SALT LAKE CITY — Quin Snyder doesn’t want to say it, but it seems obvious.
The Utah Jazz bench isn’t as good as it’s been in recent years.
After fielding one of the deepest teams in the NBA over the past couple of seasons, the Jazz bench has become thin this year and a bit of a liability, forcing the Jazz coach to play his main guys longer minutes and having fewer options to turn to when the starters are struggling.
For instance, in Wednesday’s win over Minnesota, Donovan Mitchell played nearly 38 minutes, his most of the season and three more than his season average of 34.9, which is up a minute over last year. Rudy Gobert, who doesn’t have a reliable backup with Ed Davis sidelined with a broken leg, played 35 minutes, slightly above his season average, up more than three minutes from last year. Bojan Bogdanovic played 36 minutes Wednesday.
It’s really not too much different than last year when Mitchell, Gobert and Joe Ingles all averaged more than 31 minutes per game and Ricky Rubio and Jae Crowder averaged 27. The difference comes further down the line.
Last year three more Jazz players averaged more than 20 minutes per game — Derrick Favors at 23.2, Royce O’Neale at 20.4 and Kyle Korver at 20.1. Four more players, Dante Exum (15.8) Thabo Sefolosha (12.2), Raul Neto (12.8) and Grayson Allen (10.9) averaged double-figure minutes, although they didn’t play in all games.
This season, Utah has six players averaging more than 27 minutes per game, but it falls off after that with newcomers Jeff Green (18.8) and Emmanuel Mudiay (16.8) as the only other two playing significant minutes. Tony Bradley was getting some significant minutes, but the third-year center hasn’t left the bench the past two games.
Aside from minutes, the biggest difference comes in production. This year, the Jazz starters are scoring 75 percent of the team’s points compared to last year’s 64 percent.
Still, Snyder is doing his best to support his bench players.
“I don’t really differentiate right now our bench from our starters, I’m focused on our team,” Snyder said when asked about his bench production. ”There isn’t a second unit to me, we’re not going to divide our team that way. It’s not five guys that are platooning, we’re a group. We can be better.”
Having Exum back, after he sat out for eight months with a knee injury, should help the Jazz. He played 14 minutes on Monday and eight Wednesday although he didn’t leave the bench in the second half.
“With Dante coming back and Ed (Davis) being out and other guys developing some continuity, I believe in our bench and our bench’s contribution,” Snyder said. “We’ve got some good young players in the program that are having an opportunity to get some minutes with the (Salt Lake) Stars, something that we believe in. So I would envision that continuing to grow.”
The latter players Snyder is referring to are Nigel Williams-Goss, Jerrell Brantley, Miye Oni, Juwan Morgan and Justin Wright-Foreman, who have taken turns filling the last two to three spots on the 13-man roster this season. However, those four have played just a total of 27 combined minutes so far.
Utah’s main player off the bench this season has been Ingles, who started 223 games during his first five years in the NBA before being put in his sixth-man role as O’Neale moved into the starting lineup.
Ingles has seen his numbers fall off dramatically in a reserve role, as his scoring average has dropped from 12.1 to 6.9 points a contest, his assists from 5.7 to 3.6 per game and his shooting percentages are down 10 points, from 44.8% to 34.0% overall and from 39.1% to 29.0% from 3-point range.
JAZZ NOTES: The Jazz will be facing the team with the worst record in the NBA when Utah takes on Golden State Friday night (7 p.m.) at Vivint Arena. It will be the first of a rare two-night homestand as Utah will play New Orleans on Saturday night in what will be a homecoming for longtime Jazzman Derrick Favors if he’s healthy. Favors has missed three straight games because of back spasms. ... The Jazz and Warriors have met once already this season, on Nov. 11 when the Jazz took a 122-108 victory. ... Former Jazzman Alec Burks scored a season-high 29 points in a Warrior win over Memphis Tuesday night. ... Rookie Eric Paschall, who has led the Warriors in scoring five times this year, including their last game on Wednesday, is a childhood friend of Donovan Mitchell’s. The two were best friends in Westchester County, New York, playing on the same AAU team and attending the same church. ... The Warriors are 3-13 after losing 142-94 Wednesday to Dallas, following a 19-point win over Memphis. Friday’s game will be the last of a six-day, four-game road trip.