Breaking Down How Each Young Jazz Player Performed Against Spurs

Aug 7, 2020, 3:36 PM | Updated: 11:11 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah –ย The Utah Jazz lost to the San Antonio Spurs 119-111. It was a game the Jazz were trying to lose, as made evident by the sitting four of the team’s five available starters in Orlando. Joe Ingles, the lone starter who did suit up did so only to keep his streak of 400 straight appearances alive. Jordan Clarkson, who led the Jazz with 24 points didn’t play in the fourth quarter, even when the team cut the Spurs lead to five and had a real chance to win.

Instead, Jazz coach Quin Snyder chose to play the younger players on the roster, giving them the opportunity to develop their games, while allowing the Jazz to slip back to the sixth spot in the Western Conference standings. The Jazz are doing this in hopes of avoiding the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs.

As a result of the Jazz not trying to win the game, it doesn’t make sense to explore the performance in terms of a win or loss. The Jazz got their desired outcome against the Spurs. We can, however, look at what we saw from several of the Jazz young players who got a unique opportunity to play against NBA level competition for extended minutes. So that’s what we’ll do.

Georges Niang

Georges Niang still qualifies as a young player on the Jazz roster, despite the fact that he’s a fixture in the regular rotation. Niang scored the Jazz first five points, and appeared to snap out of his slump in Orlando. The forward was averaging 3.5 points, while shooting 23 percent from the floor and 11 percent from three entering the game.

After a promising start, Niang’s struggles returned in dramatic fashion. The forward finished the game connecting on just one of his next eight shots and missed all four of his three-point attempts. He did grab seven rebounds and dish out two assists, but it was a disappointing close after what looked like a slump breaking start.

Niang is an NBA player, make no mistake about that. Over his last 1400 minutes of game time with the Jazz, he’s connected on nearly 40 percent of his three-point shots. Despite his performance in Orlando, that bigger sample size is significant, and he’ll regain his shooting stroke.

The height of his ceiling remains another question. Niang has always struggled with subpar NBA athleticism, and despite an improved body, he can’t beat lesser league players with his speed or leaping ability. That leaves him as a pure shooter to space the floor in spot situations.

Unfortunately for the Jazz, they’ve needed him for more than spot situations, especially in Orlando, and it’s not been successful. Niang can sign a contract extension this offseason, and the Jazz should try to lock him up.

While the forward was probably hoping for a deal in the range of three years and $12 million, that number may have dropped to a lower two year, $5 million with his performance in Orlando. The two sides may be able to meet in the middle on a deal, and it would still make sense for the Jazz. But Niang has likely cost himself some cash in Florida.

Rayjon Tucker

Rayjon Tucker is the rookie that gets the most minutes for the Jazz in their current rotation. After the Jazz defeated the Memphis Grizzlies, I wrote about how he can help the team by simply spacing the floor, attacking closeouts, and being a versatile defender.

He did those things relatively well against the Spurs, finishing with five points on 1-3 shooting, including knocking down his first career three-pointer.

He’s very raw, but may be able to round into Royce O’Neale-lite if the Jazz can give him another 12 months on a minimum salary contract next season. Still, he may spend most of his time in the G League.

Despite the pluses he brings, he still makes weird mistakes on the floor that make him hard to play. First off, he’s got tunnel vision. Even though he didn’t force a lot of bad shots against the Spurs (an improvement from the Thunder game) he still doesn’t have the ability to catch the ball with an idea of what he’s going to do next. It still looks like his first instinct is to dribble or shoot.

As a result, he’s not developed much of an ability to pass. Tucker has just three assists in 109 minutes of play this season. He’s the only player in the NBA this season to record at least 100 minutes and have three assists or fewer.

Again he’s got some potential, and hitting threes will help, but his development will require more than just better shooting.

Jarrell Brantley

Jarrell Brantley is perhaps the most tantalizing young player on the Jazz roster, and he showed why against the Spurs. He came into the league with an NBA body at 6’5, 250 pounds. He’s got quick feet, is an adequate leaper and shows some touch on his jump shots.

Brantley finished with eight points, including two made threes, while grabbing six rebounds and three assists. The big-bodied forward has a diverse skill set, and to this point, it’s unclear if that’s a blessing or a curse.

