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Utah Jazz position analysis and video: The big men

After taking a look at the point guards and the wings, the third and final installment of our Utah Jazz position previews for the 2016-17 season will be focused on the big men.


Season in review


The Jazz continued to build their identity around defense during the 2015-16 campaign, thanks in large part to Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert. The two combined to average 19.1 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game and added a combined 25.5 points per contest on the offensive end.

Both were limited by injuries, however, as Gobert missed 21 games and Favors 20. This allowed for rookie Trey Lyles to play a more prominent role, and he finished his first season with averages of 6.1 points and 3.7 rebounds in 17.3 minutes per contest (he played in 80).

Additionally, Trevor Booker brought toughness off the bench and Jeff Withey was solid in a supporting role after joining the team during training camp. Promising rookie Tibor Pleiss floundered, appearing in just 12 games.


A look at this year


With Favors and Gobert as frontcourt stalwarts and Lyles emerging as a skilled, change-of-pace forward who contrasts the starters well, the Jazz over the summer sought one more big man who is capable of stretching the floor.

They certainly got that in July when they traded the draft rights of guard Olivier Hanlan to the San Antonio Spurs for Boris Diaw, one of the most versatile big men in the NBA. The Frenchman entered the league as a guard, but now at 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, he can play power forward and even center.

A tremendous passer and more athletic than his build might indicate, Diaw’s playmaking and 3-point shooting already helped open up Utah’s offense during the preseason. More particularly, he is building a rapport on the court with Gobert, his countryman. Lyles, who has shown to have similar skills as Diaw, has said he hopes to learn from the 13-year veteran.

Additionally, Diaw brings with him five years of experience in the Spurs organization as well as a championship from his time there, and he’s said he’s eager to help teach younger Jazz players.

Beyond those four, Utah drafted former Weber State star Joel Bolomboy with the 52nd pick in June’s draft and signed him to a contract that is guaranteed for $600,000 this year, while Withey is essentially in a fight with Chris Johnson for the Jazz’s final roster spot.

Booker signed with the Brooklyn Nets while Pleiss was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, waived and now plays in Turkey.


Forecast


With the addition of Diaw, Utah has an incredibly complete and versatile frontcourt. Favors and Gobert will provide most of the heavy lifting inside, while Diaw and Lyles fit the mold of more modern NBA big men who are able to stretch the floor and make plays for others.

There are a few things to watch as the season progresses, however. Gobert didn’t take as much of a leap last season as many expected he might, although that may have been because of his injury challenges. Utah has the option until Oct. 31 of extending his contract beyond next season, otherwise he’ll become a restricted free agent next summer.

Favors is expected to be healthy as the season begins, although he did miss the last five preseason games with some knee trouble. He is in line for a contract renegotiation.

Lyles will be looking to make a jump in his second year and will likely be simultaneously challenged for playing time and mentored by Diaw. Bolomboy is a raw athlete who Jazz coaches will have the opportunity to help develop, and Utah has until Oct. 24 to decide if it’s going to keep Johnson or Withey.

Newcomer Joe Johnson is expected to see most of his time on the wing, especially early while Gordon Hayward is injured, but he could also play some power forward in small ball lineups.

As far as subtractions, it’s unclear if the Jazz will have a player who can come off the bench and provide energy in the same manner Booker so often did.

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