Mailbag: Can Jared Butler Crack The Jazz Rotation?
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – It’s only been two games, but Jared Butler has been nothing short of terrific in his preseason appearances for the Utah Jazz.
With just two preseason games left, an already deep Jazz roster, and Quin Snyder running a relatively tight nine-man rotation, can a rookie like Butler find regular minutes?
That’s one of the top questions on the mind of Jazz fans, and one of several we’ll answer in this article, and in the podcast which you can listen to in the player below.
Can Butler Crack The Jazz Rotation?
As mentioned, Snyder likes to run a relatively strict nine-man rotation, while finding minutes for players either late in blowouts, or in spot minutes to end quarters as he did at times last season for Miye Oni.
Heading into the season, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Eric Paschall would be the Jazz tenth-man, while Trent Forrest and Butler battled it out to be the fifth guard in the rotation.
However, Butler’s play has been flat-out impressive in his two appearances, leading the Jazz in scoring in both games, and doing so with the type of efficiency you don’t traditionally see in rookie guards.
Equally impressive, he isn’t scoring a lot simply because he’s coming in late in games and playing a selfish role to build up his numbers, he’s doing the majority of his damage within the flow of the game.
But, the fact remains that between Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Joe Ingles, and Jordan Clarkson, there aren’t a lot of minutes in the rotation for a guy like Butler unless Snyder can get creative.
Here’s the thing, I think he can, and at points, we’ve already seen it.
First, Snyder can play a three-guard lineup which he has done at times in the preseason by rolling out Mitchell, Butler, and Clarkson in the backcourt with Royce O’Neale and Hassan Whiteside in the frontcourt.
The Jazz also started the last game with Forrest, Clarkson, and guard Miye Oni on the floor, hinting again at a willingness to perhaps experiment with smaller lineups and providing room for five guards to see the floor.
Second, though I’m a firm believer that Ingles is best with the ball in his hands, he has the size and experience to move up and play in the Jazz frontcourt if needed, operating as a backup forward rather than strictly as a guard.
That could get Butler onto the court, and allow the Jazz to continue to space the floor with Ingles rather than Paschall, especially early in the season while Rudy Gay rehabs from heel surgery.
Ultimately, we’ve seen Snyder show a real willingness to adjust the team’s rotation to account for his most talented players, as he did for both Mitchell and Gobert as they proved their value on the floor early in their careers.
It’s early for Butler, butt’s not crazy to believe that he could be in the conversation for one of the nine most talented players on the Jazz team. If that’s the case, Snyder will find a spot for him in the rotation.
I think it’s fair at points to watch Clarkson dominate a possession and wonder if his teammates end up frustrated by standing on the perimeter, sometimes wide open, only to see the guard put up an unnecessarily difficult shot.
Last season I asked Georges Niang what it’s like to play alongside Clarkson, trying to gauge whether it was enjoyable or frustrating. Here’s what Niang said Clarkson brings to the table.
“A barrage of points just out of nowhere […] you literally throw the ball to him and he makes something happen. He’s making other teams over help, drawing two defenders.”
So to answer the question, in addition to the players loving him off the floor, I think they really like playing with him on the floor. He carries a big weight, and with that, he probably wastes a couple of possessions a game with less than ideal efficiency.
But, he’s a huge difference-maker, and for the most part, he makes the lives of those who share the floor with him easier.
To answer this question I think we need to reverse the question into what did the Lakers, Suns, and Nets lack that prevent them from beating the Jazz. So let’s try that.
Starting with the Lakers, their main question will be what happens with Russell Westbrook in the playoffs, and is there enough floor spacing for the team to win in the modern game?
The Jazz have seen Westbrook blow a playoff series up close despite having homecourt advantage and a 1-0 series lead, the guard shot the Oklahoma City Thunder out of the series by trying to prove he was the best player on the floor.
He’s a one-man wrecking crew in the regular season, but we’ve not seen him win much in the playoffs, if that continues, the Lakers could be in trouble.
As for the Suns, it’s hard to gauge where they are compared to the Jazz after a strange regular-season series followed up by a trip to the Finals. Phoenix swept the Jazz 3-0 last year, but I’m not sure it was as definitive as that number would imply.
The Suns beat the Jazz in game four of the season before the team clicked in around game 10 and went on their tear.
They then needed overtime to beat the Jazz in Phoenix, before finally blowing the Jazz out when they were playing without either Conley or Mitchell in the backcourt.
As for their Finals run, they beat a Lakers team without Anthony Davis, a Denver Nuggets team without Jamal Murray, then a Los Angeles Clippers team without Kawhi Leonard
Their run was fun, but it’s not without some serious question marks heading into next season.
Finally, the Nets will be the most talented team in the NBA next season, and that’s why they’re the favorite to win an NBA title. However, they have yet to prove they are a top-tier defensive team, and Kyrie Irving is as much as distracting as he is talented at this point in his career. I don’t count on that going away.
The Nets are great, but there are some reasons for skepticism.