UPDATE: The Jazz have changed their minds on which member of their starting five is heading to the bench. While original reporting indicated that Mike Conley would lose his spot in the lineup to Royce O’Neale, that will not be the case. Instead, Joe Ingles will receive a bench role, according to The Athletic.
EARLIER: Mike Conley’s first year outside of Memphis has been up and down, as the Utah Jazz’s big offseason addition hasn’t been as snug of a fit in his new digs as some first believed. Conley, who has battled with injury this year, is averaging 13.4 points and 4.1 assists in 27.9 minutes per game.
The team hasn’t been quite as good with Conley on the floor, as he has a net rating of -4.4, according to NBA.com’s advanced stats. As a result, the Jazz plan to make a pretty drastic change, moving Conley to the bench and sliding third-year forward Royce O’Neale into the team’s starting lineup.
The news comes via Shams Charania and Tony Jones of The Athletic, who bring word that the team was informed of the decision on Wednesday and that this move is about more than Conley’s struggles.
The move for the Jazz was almost required. O’Neale is Utah’s best perimeter defender by a significant margin. Without him in the starting lineup, the Jazz have proven too vulnerable to premier perimeter scorers. The Jazz also want to free up Ingles so that he can unlock his pick and roll with Rudy Gobert.
O’Neale is Utah’s physically toughest player, and the Jazz have been beaten soundly physically in the past three games by the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns.
As is the case with Philadelphia and Al Horford, Conley is still going to have a role coming off the bench, this is merely a matter of moving a big-money player out of the starting five to go with a group that makes more sense together. O’Neale is averaging six points and 5.2 rebounds in 28.9 minutes per game this year, and is connecting on 40.1 percent of his attempts from deep. According to NBA.com, this move is backed up by the numbers, as the grouping of Donovan Mitchell, O’Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, and Rudy Gobert has a net rating of 16.4 this year. Swap in Conley for O’Neale and the team’s net rating plummets to -6.