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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz had an explosive offseason, completing one of the biggest trades in team history for Mike Conley, who joins the Jazz as the highest paid player in team history.
The Jazz then signed Bojan Bogdanovic, which is arguably the highest profile free agent the team has signed, before rounding out the roster with proven veterans Ed Davis, Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay.
It’s opened up a slew of options for the Jazz on the floor — from playing a lineup of high level defensive players, to a lineup full of shooters, or a lineup full of players who can attack off the dribble. The Jazz are as versatile as any team in the league entering the 2018-19 season, and also uniquely deep.
On Monday, it was announced that Jazz fans may get a preview of their new backcourt before the season starts, as Conley might be a late invite from by Team USA, in which Donovan Mitchell is already scheduled to participate. Reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert is suiting up with the French National Team.
While the extra opportunities to play together will benefit the Jazz, ideally working out some of the on-floor chemistry issues before the season starts, the two, along with Gobert, are adding extra miles to their legs over the summer.
The Jazz are familiar with the risk of seeing their players take extra risk with their national teams, having watched Dante Exum begin his long history of injuries with a torn ACL after playing for the Australian National Team in the summer of 2015.
Assuming all three of the Jazz stars emerge from the summer unscathed, there will still be added wear and tear on the legs of the three players that should be expected to earn the majority of the team’s minutes. In this scenario, would the Jazz explore resting their best players strategically throughout the season?
More and more in the NBA, teams are opting for the newly coined term "load management," or limiting the minutes each player records in an individual game or the number of games their players appear in throughout the season.
Under coach Quin Snyder, the Jazz have opted for the former, limiting the minutes of their top players. Mitchell, who led the Jazz in minutes per game last season, ranked 26th overall in the league in average minutes played at just 33.7 per game. Gobert was 53rd at 31.8 minutes per game.
Having made three consecutive postseason appearances, extra minutes have already started to add up on a once young team that now faces true postseason expectations. Both Conley and Joe Ingles are in their 30’s, played more than 30 minutes per game last season, and could see the miles add up rapidly over the second half of their careers.
Last season, finals MVP and Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard became the face of load management. Returning from a quad injury, Leonard played just 60 of 82 games and was healthy enough to lead Toronto to its first-ever championship.
Perhaps more important than asking whether the Jazz should consider resting players is to ask whether they could. Do the Jazz have the necessary depth to sit their top players comfortably in games?
The Jazz have a deep guard rotation. After Conley and Mitchell, the Jazz have both Exum and Mudiay capable of playing starter-level minutes in a pinch. Additionally, Mitchell put up career-best numbers in the absence of Ricky Rubio at point guard last season, which could allow the Jazz to sit Conley and opt for Mitchell at the point guard position occasionally throughout the season.
If Conley proves capable of carrying an offensive load in the backcourt to replace Mitchell, the Jazz should again be able to start either Exum or Mudiay in the backcourt, as well as Royce O’Neale.
Resting Gobert may prove to be more difficult, though. Davis is a capable minutes eater at center and can start games in place of Gobert, but who fills in at backup center? Tony Bradley is in a make-or-break season for the Jazz and had an impressive summer league performance, but he needs that to translate to the NBA. Bradley’s ceiling is likely as a backup center, and he’s the only third string center on the roster.
For the Jazz to feel comfortable resting Gobert, Bradley’s growth will be essential.
The Jazz are looking to compete for a Western Conference Finals appearance, and to get there health will be key. Traditionally, the Jazz have preserved their players health by limiting average minutes played, and have found success.
To take the next step, the Jazz will likely have to be comfortable resting players for full games. The depth chart says some strategic rest should be possible, but will the Jazz feel confident stepping out of their comfort zone?