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Jazz are taking the long view with Mike Conley this season

Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder talks to guard Donovan Mitchell (45) and guard Mike Conley (11) during the game against the Denver Nuggets at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021.

Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder talks to guard Donovan Mitchell (45) and guard Mike Conley (11) during the game against the Denver Nuggets at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY β€” Jared Butler used the word "hard" seven times in his four-minute postgame interview Saturday.

It's hard to adjust to a new team.

It's hard to know exactly what to do on the court.

It's hard trying to run a system he hasn't yet mastered.

It's hard knowing how he should feel after a loss when there's another game less than 24 hours away.

"It's just hard, that's the only way I can explain it," Butler said.

The Utah Jazz rookie got his first extended action Saturday during Utah's 107-99 loss to the Bulls in Chicago. Such opportunities will be coming more and more for Butler. When exactly? A good guess would be to check at the schedule and look at the back to back games, where Mike Conley likely won't be playing both sets of those. The next one comes next weekend in Florida.

Conley missed 21 of the Jazz's 72 regular-season games a season ago due to a hamstring injury. A similar injury kept him out of the first five games of the team's second-round series against the LA Clippers β€” and limited him in the sixth and final game.

But Utah is going to be proactive when it comes to managing Conley this season. So while Conley had an injury designation on the injury report ("Right Knee Injury Maintenance") it may as well have said "We'd rather have him healthy in the playoffs."

Conley wasn't injured; he was resting.

It's the right long-term play. The Jazz don't have anything to prove in the regular season, and the questions facing this team won't even begin to be answered until at least May. It's prudent to try and make the regular season as less of a grind as they possibly can.

But by doing that, Utah will face some nights like Saturday against the Bulls.

Chicago's Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso continually made life miserable for ball handlers, challenging every dribble, every pass and every action. It would have been tough with Conley, but without him? Well, that's how you get 20 turnovers and a lot of complaining to the refs.

Donovan Mitchell finished 9 of 27 and Jordan Clarkson was 5 of 19. The Jazz really need more efficient nights from those two ball handlers when Conley is out of the lineup.

"Playing without Mike, that's something we're going to do and we need to be better doing that," coach Quin Snyder said. "Their size and athleticism on the perimeter made it harder for us. But we've got to space better, got to move the ball quicker."

Those are things Conley excels at. He's so quick at knowing what the defense is going to give up on certain possessions and then finding it. It's less exciting than a Mitchell crossover or a Clarkson out-of-control-but-somehow-not-out-of-control search dribble, but it's often more effective.

Utah will need a more cerebral approach from the two high-scoring guards in games Conley misses, especially since Butler, as he pointed at in the postgame, is still trying to find his footing.

Butler, who has gotten a couple minutes here and a couple minutes there in the first four games, played nine minutes on Saturday as he primarily filled in for Mitchell as the second unit point guard.

He went 0 for 3 for 0 points, committed two turnovers and was -16. In his postgame interview, he didn't shy away from how difficult it's been to adjust to the NBA.

"It's tough just because it's a new team for me and knowing where I'm at. Like, do I bring the ball down the court?" Butler said. "Just little things like that. That's what I'm just getting adjusted to and playing with the guys. I think it's that more so than playing against the guards."

Butler isn't ready to handle regular minutes, but these games should provide much-needed growth opportunities. Butler hasn't grasped the offense yet and isn't always sure where to be and what to do on the court. Once that changes, though, things should calm down for the rookie.

"It's game five, he's not going to know which plays to run for who on which side of the floor all ready," Mitchell said. "But I think he's doing a good job of being able to change his pace. We know he can score but he's being more of a point guard."

And on Saturday, a point guard is just what the Jazz needed.

But it's better to not have one in October than in May.


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