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Utah Jazz: Quality and depth of Jazz bench definitely in need of an upgrade

SALT LAKE CITY — David Locke, the radio play-by-play voice of the Utah Jazz, has a word he likes to use when describing last season's performance of the team's top five players:


Yet, seeing that the Jazz finished their season with a mediocre 40-42 record, it's obvious that something on their squad must be, well, maybe not so fabulous.

And that something, it seems, would be the quality and depth of their bench. Outside of Trey Lyles, who stepped up and performed well as a rookie forward last season, and perhaps injury-plagued shooting guard Alec Burks, the rest of Utah's reserves often proved to be less than stellar during the 2015-16 NBA campaign.

Locke attributes Utah's late-game struggles in close contests to a lack of quality depth, which allowed games to remain tight when a better bench might've been capable of building on what the starters had, well, started and extending a lead rather than falling behind or treading water and merely keeping the game close.

"When you get into the analytics of lining up all the data, whenever we have our core guys on the floor together, we were fabulous," Locke said, speaking of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood and Lyles, with either Shelvin Mack or Raul Neto at point guard.

"So much focus of the Jazz season has been placed on the final five minutes and their inability to win games in the final five minutes. My contention is if they become deeper and better in the first 43 minutes, they'll win more games in the last five minutes because they'll come into those games ahead rather than behind.

"The Jazz were about .500 when they were ahead after 43 minutes," he said. "They've got to get better in the first 43; that'll solve the last five."

In other words, Utah's starters were depended upon to carry too much of the load and wound up coming up short, because their backups often weren't capable of doing what they were called upon to do.

That's another reason why Thursday's NBA draft takes on added significance for the Jazz franchise because, if they hope to improve and reach the playoffs next season, they must build their depth and bolster their lineup either via the draft or free agency.

One NBA insider said the Jazz simply didn't have much NBA-caliber talent on their bench.

"Look around the league, and guys like Trey Burke and Raul Neto probably wouldn't play for anybody else but the 76ers," he said, speaking under the condition of anonymity.

Lyles was one exception to the bench being a cupboard-is-bare problem, as the 6-foot-10 forward out of Kentucky averaged 6.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game and filled in very admirably whenever he was thrust into a starting role to take the place of either Favors or Gobert, who each missed sizable chunks of the season due to injuries.

Burks was averaging over 13 points per game when he suffered a fractured ankle in late December. He missed more than 50 games before returning with less than a week left in the season.

Here's a closer look at Utah's reserves from last season, and what an NBA insider, speaking on the condition of anonymity, had to say about some of them:

Trey Lyles, 6-10 forward, one year of NBA experience — Averaged 6.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game, shot 43.8 percent from the field.

"It's too early in his career for him to be a starter, but he could become really special offensively. There's a chance he becomes a top-10 power forward in this league."

Trevor Booker, 6-8 power forward, six years NBA experience — Averaged 5.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, but shot just 23 of 90 outside of 8 feet from the basket. A free agent, he "would like to return to Utah if he doesn't get another offer somewhere else."

Alec Burks, 6-6 shooting guard, five years NBA experience — Averaged 13.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and two assists per game, but shot just 41 percent from the field and missed 51 games with a fractured ankle after playing just 27 games the season before due to a season-ending shoulder injury.

His true value to the team is still somewhat of an unknown due to injuries in back-to-back seasons, "but his biggest asset — driving to the basket — doesn't work very well in Utah's offense when Gobert or Favors are on the floor."

Joe Ingles, 6-8 forward, two years NBA experience — Averaged 4.2 points and 1.9 rebounds per game. He's a great locker-room presence and likable role player, but "the fact remains he was cut by the Clippers and failed to get an offer from Golden State or Memphis before catching on with the Jazz. So his on-the-court contributions are somewhat limited."

Shelvin Mack, 6-3 point guard, five years NBA experience — Averaged 12.7 points, 5.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds after coming to the Jazz in a trade and starting 27 of the 28 games he played in for Utah.

Assuming a healthy Dante' Exum returns and resumes his role as Utah's starter, Mack would become a backup at the point. "If he's your third point guard, you're great."

Raul Neto, 6-1 point guard, one year NBA experience — Averaged 5.9 points and 2.1 assists, starting 53 games in his rookie NBA season.

"He'd be a solid third point guard for a team."

Trey Burke, 6-1 point guard, three years NBA experience — Averaged 10.6 points and 2.3 assists per game, but shot just 41.3 percent from the field.

"He's going to be a good backup wherever he goes."

Jeff Withey, 7-foot center, three years NBA experience — Averaged 4.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Played in 51 games and made the most of his opportunity.

Tibor Pleiss, 7-3 center, one year NBA experience — Averaged 0.9 points in 12 games, seeing sparse playing time as a rookie. He's a project and a work in progress.

Chris Johnson, 6-6 forward, four years NBA experience — Averaged 2.9 points and 2.1 assists per game in 70 games, but shot just 37 percent from the field.

"It's the first time he's played on more than a 10-game contract."

Yes, it's obvious the Jazz definitely have some holes to fill and plenty of room for an upgrade in the depth department. Whether or not that starts with Thursday's draft, or by diving head-first into the free agent pool, remains to be seen.