The rookie has dominated the G League this season averaging nearly 19 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. His wide variety of skills allows that against lesser competition. The question for Brantley as an NBA player becomes what does he do better than 500 other guys in the world all knocking on the door to take his spot on a professional roster.

It’s true some players with Brantley’s build develop into all-around stars, see former Jazzman Paul Millsap. But don’t forget, Millsap first earned his way into the floor by being a high motor rebounder who scored on second-chance opportunities.

Brantley isn’t that type of rebounder, nor does he have that motor, so he’ll have to carve out a niche using his speed and stretch to bully teams on defense while hitting open threes on offense. The good news, those skills seem to be near the level they need to be in order to earn short bench minutes as soon as next season.

Brantley’s main competition will likely come from whoever the Jazz add this offseason, whether in the draft or through free agency to address sure up that issue of Brantley can’t be the guy.

Miye Oni

Miye Oni has received surprisingly little fanfare despite being the only player the Jazz drafted that was actually projected to hear his name called in the top 60.

Oni’s biggest improvement this season has come in his body where the 6’5 lanky wing has added noticeable muscle to his frame. The former Yale guard showed a sweet shooting touch during the summer league which, and have translated to a respectable 35 percent average in the G League.

The long guard could stand to see that number rise as he continues to prove his defensive intensity is a strength at the NBA level. If so, he could easily overtake the less versatile Tucker in the lineup.

Oni finished with career-highs of 14 points and seven rebounds for the Jazz against the Spurs, while shooting 2-4 from the three-point line. There’s some intriguing upside for Oni, and he’ll likely stick on the roster for another season.

After the game, Snyder was complimentary of both Brantley and Oni’s effort.

“Those two guys on the defensive end really set a tone,” Snyder said.” We weren’t defending really well early. I thought once we dug in on that a little bit, we were much better and those two guys had a lot to do with it.”

Juwan Morgan

Unfortunately for the Jazz, Juwan Morgan got injured late in the loss to the Spurs. While hopefully it isn’t serious, the initial fall looked scary. Morgan came down after a rebound and his knee awkwardly bucked inward before he fell to the ground.

The rookie big man couldn’t put weight on it and was carried off the floor by teammates and the training staff.

Morgan is a versatile defender who moves well on both sides of the floor. He lacks burst vertically, so he’s truly an undersized frontcourt player, but has the ability to step away from the rim and guard quicker bigs. Morgan has given the Jazz good minutes to the point that Snyder called the Indiana product a rotation player after the game.

“Anytime you get a player a guy that’s worked his way into the rotation and really improved, to see him take an injury like that it hurts,” Snyder said. “It hurts most of all for him because he’s worked so hard.”

Like many players in the NBA, the short cut to finding time on the floor for the Jazz was likely Morgan’s ability to hit three-point shots, of which he’d done successfully in 2-3 attempts in Orlando.

Now, the Jazz have to hope Morgan’s injury isn’t serious. With a shortened offseason, and potentially no summer league for young players to audition for next season, a serious injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for Morgan.

Emmanuel Mudiay

Like Niang, Mudiay continued his struggles in Orlando despite a bigger opportunity against the Spurs. Mudiay hasn’t ever been a long-distance shooter, but his effective mid-range game allows him to play a niche offensive role abusing the soft spot of opposing defenses. Unfortunately, that shot has disappeared over the last five games, and the guard has connected on just 9-26 shots from the floor for 34 percent.

I thought Mudiay had done enough during the regular season to perhaps price his way out of the Jazz comfort zone on a team that was willing to promote him from a third point guard to a true backup, but after his performance to close the season that might not be the case.

The guard still has time to show that his early struggles in Orlando are a fluke, and a big playoff series would go a long way to earning him extra money. But at this point, his future is tenuous. While he shows strong flashes at times, the Jazz could easily look for a guard with a more modern skillset this offseason.

The Jazz will look to rebound after the Spurs loss against the Nuggets. The two teams tipoff Saturday at 1:30 pm MT. The game will be broadcast nationally on TNT and locally on AT&T SportsNet.

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