What Options Do Jazz Have In Conley’s Absence?

Dec 18, 2019, 12:23 PM | Updated: 4:31 pm
Mike Conley...
Mike Conley signs autographs for fans before the Utah Jazz host the Orlando Magic at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019 (Photo by Ben Anderson/KSL Sports)
(Photo by Ben Anderson/KSL Sports)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Mike Conley re-injured his left hamstring Tuesday night against the Orlando Magic, the same injury that sidelined him for five games leading up to the Jazz 109-102 victory. Conley subbed out of the game against the Magic with 10:28 left in the fourth quarter and never returned. 

Conley appeared to injure his hamstring on a baseline drive and signaled Jazz coach Quin Snyder to sub him out of the game during live play. On a fast-break drive by the Magic’s Evan Fournier, Conley gingerly walked back down the floor before Snyder called a timeout to pull Conley from the game. 

The Jazz announced Wednesday that Conley would be re-assessed during the Jazz upcoming road trip. 

The Jazz will once again be left searching answers in Conley’s absence, as the team’s bench has struggled with a depleted depth chart. Tuesday night, Snyder turned to Georges Niang after Conley’s injury and the results were poor. 

In Niang’s 3:35 fourth-quarter minutes, the fourth-year forward missed both of his shot attempts, and the Jazz were outscored by eight points. Niang averaged 17.4 minutes per game, and the Jazz were outscored by an average of 6.6 points per game. 

Niang was averaging 15.6 minutes per game before Conley’s injury.

Before returning to the lineup, Snyder explained what Conley’s presence added to the roster.

“A player of Mike’s caliber helps, it’s another guy that has an opportunity to play minutes,” Snyder said, “Other guys that are playing heavy minutes play a little less and can play with more focus and energy if they’re playing less minutes.”

Snyder and the Jazz front office must now go back to the drawing board to figure out how to cover for Conley’s 29 minutes per game average.

Depending on the length of Conley’s injury, the Jazz will have several options to address his absence. 

Point Guard Options

The most likely path for the Jazz, if Conley is looking at another two-week absence, is to stand pat with the roster and hope the current lineup is strong enough to survive through the end of December. 

The Jazz went 3-2 in the five games Conley missed, with wins over Memphis, Minnesota and Golden State, none of whom are currently in the top eight of the Western Conference standings. 

Over the next two weeks, the Jazz will face the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat on the road, before returning to Salt Lake City to host the Portland Trailblazers, traveling to face the Los Angeles Clippers, before ending 2019 back home against the Detroit Pistons. 

Of the Jazz six upcoming opponents, only the Heat and Clippers are poised to make trips to the postseason. 

Emmanuel Mudiay saw his playing time increase from 15.6 minutes per game to 18.1 with Conley out of the lineup, but like Niang, the Jazz were badly outplayed during those stretches. Dante Exum, who was expected to compete with Mudiay for back-up guard minutes before the season began fell out of the rotation entirely during Conley’s absence. 

Exum averaged 8.1 minutes per game during the Jazz first three games without Conley and hasn’t appeared on the floor in the previous three games.  

Should the injury stretch long beyond the beginning of the new year the Jazz will be able to explore more short term options. 

10 Day Contracts

As of January 5, NBA teams can sign players to 10-day contracts, which would allow the Jazz to add emergency help, without having to make a long term financial commitment until Conley returns. 

Last season, the Jazz opted against signing any 10-day contract players, despite a five-game stretch in January when the team was without Ricky Rubio, Raul Neto and Dante Exum. 

In 2018, the Jazz signed both Naz Mitrou-Long and David Stockton, son of Jazz legend John Stockton, to multiple 10-day contracts, but the two combined to appear in just four games while in a Jazz uniform. Both Mitrou-Long and Stockton were products of the NBA G-League, which the Jazz could mine again in January in hopes of adding supporting depth at the point guard position. 

Stockton is currently an unrestricted free agent with the G-League’s South Bay Lakers.

Veteran Help

Should the Jazz prefer to sign a more proven veteran, either to a 10-day contract or to a full season deal, the team could turn the current list of NBA free-agents to provide help. 

The name most commonly mentioned among available veteran guards is 39-year-old Jamal Crawford, who played for the Phoenix Suns last year, marking his 19th season in the NBA. Crawford is a three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year recipient and scored 51 points in the final game of the regular season for the Suns. 

The veteran guard could provide the Jazz with a scoring punch, but offers little in the way of defense. Crawford ranked 510 out of 514 NBA players last season in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus, measuring a player’s defensive impact on the floor. He was the fourth-worst player in the NBA overall according to ESPN’s more comprehensive Real Plus-Minus. 

Other available veteran guards include former Jazzman Devin Harris who appeared in 68 games for the Dallas Mavericks last season or Raymond Felton, who appeared in 33 games for the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

Via Trade

The Jazz could also look to address their lack of depth via trade, should they feel they need a long term answer in their guard rotation. Though starting-caliber names like Jrue Holiday and Chris Paul are available in trades, the Jazz likely have neither the interest nor assets to pull off a trade of that caliber. 

If the Jazz were interested in supporting guard help, free-agents that signed with new teams over the summer are now available to once again be traded. 

For example, Cory Joseph of the Sacramento Kings or Garrett Temple of the Brooklyn Nets are now eligible to be traded away from their current teams, despite signing free-agent deals over the summer. The Jazz have previously been linked to both players as free-agent targets. 

However, after trading two first-round draft picks to acquire Conley over the summer, and including Jae Crowder and Grayson Allen in the deal, the Jazz lack draft capital and mid-level talent assets to complete a deal. 

The current lack of excess depth at any one position would leave the Jazz thin in the case of a trade, making an in-season move difficult without further damaging the roster. 

The Jazz will likely be without Conley for the next few weeks and may be extra cautious with him upon his return to ensure he doesn’t further injure his hamstring. In the meantime, the team’s best option to cover for Conley may be to rely on the little guard depth they have and hope Conley’s absence doesn’t stretch beyond the new year. 

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What Options Do Jazz Have In Conley’s Absence?