Donovan Mitchell — You couldn’t ask for much more than what the former Louisville star provided this year as he shouldered much of the scoring burden with his scoring average improving from 20.5 to 23.8 points per game. He also increased his rebounds from 3.7 to 4.1 and his assists from 3.7 to 4.2. Perhaps the only downside was that his field goal percentage was stagnant, falling slightly from 43.7 to 43.2 percent, and his 3-point percentage increased only slightly (34.0 to 36.2 percent). His free throw percentage remained virtually the same (80.6 vs. 80.5).
Mitchell will be the first to tell you he needs to improve his shooting percentages, perhaps more to the 46 (overall) and 40 percent (3-point) range and if he could get his rebound and assist numbers closer to 5, that would be a bonus for the Jazz. He said he already has his entire summer schedule mapped out and not having a foot injury to rehab from like last year should aid his overall improvement this summer.
Joe Ingles — “Slow-mo Joe” improved in many ways this year, particularly with his playmaking ability as his assist total rose from 4.8 to 5.7 per game with several double-figure totals late in the season. However, his 3-point shooting percentage dropped from 44 percent each of the previous two seasons to 39.1 percent and his overall percentage fell from 46.7 to 44.8 percent.
Ingles is still the iron man of the team and of the NBA, playing all 82 games for the third straight season after playing 81 and 79 games the two previous years, making him valuable for his reliability with consistent minutes on the floor. His scoring average improved from 11.5 to 12.1 ppg over last season, but it fell to 6.4 ppg during the playoffs as the Rockets seemed to find a way to keep him bottled up and out of the Jazz offense. Some believe Ingles would be more valuable in a sixth-man type of role, which he could find himself in if the Jazz are able to bring in another wing scorer.
Royce O’Neale — From 15th man to first or second guy off the bench and part-time starter, it’s been quite the leap for the former Baylor standout since he joined the team in 2017 as a free agent. Remember he was the last man kept that year when he made the team instead of former Weber State star Joel Bolomboy.
After playing in 69 games as a rookie, O’Neale was one of just two Jazz players, along with Ingles, to play in all 82 games this season. He started 16 games and while he posted nearly identical numbers as the previous year — 5.2 ppg vs 5.0, 3.5 rebounds vs. 3.4, 1.5 assists vs. 1.4 — his field goal percentage improved significantly from 42.3 to 47.5 percent and his 3-point percentage went from 35.6 to 38.6 percent as he played 20 minutes per game, four more than last year.
O’Neale is still known as a defensive stopper — coach Quin Snyder called him his main defender on James Harden in the recent series with Houston — and with his low salary ($1.6 million next year) he’s a bargain for the Jazz. However, if he keeps improving, at some point the Jazz will have to pay him more or let him move on to another team.
Kyle Korver — After playing 16 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Korver joined the Jazz in late November returning to the team he played for eight years earlier. He ended up playing 54 games for Jazz and provided a needed outside shooting threat in his 20 minutes per game. While he averaged 9.1 points per game, his 38.4 percent 3-point shooting percentage was the lowest of his career and well below his last year in Utah when he shot 53.6 percent in 2009-10, setting an NBA single-season record that still stands.
Korver hinted about retirement at the season-ending press conference, saying, “It’s a decision I’ll make with my wife and my family.” The Jazz didn’t use Korver much in their five-game playoff series when he averaged just 7.5 minutes per game, and if the Jazz do bring in another wing player, he could be expendable.
Grayson Allen — The rookie from Duke was expected by many to be a consistent performer for the Jazz following a promising preseason. However, he ended up playing in less than half the Jazz games (38) as he went up and down between the Jazz and the G-League Salt Lake City Stars all season. Over a stretch of 14 games in late December and early January, he didn’t play a single minute.13 comments on this story
Then in the final week of the season when the Jazz were resting players for the playoffs, Allen showed off his offensive skills, setting season highs in three of the last five games with 14 points at Phoenix, 23 against Sacramento and an eye-popping 40 points in the season finale at Los Angeles. Allen averaged 5.6 points per game, but his numbers were a bit distorted by those last few games. He needs to work on his defense and his shooting (37.6 percent, 32.3 from 3) but those numbers should improve with more consistent playing time.