What Can Jazz Learn Without Mike Conley?
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz are preparing to host the red-hot Los Angeles Lakers, and will be shorthanded in the process. Tuesday, the Jazz announced that Mike Conley will be sidelined with a hamstring strain suffered in Monday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers that forced him to miss the majority of the second half.
The Jazz have both Emmanuel Mudiay and Dante Exum available to replace Conley in the lineup, but it’s no sure thing that that’s the direction Coach Quin Snyder will turn.
Last season, during an injury-riddled January, Snyder turned to Donovan Mitchell at the point guard position with Ricky Rubio, Raul Neto and Exum unavailable, and Mitchell provided the Jazz with one of the best stretches of basketball of his career.
During the six games without a true point guard on the roster, Mitchell averaged 30 points, 5.7 assists, and three rebounds while shooting 51% from the floor and 40% from the three-point line. Mitchell led the Jazz to six straight victories and the Jazz were 99 points better in the time he was on the floor.
While it did help the Jazz played five of the six games at home, against three teams that didn’t make the playoffs and three that were eliminated in the first round of the postseason, Mitchell’s play left those watching if he and the Jazz are better suited with the third-year guard leading the show.
Snyder could add fuel to that fire should Mitchell start the game at point guard, choosing to move Joe Ingles into the starting lineup, rather than protecting the traditional rotation by starting either Exum or Mudiay in Conley’s place.
To date, Conley has yet to bring the value to Utah that he showed in Memphis for the last 12 seasons. Compared to his career numbers, Conley has seen a drop in points per game and assists per game in Utah, as well as a significant decrease in field goal percentage, down a full seven points to just under 37 percent in a Jazz uniform.
As a result of both Conley’s slow start, and the poor play from Mudiay and Exum, Snyder has moved around his substitution pattern with the former Memphis guard in an effort to find the most effective playmaking lineup on the floor for a full 48 minutes.
A permanent move of Conley to the bench is currently out of the question, as dropping the minutes or role of a player the Jazz traded significant assets for could be a PR nightmare for the team. However, if the point guard situation continues to be an issue for the team, an outside the box solution is one option the Jazz could explore.
Against Philadelphia, Snyder may have stumbled upon such a solution with Ingles running the second unit in place of Exum, while Muday assumed the minutes of the injured Conley. Ingles recorded 13 points and seven assists in the second half, after notching just one assist and zero points in the first half playing off the ball.
That success may force Snyder’s hand against the Lakers, attempting to once again play Ingles in the backup point guard role, while moving either Mudiay or Exum into the starting line. In that scenario, Snyder could still test Mitchell as the team’s starting point guard, with Conley or Exum playing off the ball.
Regardless of Snyder’s adjustments, a win tonight for the Jazz over the Western Conference-leading Lakers would be a welcome change after a tough 1-4 East coast road trip and may give the team an excuse to start testing more radical lineup adjustments, especially if Mitchell plays well
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