The Utah Jazz shied away from chasing stars, and instead opted for fit. George Hill is not an earth-shattering player, but he’s a perfect piece. Joe Johnson is well past his All-Star level prime, but he’ll be great in limited action on the wing. Boris Diaw failed to hit 20 mins/game last year for the first time since his sophomore season, but brings the veteran versatility the front court was missing.
Utah’s biggest hole last season was their abysmal point guard play. They started Raul Neto for a large part of the season. Unlike most teams, though, Utah doesn’t need their point guard to create offense – that comes from the wing duo of Rodney Hood and Gordon Hayward. No, they need a point guard who can play defense, hit open shots, and thrive doing all the little things in the background. And they need that player to be in and out before it’s time to hand the reigns over to young Dante Exum. That’s the exact description of George Hill, who is in the final year of his deal. His incapability of being a lead dog on the offensive end has been viewed as a negative his whole career, but in Utah it fits.
In Joe Johnson, the Jazz don’t get the 20, 5 and 5, seven-time all-star he used to be, but they get a capable, veteran presence who is one of the best in late game situations – an area the Jazz struggled in last season. Joe Ingles and Chris Johnson combined to play 27 minutes a night on the wing for Utah last season. Adding Joe Johnson and a now-healthy Alec Burks will allow them to bring that number closer to zero, where it should be. It also unlocks interesting small ball lineups. After signing with Miami last year, Johnson spent 36% of his time at power forward. Utah could implore a similar strategy, running out a Burks-Hood-Hayward-Johnson-Gobert lineup that would be massively long, athletic, and filled with a nice mix of playmakers, shooters, and defensive switchability. In fact, this roster is now so deep and versatile that coach Quin Snyder could insert any combination of Hill, Diaw, Derrick Favors, or Trey Lyles into that lineup depending on what they need versus any given opponent. Utah is going to have some fun lineups.
The Jazz already have Gobert, Favors, and Lyles to soak up big minutes on the interior. But Boris Diaw gives them something different – a playmaker. He can catch the dump off pass from the pick and roll, turn, scan the floor, and quickly make the right decision. That skill set made him a crucial cog in the Spurs machine that defeated the vaunted Miami Heat in the Finals, and he is still capable of providing that value in lower doses. And, hopefully, capable of teaching Trey Lyles those same skills. Again, a perfect complementary fit to the rest of the young, talented roster amassed in Salt Lake City.
Utah will never be a free agent destination. They can’t expect to get a meeting with Kevin Durant. So they have to nail the fringe moves – sign the right mid-tier free agent, ace the draft, trade for the right players. So far, they have done those things and are poised to take the leap to real contenders not only this season, but for the foreseeable future. Well, at least until it comes time to pay all these young guys.
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