SALT LAKE CITY — The result of the Utah Jazz’s first scrimmage after a four-month layoff is not important.
Sure, after getting those first-game jitters out of the way and shaking off some of the rust, the players wanted to win, but what was more prudent was experimenting with different lineups and identifying areas that need improvement.
“We can use everything going forward. Tony and Rudy, that’s a combination you can see, at the same time it’s a combination you may not see. It’s really going to be dictated for us by the game and the matchups. Our substitution patterns could vary depending on who we’re playing and what we’re trying to do.” — Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder
The Jazz started the game with the expected unit of Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley, Royce O’Neale and Joe Ingles.
From there, more of the expected with Jordan Clarkson and Georges Niang being the first subs to enter the game and later Tony Bradley giving Gobert some rest. But, when O’Neale committed his fourth foul in the second quarter, Jazz coach Quin Snyder had to zag a little and go with a smaller lineup.
Mitchell, Conley, Clarkson, Ingles and Gobert closed out the first half. That lineup with Bojan Bogdanovic in place of Clarkson is a familiar one for the Jazz, playing a total of 236 minutes together during the regular season. With Clarkson instead of Bogdanovic, Thursday was the first time the group had played in a game together.
While the Jazz can probably bank on O’Neale being able to stay on the floor longer once more of the rust has been wiped away and the players become more disciplined over the next few weeks, being able to see a different rotation and adapt to foul trouble is absolutely translatable to games that matter.
“It gave us a chance to see that smaller lineup,” Snyder said. “When we are small, it’s even more important. ... We’ve got to be better from a positional standpoint and just have to have more emphasis on the ball.”
Snyder’s observations about the defense allowing movement and the Phoenix Suns players to pick and choose their driving lanes was echoed by Mitchell who emphasized the need, no matter the lineup, to be better on defense.
“Being able to guard is the biggest thing we have to improve on from this game,” he said.
Certainly the defense could have been better, especially during the first half of Thursday’s 40-minute scrimmage, though if there was going to be rust on the offensive end, there certainly would be some on the other side. The instincts and quick movements necessary on the defensive side of the ball will come back the more the players are able to compete.
One of the things that the Jazz are having to contend with on defense without Bogdanovic is their lack of size. The Croatian sharp-shooter isn’t a great defender but his 6-foot-8, 226-pound frame was a weapon for the Jazz.
In an effort to combat their lack of size, Snyder hinted before Thursday’s contest that they might play Gobert and Bradley together, another new lineup. Then, in the second half, with O’Neale still waiting patiently for his chance to come back in and wanting to get a different look than the small lineup he’d tried in the first half, Snyder sent his two bigs to the court.
The move reminded both Gobert and Mitchell of sharing the court with Derrick Favors, a familiar feeling for the Jazz’s two stars.
“I love it,” Gobert said. “I think it can be a strength if we learn how to play together both defensively and offensively. ... I’m used to it because I’m used to playing with Fave. For Tony, it’s a little bit something new. I believe in it.”
Although the pairing produced one of the best highlights of the night — a quick dish from Gobert to Bradley, who finished with a two-handed dunk — Snyder made sure to emphasize that although he likes the two-big combo, matchups would dictate what the Jazz do when things really matter.
“We can use everything going forward,” he said. “Tony and Rudy, that’s a combination you can see, at the same time it’s a combination you may not see. It’s really going to be dictated for us by the game and the matchups. Our substitution patterns could vary depending on who we’re playing and what we’re trying to do.”
The Jazz will play their second exhibition game at 2 p.m. MDT on Saturday, but the game will be broadcast on tape delay on AT&T SportsNet at 7 p.m.