Jazz put faith in Trey Burke, Raul Neto with Dante Exum out
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) The loss of Dante Exum to injury sent ripples throughout the Jazz lineup that will be felt on both sides of the ball.
The opportunities for Trey Burke and Raul Neto, the only pure point guards left on the roster, have grown exponentially.
Burke gets his starting job back and has a chance to wash away the unpleasantness of the 2014-15 season. His shooting percentage plummeted as the top scoring threat off the bench. Part was shot selection, part was Burke being left with the ball in his hands late in the shot clock.
Going into his third year, many expect the ninth player taken in the 2013 draft to come into his own soon.
''It's just a matter of getting better every day,'' said Burke, who acknowledged there's more responsibility with the roster as is. ''By nature I'm a scorer, but I think the game's opening up so much for me that I'm realizing I can get others involved and just let the game come to me.
''I'm going to get shots throughout the game. Guys finding me, me coming off the screen, transition. But I think the more I'm able to get in the paint, find other guys for open shots, the easier it makes my job.''
Neto's minutes as the third guard were likely to be limited at best beforehand. No Exum and no fourth point guard shows the trust the Brazilian rookie has gained in a short time.
Neto said he's been prepared for whatever role and however many minutes are sent his way. He brings a different dynamic than Burke as a pass-first point guard who needs to continue to work on his jump shot.
Coach Quin Snyder even started Neto in the final preseason game Thursday.
''The thing I like is they play defense,'' Snyder said. ''From that position, if we defend, they're going to improve. Trey's playing the position different than he played it his first year, that's because our team is different. He's being asked to do certain things as our team evolves. We feel like both those guys are making progress. And we've got some other guys that handle the ball. They're obviously not point guards, but we can figure it out.''
Those other guys are the wings.
Snyder has experimented with a variety of lineups during preseason - most notably rotations without a point guard on the floor. That leaves Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Rodney Hood initiating a lot of offense. Hayward has done plenty of that in the past and Hood showed that ability late last season. Burks has always been a playmaker with the ball in his hands.
The Golden State Warriors garnered a lot of attention last season with positionless-type rotations en route to a NBA championship.
The Jazz aren't as extreme, but they have the capability to roll out bigger lineups with Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors on the floor without a point guard. They can also go small with Favors at the five and Hayward at the four.
Rookie Trey Lyles is a long 6-foot-10 who can play multiple positions and general manager Dennis Lindsey added two more 7-footers in Jeff Withey and Tibor Pleiss during the offseason.
''Wherever he wants to play me I'll be comfortable,'' Hayward said. ''(I'm) going to be asked to do a lot of things this year. We are a really versatile team and we've got a lot of guys who can handle the basketball and initiate the offense and stretch the floor. We can go two bigs and put a huge lineup out there if we wanted to.''
All of this wasn't precipitated by the injury to Exum, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while playing for the Australian national team in August, but that forces Snyder's hand somewhat to be more creative more often. The Jazz were the No. 1 defensive team in the league after the All-Star break largely due to the fact that Exum's length was a unique defensive tool. Burke and Neto, regardless of effort, can't mimic that physical presence.
That will also determine rotations at times.
''It's going to depend on who we play,'' Snyder said ''Are we playing a really big point guard that's a tough matchup for Trey or Raul? On that night, maybe (three wings) makes more of an impact on defense. You don't have a pure point guard kind of running your team in certain situations that is used to being in that positon. It cuts a lot of ways.''