The Utah Jazz have had an exciting start to their offseason. After drafting three rookies in Taylor Hendricks, Keyonte George and Brice Sensabaugh, Utah traded Rudy Gay and a second-round pick to Atlanta Hawks for John Collins. In this move, the Jazz bought low (essentially trading nothing but cap space) on a 25-year-old high-flyer who recently struggled to find a role alongside Atlanta’s ball-dominant guards. Collins, who averaged over 20 points per game during the 2019-2020 season. game, while shooting 40.1% from three, now rounds out Utah’s athletic frontcourt.
While Collins will likely bring floor spacing and pressure above the rim in a Jazz uniform, his addition is a frontcourt composition that relies on playmaking from others. While both Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler played fantastically last year, they only scored respectively 25% and 32.9% of their field goals as unassisted, a number that puts them among the likes of Rudy Gobert (25.6%). While that likely says more about their ability to get open as cutters, screeners and lob threats, it also underscores the importance of having a consistent facilitator on the roster.
And frankly, at the moment the Jazz don’t have one. Forward Kelly Olynyk is probably Utah’s best floor general, and he played the de-facto point guard for much of last season. While Olynyk’s bumbling, stumbling, yet efficient style of play is fun to watch, it cannot function as the primary source of play in an NBA offense.
So who should the Jazz start at point guard? To help us find out, we’ll look at all of Utah’s options through the lens of basic and advanced passing metrics to get an idea of how each player performs as a facilitator in the lead-guard role. Then, with the help of film, we will also discuss each of their advantages and disadvantages to get a more holistic view of their potential in the role.
To be clear, passing metrics are not a perfect metric, nor do they encapsulate everything a lead guard does. But given the playmaking deficiencies on Utah’s roster, they’re a valuable way to look at this question.
Sexton stands as the most likely starting point guard for the Jazz. Last season, he averaged 14.3 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game while shooting 50.6% from the field and 39.3% from three. While healthy, Collin played surprisingly well for the Jazz, shooting efficiently and scoring well off the bench. But while there were reports that the Jazz and Will Hardy were trying to mold Sexton into a playmaker early in the season, the numbers didn’t reflect much of a change:
- AST: 2.9
- Potential AST: 5.8
- AST PTS Created: 7.5
- AST/TO: 1.62
- AST%: 17.8
- USG%: 23.0
- MIN: 23.9
These numbers are… nice. For reference, Jordan Clarkson, a player not known for his playmaking ability, ranked higher in each of these categories by about 25%, albeit at a higher usage rate. Both the basic and advanced metrics tell a simple story: Sexton doesn’t give the ball much for someone who has it in his hands relatively often. So what would Sexton offer as a starting guard?
Currently, Sexton stands as the best shooter out of the potential guard core. Have not been to far from a 50/40/90 season (he shot just 81% on free throws), he would add spacing to Utah’s starting lineup. This, combined with his ability to attack the basket, could help bend defenses and give him opportunities to create for others. Defenses have to respect him, and Sexton showed some ability with passes like this one:
Sexton also plays hard and gives effort on defense. While he doesn’t have great size, he partially makes up for it with a high motor. That counts for something.
Frankly, Sexton doesn’t have a great history of playing facilitator. He has never averaged more than 3.3 assists per game. struggle in his career and may be caught in tunnel vision. He will get out of control and try to make something out of nothing. Sometimes it leads to forced passes like this (sorry for the bad quality on this one):
And I don’t say that as a knock on Sexton. He’s good at making shots for himself! He has the ability to beat players off the dribble and bend defenses. But at the moment, I’m just not sure he’s a starting point guard in the NBA (and I’m not sure the Jazz think so either).
Nevertheless, I’d put my money on Sexton starting on Utah’s first tip-off.
The Horton-Tucker speech
In his first season in a Jazz uniform, Talen Horton-Tucker averaged a modest 10.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. game while shooting 41.9% from the field and 28.6% from three. Here is a breakdown of his passing metrics from last season
- AST: 3.8
- Potential AST: 7.2
- AST PTS Created: 10.0
- AST/TWO: 1.95
- AST%: 27.4
- USG%: 25.0
- MIN: 20.2
There’s an argument to be made that we should use THT’s post-All-Star break stats, as he posted significantly higher averages during that stretch. But in doing so, I think we miss all the low points in THT’s shooting, ball handling and passing that kept him off the court for large stretches of the season. The numbers above, like Sexton’s, are relatively pedestrian. Still, THT has a high AST% and potential AST rate, something that could point to more potential for him as a playmaker.
