George Hill. Rodney Hood. Gordon Hayward. Derrick Favors. Rudy Gobert.
Before the 2016-17 NBA season started, the Utah Jazz’s starting lineup was ranked No. 5 in the league by CBS Sports. The Jazz’s bench was ranked No. 1.
The rankings came after the Jazz bolstered their roster in the offseason, adding George Hill, Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson.
Now over a month into the season, the Jazz have a middling 11-9 record and sit near the bottom of the Western Conference’s playoff picture. Last night’s 111-110 loss to the Miami Heat perfectly encapsulated the lone difficulty in an otherwise brilliant start to the season: injuries.
Last night, point guard and Western Conference player of the week George Hill sat out with a sprained toe. It was Hill’s ninth missed game this season. Rodney Hood was sidelined by a strained hamstring. Power forward Derrick Favors, one of the league’s top big men, missed his seventh-straight game with a knee injury. Meanwhile, explosive sixth- man Alec Burks is out indefinitely after a surgery on his ankle.
Hayward, the undisputed star of the Jazz, missed the first weeks of the season with a broken finger. Diaw has missed significant time with a bone contusion. In these absences, the Jazz have had no choice but to give significant playing time to bench players Trey Lyles, Shelvin Mack and Joe Ingles.
When healthy, the Jazz are undefeated. Though it now seems like a distant memory, the Jazz were able to shellack the San Antonio Spurs 106-91 on Nov. 1. Hood, Hill, Favors and Gobert combined to score 53 points that night.
Hill is averaging 20 points and 4.2 assists per game this season, but he’s only played in eight games this season. Hayward is averaging 22 points and 6.6 rebounds, so it isn’t difficult to see why the Jazz have an unblemished record when both are playing.
The Jazz have 62 games remaining on the season to overcome the injury bug. Most experts predict that, when healthy, the Jazz can compete for the No. 4 or No. 5 seed in the Western Conference.
The Jazz have 14 games remaining in December, 10 of which are at Vivint Smarthome Arena.