UTAH JAZZ

What We’ve Learned About Each Jazz Rookie

Dec 15, 2020, 12:11 PM | Updated: 12:23 pm
Utah Jazz wing Elijah Hughes In two games, four Utah Jazz rookies have had an opportunity to show w...
Utah Jazz wing Elijah Hughes In two games, four Utah Jazz rookies have had an opportunity to show what they might be able to bring to the team in future seasons.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz are just two games into their preseason schedule, and while it’s a small sample size, each of the team’s four rookie players has received enough playing time to give fans a taste of what the might offer.

The Jazz entered training camp with five rookies under contract, though only four have made it onto the floor. Udoka Azubuike was selected by the Jazz with the 27th pick in the first round of November’s draft, Elijah Hughes was selected with the 39th pick.

Guard Trent Forrest signed a two-way contract shortly after the draft, while Jake Toolson and Romaro Gill signed with the Jazz on Exhibit-10 contracts. Of the five, only Gill has yet to play live minutes.

With that in mind, this is what each Jazz rookie has shown during their brief stints in the NBA.

Udoka Azubuike – 4.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.0 bpg

Azubuike made his presence felt in both of his appearances so far in the preseason. The first-round pick gave fans a taste of what he offers in his debut by catching two lobs at the rim and finishing a post up opportunity with a soft baby hook.

Defensively, Azubuike blocked two shots and made it apparent that his length and athleticism will be a detriment to opposing teams as they try to attack the basket. Essentially, he was everything he showed at Kansas, just in fewer minutes.

In game two, Azubuike once again made his presence felt as he knocked Phoenix Suns guard Abdel Nader to the ground as he attempted to block his shot, leading to a flagrant foul and ejection.

As a result, Azubuike played just six minutes and wasn’t able to show more of his skillset.

Here’s what we know. Azubuike’s size and physicality will translate to the NBA. At 7’0, and 260 lbs, the rookie is already one of the bigger players in the league. He’s a well-developed screen setter, and when he rolls to the rim he’s hard to stop.

Even better for the Jazz, he leaps off the floor with ease and has good hands to catch lobs or finish around the rim.

What we don’t know is how better defenses will choose to defend Azubuike if he sees regular-season minutes. The rookie might be the worst free-throw shooter in the NBA even if he hasn’t stepped to the line yet in two preseason appearances.

It seems like a good strategy to foul Azubuike on lob opportunities to prevent him from getting an easy dunk, but that was the plan for most opponents when he was at Kansas, and the big man simply finished through the contact.

He may not see minutes during the regular season with Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors under contract, but if he had to, the Jazz are probably comfortable utilizing him in a pinch.

Elijah Hughes – 8.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.5 apg

One thing for sure about Hughes is his willingness to shoot. The rookie has attempted 14 shots in just 24 minutes over two games, often with a quick trigger, and well beyond NBA three-point range.

The good news is Hughes has made more an impressive 50 percent of his field goals, the bad news is he’s connected on just two of his eight three-point attempts.

Truthfully, the best sign from Hughes is his varied offensive skill set that allows him to affect the game whether he’s making threes or not. The second pick has the ability to make quick decisions on whether to shoot, pass, or put the ball on the floor.

When he does attack the rim, he gets downhill easily and has the size and physicality to deal with NBA defenders.

He’s only got one assist in two appearances which leaves something to be desired as a playmaker, and he’ll have to show that he can rid himself of the do-everything role that was forced on him at Syracuse, but his lob to Azubuike in his debut showed some signs of court awareness.

He’s got work to do defensively, as does every rookie against the elite offensive talent in the NBA, but he’s far from a lost cause, which is promising coming from Syracuse zone heavy scheme.

For now, Hughes looks like he’s going to have enough skill offensively to make the NBA, and that’s a big win for a player drafted in the second round.

Trent Forrest – 5.5 ppg, 2 apg, 0.5 rpg

Forrest hasn’t had the highlight-reel plays that fans have seen from both Hughes and Azubuike, but his mistake-free style of play may have made him the Jazz best rookie so far.

The former Florida State guard has scored 11 points in two games but has taken just four shots, of which he made three.

There’s a good reason for Forrest’s low field goal attempt total as he shot just 24 percent from the three-point line in college, but if he continues to score efficiently at the rim and draw free-throws at a high rate (2.5 attempts per game) he might not be a total negative on the floor as a scorer.

Outside of Forrest’s shooting, which opposing teams will adjust to exploit, the rookie has shown incredible poise in his two outings. Forrest has a lightning-quick first step for a guard standing 6’4. He’s comfortable dribbling with both hands, and even when his driving lane is cut off, he simply slows down and makes the right read.

Even against future Hall of Famer Chris Paul, Forresg looked like he belonged on the floor during the fourth quarter of the Jazz win on Monday.

With plenty of scorers on the team, Forrest’s playmaking, defense, and length could be a nice fit on the roster. However, with such a deep backcourt, including the yet to be seen Shaquille Harrison, finding any real opportunity will be difficult.

On just a two-way contract, Forrest is a low-cost gamble for the Jazz, and early on it seems like he might have an NBA future.

Jake Toolson – No stats

In just over eight total minutes, Jake Toolson has yet to record any NBA statistics beyond two personal fouls. Unfortunately for the former BYU product, there’s a reason for that as he gets washed out of games with better talent on the floor.

At this point, Toolson just isn’t big enough or athletic enough to make an impact on an NBA court.

Now, the Jazz knew this when they signed Toolson to an Exhibit-10 contract which allows them to send the former Cougar to the Salt Lake City Stars to develop his body and game further.

For now, his NBA future looks like a long shot.

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