Posted by: Jeff Winget on February 5th, 2012The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of the Utah Jazz.
During Earl Watson’s gutty performance last night against the Lakers, and really for the last couple weeks, a number of Jazz fans have been clamoring on Twitter and elsewhere for Earl Watson to start over Devin Harris. Watson has won over Jazz Nation with his guts, tenacity, and energy that he brings every time he steps on the floor. Jazz fans appreciate his blue collar, no nonsense approach to the game, and they would like to reward his hustle and heart. I would like to as well. However, even though Earl has earned the starting spot, I feel he should stay in the backup role behind Devin Harris.
*Pause for Jazz fan freakout*
Ok, if you’re still reading after my thesis, let me lay out my case for Devin to start and Earl to continue as the backup:
Our 1st and 2nd units have different personalities
Contrary to popular belief, the Jazz’s starting lineup is full of veterans.
- Harris (8th year)
- Bell (12th year)
- Hayward (2nd year)
- Millsap (6th year)
- Jefferson (8th year)
With the exception of Hayward, the Jazz starters have all had plenty of time in the league. They play a traditional style, setting up in the half court and running the ball through the post. Millsap and Jefferson have developed a nice chemistry in the post game and have both become willing passers who feed off of each other’s success.
While they can get out and run, our starting 5 seems more comfortable in the half court offense. They punish teams on the inside. In this type of offense, Harris is a good choice at point guard. He penetrates well in the half court offense and is a capable outside shooter. He’s also a good cutter or spot-up shooter when he doesn’t have the ball, which allows Hayward to play the role of distributor where he is very comfortable. The starting group has developed a nice chemistry together with Harris at the point.
Our second group, on the other hand, is full of young guys who like to work on defense and run the fast break. They are young and athletic. Our second unit bigs, Favors and Kanter, excel in the open court. They have shown a willingness to get out and run, and Watson has proven time and again that he will get them the ball to reward them for running the floor. Also, Watson’s toughness and leadership keep our second unit together. He is the perfect fit for that group.
Millsap and Watson are the team leaders
If the Jazz were to have a team MVP vote at this point of the season, Millsap would win, but Watson would be a close second. The two of them are the leaders of the team, and their teammates look to them for guidance throughout the game. With Watson coming off the bench, at least one of our leaders is on the floor at all times. The team benefits from their leadership, and struggles when one of them isn’t there. For example, look at the end of the Clippers game and the Warriors game. Not having Watson was a huge problem. In fact, I think the Jazz win the Clippers game if he is in.
Watson is a spark plug
If you look around the league at players who succeed coming off the bench (Jason Terry, young Manu Ginobli, Jamal Crawford, and Lamar Odom), they are all spark plug type players. They come off the bench and make an immediate impact. They don’t need 2-3 minutes to get into the flow of the game. They create flow with their very presence. Watson is that type of player (so is Josh Howard, but that is another post). His energy is infectious, and he could very well be the leader of the best bench in basketball before the year is over.
Watson shouldn’t play more than 25 minutes per game
One benefit that the Jazz have because of their depth is that players don’t have to play big minutes in a compressed, lockout-shortened season. Last night against the Lakers, only 2 Jazzmen played more than 30 minutes. Al Jefferson and Gordon Hayward both played 31. This moderation of minutes will help as the Jazz head into the brutal stretch of their schedule in February and March. It is especially useful for small veterans like Watson who benefit from a decreased load.
I include this last point mainly to dissuade the argument that Watson could play with both the first and the second group. Coach Corbin should limit his minutes like he has, and having him come off the bench with the group he plays the best with is an excellent way to do that.
Even though I believe Watson should come off the bench for the reasons above, he should be in for the end of the game like he was last night. Harris starting and Watson finishing is a winning combination for the Jazz.
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