For Horton-Tucker, the most obvious advantages are related to his physical size and athleticism. He’s 6’4” with a 7-foot wingspan and can play above the rim, something the other potential point guards on this list can’t. This gives him an advantage when operating in the pick and roll, as he is more able to look over the defense, pressure the rim and make difficult passes.
At times throughout the season, he showed us that ability. Like in this clip, where THT is comfortably attacking from the pass, the weak side defender notices out of position and swings a pass to the corner:
On the defensive end, Horton-Tucker allows Utah to play with size advantages at every position. He’s not the most disciplined defender, but he can use his length to clog passing lanes and pick up the pockets of bad ball handlers.
In his time as Utah’s starting point guard last season, Horton-Tucker had a number of ill-advised turnovers. During that stretch (March to April), THT averaged over 3 turnovers a game, with many of them coming from sloppy passes.
Take, for example, this pass from THT that had no chance of being caught by anyone in the NBA:
Of course the idea was there. But if you’re throwing a lob from half court, you better be more on target than that.
Or this pass, which was simply unacceptable:
Another issue with playing THT at point guard is his shooting. At just 28% from three, Horton-Tucker isn’t much of a threat on defense from behind the arc. In a playoff setting, he could be played off the floor simply because of his shooting.
But turnovers aside, if it were up to me, I’d probably try to start Horton-Tucker at point guard because of his size and athleticism. A lineup of THT-Clarkson-Markkanen-Collins-Kessler has strong switch ability on defense and would be one of the most athletic first-fives in the league.
In his 22 games with the Jazz last season, Dunn averaged near career highs of 13.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game. After signing late in the season, Dunn proved his worth as a rotational NBA player, creating solid defense and efficient scoring.
Given his history as a shooter, Dunn is unlikely to shoot 53.7% from the field and 47.2% from three again next year. But something that will likely translate are his facilitation metrics, which were the best on Utah’s list after Mike Conley:
- AST: 5.6
- Potential AST: 10.8
- AST PTS Created: 14.7
- AST/TWO: 3.54
- AST%: 31.5
- USG%: 19.5
- MIN: 25.8
Compared to Sexton and Horton-Tucker, Dunn’s facilitation metrics are far better. He looks for his teammates more, commits fewer turnovers and does a better job of finding players in positions to score. But does that mean he has to start at point guard?
If the Jazz are simply looking to start the player who will most effectively run the offense and set up others, then yes. While his sample size in a Jazz jersey was small, outside of his shooting, the numbers were on par with the rest of his career. In that regard, he is the best player for the job.
As a defender, Dunn stands just 6’3″, but his long 6’9″ wingspan helps him make up for his lack of height. While I think his reputation as a defender may overshadow his actual production (he had a -0.02 D-LEBRON rating last season, per BBall Index), he averaged 1.1 steals per game. game in a Jazz uniform. Even with a lack of size, Dunn probably stands as Utah’s best defensive player at the time.
At this point in his career in his career, Dunn is not getting significantly better as a basketball player. He’s almost 30 years old, has bounced around the league the last few seasons and still has a questionable jump shot. I just don’t buy that he’s become a deadeye shooter over the last year, although I’d love to prove him wrong.
On top of that, there’s an argument that playing Dunn could cost you the opportunity to develop Collin Sexton, Talen Horton-Tucker or Keyonte George. Do the Jazz really want to invest those minutes in a player who doesn’t fit into their long-term plans?
George has set the world on fire during the Summer League. In the two Las Vegas games he played before the ankle injury, George averaged 29.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 8.5 assists. He has shattered all expectations of him.
With that said, I think it is currently unfair to assess George’s potential as a starting point guard for the Jazz, at least in the same context that we have Sexton, THT and Dunn. Sure, he has played against higher-level competition in the Summer League, but he has yet to play a real NBA game. To say he can or can’t do something based on a handful of Summer League games and his stats from Baylor feels irresponsible. There is not enough solid data to formulate an argument one way or the other.
However, I wanted to include him on the list since I think there is a very real possibility that he starts for the Jazz at point guard at some point in the season. Given how Will Hardy handled the rookie minutes last year, George will have to carve his own way into that role. But similar to how Walker Kessler forced his way onto the field last year, I wouldn’t put it past George to earn a bigger role come the end of the season.
After looking at each player, who do you feel is the best fit for the starting job on day one? Cast your vote in the poll below:
Who should start PG?
The Horton-Tucker speech
57 votes in total