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Utah Jazz position preview: The wings

Yesterday we examined the Utah Jazz’s point guard situation as the team gets set to begin the 2016-17 season.

Today we examine Quin Snyder’s options at the wing positions.


A season in review


A year ago, the Jazz looked to be quite strong on the wings, as Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks were primed to take the lion’s share of the minutes.

While Hood and Hayward stayed remarkably healthy, missing just five games combined, Burks was plagued by injuries for the second consecutive season and appeared in just 31 contests. This forced Snyder to play Joe Ingles and Chris Johnson 15 and 12 minutes per game respectively, contributing in a big way to Utah’s bench struggles.

Additionally, because of Dante Exum’s ACL injury, Hayward, Hood and Ingles were thrust into more distribution responsibilities, which somewhat hindered their ability to make plays on the wing.


A look at this year


Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said before last summer’s free agency period began that he’d be bringing in “reinforcements” to bolster the team. One of those reinforcements is forward Joe Johnson, a 16-year pro who has been to seven All-Star games.

While the 35-year-old Johnson is certainly past his prime and struggled to get going during the preseason, he’s a player who showed the ability to score as recently as last year. From a more intangible standpoint, he’s a playoff veteran who Hood has said has begun to help mentor him.

Already Johnson’s presence on Utah’s roster has been a boon. He opened the preseason as a reserve, but moved into the starting lineup when Hayward broke his finger Oct. 7 and will likely stay there for the first few weeks of the season until Hayward returns.

Additionally, Burks hasn’t suited up at all as he’s still rehabbing from offseason knee surgery and Hood missed a few preseason games with a hand injury before returning Wednesday night in the finale against Portland.

As the season begins without Hayward and perhaps without Burks, Johnson will need to be an effective help for Hood in shouldering some of the scoring load. Johnson will become that much more important should Burks be unavailable for an extended period of time.

Beyond those four, Ingles is back as a solid voice in the locker room who can be a playmaker for others when he’s on the floor, while Chris Johnson is among those battling for the Jazz’s last roster spot. Exum saw some time at shooting guard during the preseason, although it’s unclear whether or not Snyder will give him consistent minutes there once the regular season begins.


Forecast


Granted it was only preseason, but Hayward was off to a noticeably good start before getting injured, and he’ll again be looking to be one of the most complete small forwards in the league when he returns.

Having played nearly every game last season after an injury-filled rookie year, the big question surrounding Hood is whether or not he can improve upon the 14.5 points per game he averaged in the 2015-16 campaign.

Burks’ health is the biggest uncertainty in the unit. Incredibly aggressive at getting to the basket, Burks gives Utah’s offense a unique element, but he has missed most of the last two seasons.

For the unit as a whole, however, it stands to reason that this season will be much better since it is better equipped to handle injuries thanks to the addition of Johnson.

Ryan McDonald is a sports reporter at DeseretNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanwmcdonald.