Depth on display with Juancho Hernangomez and Nickeil Alexander-Walker stepping up
Two of the Utah Jazz’s newest additions got an opportunity for extended run against Chicago on Wednesday — and they did not disappoint
The Utah Jazz found themselves playing without three of their regular rotations players Wednesday night.
With Bojan Bogdanovic (left calf strain), Danuel House Jr. (left knee bone bruise) and Trent Forrest (right wrist sprain) sidelined, Jazz coach Quin Snyder needed to make up some minutes using players deep on the bench.
As a thought experiment, imagine this situation last season. Imagine Bogdanovic, Georges Niang and Forrest weren’t able to play. Joe Ingles probably starts in place of Bogdanovic, leaving the bench almost completely bare save for Jordan Clarkson. Then there’s probably extended minutes for Miye Oni and maybe Elijah Hughes.
But on Wednesday night against the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed Chicago Bulls, Snyder not only had more viable players to use, but had to make tough decisions in deciding who to play.
He could have gone with Eric Paschall in place of Bogdanovic, for size and strength. He could have put Rudy Gay into the starting lineup and used Paschall as a backup to Gay. He could have used Jared Butler to create some offense in the minutes that Forrest missed.
What Snyder ended up going with was starting Juancho Hernangomez and giving Nickeil Alexander-Walker some minutes off the bench. With no offense intended toward players from past rosters, both Hernangomez and Alexander-Walker are a huge upgrade to what the Jazz have been used to over the past few years when it comes to deep bench players.
What the Jazz got out of the two newly acquired players was exactly what they needed against the Bulls — strong rebounding and defensive attentiveness from Hernangomez and length paired with the ability to move around screens and stick with dynamic scorers from Alexander-Walker.
Following a third quarter in which Donovan Mitchell went off for 25 of his 37 points, Alexander-Walker scored 14 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, proving himself to be more than just a defender.
When asked what happened that allowed him to score so readily in the fourth, Alexander-Walker said that reading the defense was simple once all of their attention was on one player.
“I think Don happened,” he said. “The gravity he pulls to himself, the shots he was making after he got hot after that technical foul ... they were so hyperfocused on him.”
So with an opening created by the Bulls doubling and blitzing Mitchell, players like Alexander-Walker, Clarkson and Royce O’Neale were able to take advantage on the offensive end.
That’s how the 125-110 Jazz win ended. But Snyder was quick to point out that stretching the lead in the fourth quarter was a result of the work on the defensive end that had been put in since the opening tip.
“He was focused on defense and he was playing well before he knocked down some shots,” Snyder said of Alexander-Walker. “Donovan’s willingness to get off the ball with the blitz and then other guys — J.C., Nickeil, Royce — being ready to shoot, that’s where we were able to break the game open. Prior to that though, Juancho as well, on the defensive end these guys were focused and they guarded.”
Last season we might have been talking about how Mike Conley rushed in to save a depleted roster on a night like Wednesday, or even worse we would be talking about a bad loss to the Bulls because the Jazz didn’t have a roster deep enough to compete at a high level.
While there are questions surrounding the legitimacy of this team and how well built they are for the playoffs, and if they are destined for another first- or second-round exit, at least this much is true: The Jazz are a deeper team than they were last year, and that’s a good thing.