Point guard position for Jazz uncertain going forward with free agent George Hill and 3 part-time starters
SALT LAKE CITY — No team in the NBA has played as many point guards for significant minutes as the Utah Jazz have over the past couple of seasons.
During the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, the Jazz started four different players at the point guard position for at least 25 games. Because of injuries and other factors, it’s been divided fairly equally among George Hill (49), Shelvin Mack (36), Raul Neto (53) and Dante Exum (26), who also started 41 games in 2014-15 as a rookie before sitting out a year with a knee injury.
Those four are among a dozen players the Jazz have started at point guard since Deron Williams was traded in 2011 after manning the point for five and a half years. With Hill’s status up in the air as a free agent, the Jazz have little idea right now who will be the starting point guard when the 2017-18 season opens in October.
Hill is the logical choice should he decide to re-sign with Utah, albeit at a much higher price tag than the $8 million he received this past season. At Tuesday’s season-ending press conference, Hill wouldn’t reveal his plans, saying, “I let that take care of itself this summer,” but he had nothing but good things to say about his time in Utah.
“I loved it,” he said. “I love the culture, the fans, the organization . . . I was fortunate to be in this position with these guys and happy with what we accomplished as a group. We set some goals to get 40-plus wins, 50-plus and get to the playoffs and we accomplished those things. Hopefully we continue to build in the future.”
That sounds like Hill wants to stick around and he also talked about how Hayward “is like my little brother now.” But the Jazz may not be able to pay him what another franchise may offer.
Hill said “it didn’t end the way I like it with the injuries,” as he was limited to 49 games because of injuries to his thumb, toe, groin and concussion symptoms. But he dismissed the idea that he is injury–prone, saying he only had one major injury in his first eight seasons in the NBA.
If Hill does opt to go elsewhere on the free agent market, the Jazz must decide if one of their other three point guards is up to the task of becoming a full-time NBA starter. Otherwise, they may look at the free agent market or a trade for a starting point guard, which isn’t easy in a league where top point guards are at a premium.
When coach Quin Snyder was asked about the point guard logjam, he mostly deferred, saying, “A lot will come down to what guys do this summer. There’s always competition and that’s a good thing because it accelerates growth and fuels improvement. I feel good about everyone who’s played that position.”
The night before, Snyder had praised Exum, a player that he didn’t want to single out during the season. He hinted that the reason Exum didn’t see more minutes was because of a lack of team play by the 21-year-old Australian.
“What Dante’s shown, the last half of the season especially, is his ability to play within the team and help the team,” he said. “Anytime you’re on the floor and help your team play better, you’re doing a good job.”
Snyder also pointed out that Exum, Mack and Neto have all been starters for significant stretches over the past two years and also how they’ve each been the fourth-string point guard.
“That’s unusual, so to be able to ride that roller-coaster, you have to respect them,” he said. “It’s always gratifying when you see guys coming back raise their level and that’s what you saw (all three) do.”
Exum admitted to being frustrated by his lack of playing time — he averaged just 18.6 minutes, didn’t get off the bench for nine games and was injured for seven.
“Obviously it’s frustrating when your minutes go up and down,” he said. “It’s something as a professional athlete you have to fight through.”
However, Exum says he’s confident he can take over starting point guard duties if Hill decides to go elsewhere.
“I definitely have confidence in myself that I’m a point guard and ready to lead this team, whatever George decides,” he said.
Mack, who joined the team in February of 2016 when he immediately took over starting point guard duties from Neto, hardly played for nearly two months when he was relegated to No. 4 on the depth chart and then got injured. However, he got the playoff minutes against Golden State, perhaps to the chagrin of many Jazz fans, who are rooting for Exum to turn into the star he was projected to be when the Jazz drafted him in 2014 with the No. 5 pick.
Mack performed admirably against Golden State, averaging 12.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists while making 6 of 12 3-point shots, but he isn’t looked at as the long-term solution and he seems to know that as a free agent.
“Everything will take care of itself,” he said. “I’m thankful and blessed and I’ll be in the NBA next year, so I’m taking it one season at a time and I’ll let my agent handle that.”
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As for Neto, his future is uncertain after starting 53 games as a rookie and then not starting and playing in just 40 games total this year.
“I was thinking my first season would be like this and it was kind of the opposite,” he said. “It was a different season for me, but I got better and I think that’s what matters.”
The Jazz have a team option on Neto, who turns 25 next week.
“We’ll see how things go with the Jazz during the summer,” he said. “We have a lot of free agents and they have a lot of decisions to make. I hope I’m here, I’m real happy and I’ll work hard to take my opportunities for next year.”
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Published at Wed, 10 May 2017 20:42:00 +0000