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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz had an impressive offseason, not only adding top-end talent, but also adding depth to their roster.
The Jazz rounded out their training camp roster — camp starts Oct. 1 — by drafting three players and signing six others in the offseason, including former Jazz draftee Nigel Williams-Goss.
But with 20 players currently on the roster and only 15 roster spots guaranteed, with two two-way contracts available, the question is: Who makes the roster? And more importantly, who makes the Jazz rotation?
The Jazz will enter the season with 12 guaranteed contracts, which leaves three open spots available on the roster. It’s almost certain that both Royce O’Neale and Georges Niang will enter the season claiming two of those spots on the roster, as both were valuable rotation pieces last season.
That leaves one spot open.
The Jazz could fill it with Stanton Kidd, William Howard, Mike Scott, Juwan Morgan or Trevon Blueitt, or choose to leave the spot open for a player who gets cut by another team late in the preseason, as they did with Joe Ingles. That decision to pick up Ingles paid enormous dividends.
Unless one of the non-guaranteed camp invitees makes a major impact in the preseason, don’t be surprised to see the Jazz enter the season without a full 15-man roster. Draft picks Jarrell Brantley and Justin Wright-Foreman will begin the season with the two-way contracts, splitting time between the G League affiliate Utah Stars and the Jazz.
Once the roster is finalized, it's a matter of what players will make the everyday rotation. An everyday rotation player, by my definition, is someone who plays 10 minutes in a game.
The Jazz had 744 instances last season of players playing 10 minutes or more, which comes out to nearly nine people on the roster playing at least 10 minutes a night, though the names changed throughout the season based on effectiveness and injuries. That leaves seven players on the current guaranteed roster that shouldn't expect to get regular minutes every night.
Although the team’s starting unit isn’t set, it isn’t difficult to know which players should be expected to play when the Jazz open the season against Oklahoma City on Oct. 23 in Salt Lake City.
Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic and Rudy Gobert should receive the highest minute totals throughout the season, followed by Jeff Green and O’Neale — who will compete for a starting spot — and Ed Davis, who will be the Jazz's primary backup big man to Gobert.
That leaves one everyday rotation spot up for grabs between Dante Exum, Emmanuel Mudiay, Williams-Goss, Tony Bradley, Niang and Miye Oni.
Bradley will likely be squeezed out of the rotation with Gobert and Davis filling the minutes at center. Oni is just a rookie, and though he looked like a more-than-capable shooter during the NBA Summer League — a skill the Jazz need — it’s unlikely, based on his college experience and physical tools, that he’ll be ready to contribute to the Jazz this season.
That leaves Exum, Mudiay, Williams-Goss and Niang batting for the final spot. Of those four, three have seen the majority of their career minutes spent at point guard, while Niang has filled the role of a sharp-shooting multi-tool. Niang enters the season with a guaranteed deal, but he was allowed to skip summer league, which is a good indication the Jazz trust his development.
By adding Bogdanovic and Green, though, the Jazz added two high-level rotation players that share Niang's skill set, and do it better than the fourth-year forward. Simply put, it’s difficult to find a role for Niang that allows him to find regular rotation minutes.
One glaring hole on the Jazz roster is at the point guard position behind Conley. The starter will likely be counted on for roughly 30 minutes at the position each night, leaving Mudiay, Exum and Williams-Goss fighting for those secondary, albeit crucial, backup minutes.
Of the 42 contests, Exum was available to play in last season, he recorded 10 minutes or more in 34 of those outings. Mudiay, though new to the roster, played 10 minutes or more in 58 of his 59 outings with the disastrous New York Knicks last season. Williams-Goss is the biggest mystery of this group, having spent two productive years overseas since the Jazz drafted him out of Gonzaga. As a rookie, I’d lean away from him as a rotation player to begin the season.
While the easiest solution to get both Exum and Mudiay on the floor for regular rotation minutes each night would be to expand the rotation to 10 men, rather than the nine they played last season, those minutes come at a cost.
Exum and Mudiay will see the majority of their minutes in the backcourt, either at point guard or shooting guard and likely don't have the size to spend much time at small forward. To expand the rotation to 10 men, the Jazz would have to take minutes from either Conley or Mitchell, if not both, to satisfy Mudiay and Exum.
While there will be nights the Jazz choose to rest Conley or Mitchell, and both players will inevitably miss games due to injury, it doesn’t make sense to supplant minutes from two of the Jazz's three best players to satisfy the ninth and 10th best players on the roster.
The Jazz have a deep roster. They have a majority of their opening night roster spots filled, and rotation minutes are already accounted for. Reserve backcourt minutes will likely be the key position battle in the preseason.
With Exum and Mudiay as the front-runners to win the spot, it’s likely one former top 10 guards will find himself getting the lion's share of the backup minutes, with another former prep star on the outside looking in.