NBA Position Battles: A New Style of Jazz

With Donovan Mitchell soaring and Ricky Rubio in a tailspin, is it time for the Jazz to embrace a new backcourt?

Last time we delved into the realm of NBA position battles, we focused on a trio of complicated center situations in Brooklyn, Phoenix and Los Angeles. While none of those rotations seem set in stone after two more weeks of play, we're going to let those sit in favor of some interesting backcourt rotations in today's NBA.

All over the NBA, there are seemingly countless internal clashes (and some we'll touch on in the lightning round) popping up or solving themselves on a weekly -- or even daily -- basis. Due to a combination of injuries and turmoil caused by questions of franchise direction, though, this squad's backcourt is atop this week's battles.

Utah's Changing of the Guards

Over the last three seasons under head coach Quin Snyder, the Utah Jazz have made their name as a slow-paced team built on lock-down defense.

Season Pace Def Rating
2016-17 93.6 102.7
2015-16 93.3 101.6
2014-15 92.8 102.1
*Numbers courtesy of

Relative to the rest of the Association, Snyder's Jazz have done the opposite of running n' gunning. In all three seasons, they've ranked dead last in the league in pace, topping out at a blazing 93.6 possessions per 48 a year ago. Meanwhile, they've finished 12th, 8th and 3rd in defensive rating in consecutive seasons.

In 2017, the defensive state of mind is still there. Utah's 104.2 points allowed per 100 possessions ranks seventh among all teams and is 3.0 points better than the league-average. But with Gordon Hayward and George Hill elsewhere, an influx of young talent stepping into minutes and Rudy Gobert going down with an injury, the Jazz appear to be playing their way into today's up-and-down analytics-driven league.

Through 23 games (11 sans Gobert), the Jazz are averaging 97.6 possessions per 48 minutes, according to Without their star big man, that figure is still 96.4, but it creeps up to 25th and is less than three possessions fewer than average over that 11-game span. Much of that can be attributed to rookie Donovan Mitchell, who has pushed the pace to 97.5 while on the court, compared to 94.2 with him off of it. In contrast, with fellow guard Ricky Rubio on the floor, the Jazz have played at a pace of 94.7, as opposed to 98.0 with him off.

The same goes for the team's offensive efficiency. Whether he is struggling with the adjustment to Utah's system or he's just having a down year, Rubio has been a -12.7 in terms of offensive rating over the team's last 11. With him off the floor, the Jazz have operated with a rating of 120.2, which has been influenced by Mitchell's play. Over the same span, the 21-year-old Mitchell has impacted the offense by 3.1 points per 100 possessions. By his side, Alec Burks has been even more influential, with an on-court offensive rating of 117.5, compared to Rodney Hood's 115.2 rating in his eight games played absent Gobert.

Even if we disregard Hood's long list of injuries, it looks like Mitchell and Burks are the makeup of a one-two combo best equipped to play in today's NBA.

Backcourt Minutes Pace Off Rating Def Rating Net Rating
Rubio-Burks 80 95.3 109.7 92.2 17.5
Mitchell-Burks 113 97.3 122.4 106.3 16.0
Mitchell-Hood 119 98.6 113.3 113.7 -0.4
Rubio-Hood 69 92.8 105.9 107.3 -1.4
Rubio-Mitchell 179 96.2 107.8 109.6 -1.8

From the same 11-game sample, Rubio and Burks have had the highest net rating of these five combinations. However, it's their defense and not their offense that's so impressive. In today's league, efficient offense is key, and the Mitchell-Burks duo has proven to be a sustainable (not to mention uptempo) offensive force in more than 100 minutes of play -- and that's without Gobert.

It remains to be seen how Gobert's return will affect the backcourt play, so that's something to watch. Still, the bottom line is that -- until proven otherwise -- Mitchell and Burks need to be the featured backcourt in Utah.

Lightning Round

This past week, all the talk in Memphis has been about the firing of coach David Fizdale and the reported gap between he and star center Marc Gasol. And, naturally, there's reason to wonder about the team's future. Grizzlies management is sticking it out and hoping to compete with Gasol and Mike Conley on the roster for the foreseeable future. Around them, though, there seems to be a mix of players in line to start at the shooting guard and small forward spots.

With Conley out, Fizdale had been running out Mario Chalmers, Dillon Brooks and Chandler Parsons. But in the team's first two games under interim coach B.J. Bickerstaff, Chalmers and Parsons have been replaced by Tyreke Evans at point and Ben McLemore at shooting guard. The results have been abysmal, with that lineup posting a net rating of -19.8 and a true shooting percentage of 48.7% in two games against the San Antonio Spurs. It's hard to make a suggestion with Conley returning at some point, but it's clear that Bickerstaff's first crack at a lineup isn't working out, although the Spurs have a way of making a lot of opponents look bad.

For the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks, it's a totally different story. Both teams have solved the issue of which player to start and which to feature off the bench on the wing. In Toronto, coach Dwane Casey's decision to bring Norman Powell off the bench and start rookie OG Anunoby has produced three wins and a top-five net rating over the last five games.

As for Jason Kidd and the Bucks, they've found success with Tony Snell starting and Malcolm Brogdon bringing his ball-handling ability and scoring off the bench. In the last two games, they're 2-0 with an impressive road win over the Portland Trail Blazers. Furthermore, they boast a point differential of +37 and league-leading 20.9 net rating in that short span.

In Orlando and San Antonio, injuries are having opposite effects. Unfortunately, the Magic will have to go without Terrence Ross for a significant amount of time after the swingman suffered a sprained MCL and a fracture of his tibial plateau. Jonathon Simmons had recently stepped into the starting role, with Ross playing sixth man off the bench, but Simmons will be forced to play big minutes until further notice. So far, it looks like Simmons will be fine doing just that. Over 31.9 minutes, he's averaged 14.8 points per game in four starts this season.

The question is about whether the Magic can survive the East after a 1-10 skid. The same question is nowhere to be found in San Antonio, though. With Tony Parker back, it appears that he'll be the team's starter and log limited minutes. That puts Patty Mills in a more familiar spot, playing 25-plus minutes off the bench as youngster Dejounte Murray fades into limited minutes -- Murray has averaged just 6.7 minutes in the three games since Parker's return.