Estimated read time: 7-8 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — With 15 men on the roster, after three signings and one waiver taking place in the last 48 hours, Dennis Lindsey’s roster for the Utah Jazz is nearly finalized. But what exactly do the signings of Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko and Ekpe Udoh accomplish? Here’s a look at the consistent themes:
Defensive strength and versatility
One clear theme about these signings and the Jazz's work this offseason, in general, is that defense will be the No. 1 priority for the 2017-18 Jazz. Obviously, it all starts around Rudy Gobert, but the Jazz's supporting cast is probably stronger defensively thanks to the additions.
By looking at nearly any metric, Sefolosha is one of the league's elite wing defenders. He was ranked as the fifth-best wing player by defensive points saved, according to NBAMath.com:
He also ranked seventh defensively among small forwards in ESPN's defensive real plus-minus. Sefolosha gives the Jazz something they didn't really have last season (unless you count the unlikely emergence of Joe Ingles): a go-to perimeter stopper for the best scorers in the NBA.
"Defensively, he was as versatile as they come as far as who he could guard," Charles Lee, an Atlanta Hawks assistant coach, told KSL.com. "He can guard a point guard, he can guard a power forward."
Udoh is going to be a quality defensive player in the NBA next season. As a center, his best defensive quality is his rim protection, leading Euroleague by averaging 2.2 blocks per game for Fenerbahçe last year. That's a terrific number for that level and style of competition. To give you an idea, the next closest player (Alex Tyus) had 1.5 blocks per contest.
DraftExpress' profile of Udoh's 2017 season also references how Udoh "killed nearly every ball screen with his 'switchability,'" and it will be interesting to see if Udoh can stick with the quicker NBA guards when defending on the perimeter. Udoh's DRPM was great in his last NBA season.
And while Jerebko doesn't seem like the player archetype who would be solid at defense (stretch four types rarely are), Celtics fans and analysts say really positive things. Check out this post by Kevin O'Connor, now at The Ringer, where he gives Jerebko's "versatile defense" a large share of the credit for why the Cs won a playoff game.Again, it's about an ability to switch onto smaller players and hold his own that really allows Jerebko to be a plus defender despite limited strength.
Jerebko isn't good in the paint against bigger power forwards, to be clear, which probably only makes him an average defender overall. But with Derrick Favors on the roster, the Jazz already have a good interior defensive power forward. Now they have a good perimeter one, too.
Makes good decisions with ball
Another thing these players have in common is being able to make good decisions with the ball in their hands. That's important for what we know about the kind of offense Quin Snyder likes to run, where every player on the court ends up touching the ball on a high percentage of possessions.
Sefolosha is known mostly as a spot-up shooter offensively, but Lee, his Hawks coach, gave him credit for "being another ball-handler for us in pick-and-roll situations." Now, it wasn't very frequent, and it should be noted that Sefolosha was only 28th percentile on these pick-and-roll ball-handler situations, according to data from NBA.com.
But Peachtree Hoops, an Atlanta Hawks blog, blamed Sefolosha's teammates for those numbers. The key conclusion from Jeff Siegel: "He’s improved immensely as a ball-handler on drives and in the pick and roll, increasing his usage and efficiency in both areas."
Jerebko is also known as a catch-and-shoot guy, but he's better at attacking the defense on closeouts than some of those players. Jerebko averaged 2.1 assists per 36 minutes last season, which would have led Jazz big men. He also averaged only 1.1 turnovers per 36 minutes, which would have been last on the Jazz among players of any type.
Some of that may be a result of the Jazz's system, which does deflate assists overall and increases turnovers from the sheer length of possessions. But at the very least, Jerebko looks like a reasonable fit.
Udoh surprised Euroleague watchers with his smooth passing ability, working as the hub of Fenerbahçe's offense at times over the past two seasons.
As Rafael Uehara says in his scouting report, "He facilitated offense from the low post with his back to the basket, assisting cutters and weak-side 3-point shooters against double-teams. Though he isn’t much of a dribbler, Udoh also showcased the ability to make simple reads out of the short roll. According to RealGM, he assisted on 12.7 percent of Fenerbahçe’s scores when he was on the floor."
Udoh figures to be at least solid in the NBA at reading the defense and making the right decision as well.
Locker room fit
One thing the Jazz have prioritized with every signing is their fit in the locker room. I can't tell you how many times I've had conversations with people who work for the Jazz about free agents or draftees where a player has been dismissed because of a questionable locker room fit. It's just not an area the Jazz are willing to gamble with.
Sefolosha qualifies as a locker room leader. I spoke with Taurean Prince, the rookie small forward that ended up usurping some of Sefolosha's role in the playoffs. Generally, when that happens, the veteran is a little bit sore with the young player, but Prince reported that Sefolosha continued to mentor him throughout the season.
"I looked up to him in a big way without him probably even knowing it," Prince said.
Jerebko, as the owner of an eSports team and short-on-the-sides, long-on-top haircut, replaces the Jazz's quota of those characteristics after the departure of Gordon Hayward.
OK, I kid about the quota, but Jerebko was repeatedly complimented in Boston's media for two things: the toughness he showed in the Eastern Conference playoffs when getting playing time and his consistent work ethic and attitude despite the inconsistency of his minutes.
Udoh is a treat. He started a book club in Milwaukee, getting fans engaged on Twitter by choosing a new book every month, having people read it, and then chime in with their thoughts at a regularly scheduled time with the hashtag #EkpesBookClub.
And when ESPN's Mark Jackson said he didn't believe in Udoh's advanced analytics, Udoh wasn't afraid to reply, asking Jackson to read the book at the forefront of the NBA's statistical revolution.
Making enemies with Jackson won't exactly diminish Udoh's standing in Utah.
Are these players world-beaters? No, of course not. But for the $3-5 million per year range, they should be solid role players in the kind of system that Snyder and general manager Dennis Lindsey have built. And because of their defensive versatility, smart decision-making, and locker room additions, the Jazz are also hoping that the assembled product, the 2017-18 Utah Jazz, will be more than the sum of its individual parts.