What We Did, And Didn’t Learn From Jazz Summer League
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz wrapped up their Las Vegas Summer League with a 3-2 record, and breakout performances from a couple of second-year players on the roster.
After not having a summer league last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this offseason provided the most complete look for several players on the Jazz roster.
With the summer league in the rearview mirror, we look back at what the Jazz did, and didn’t learn over the last three weeks.
Did Learn: Trent Forrest Can Play
It was pretty well known after appearing in 30 games last season that Trent Forrest was worthy of an opportunity in the NBA. But with extended minutes, the second-year guard proved he was capable of not only running the Jazz offense, he’s capable of carrying a big scoring load as well.
Forrest led the Jazz in scoring at 15.8 points while also dishing out 6.8 assists, and grabbing 6.0 rebounds per game.
It was an impressive outing for the guard who is going to have to fight tooth and nail for any minutes in the Jazz deep guard rotation. After showing unique poise as a rookie, Forrest showed there was plenty of untapped potential in his game earning a second two-way contract with the team.
Didn’t Learn: Can Forrest Shoot?
The number one question about Forrest’s game has always been whether or not he’ll be a good enough three-point shooter to earn real minutes in an NBA rotation.
Last season, he shot just 19 percent for the Jazz, not nearly good enough to be considered a threat on the perimeter.
In seven appearances with the Jazz, the guard knocked down 7-18 deep balls for a very healthy 38 percent on 2.5 attempts per game over the summer.
Forrest said he’d spent most of his summer working on his three-point shot in anticipation for the season, and the results look promising. However, in just seven games against lesser competition, it’s hardly a reliable sample size.
Yet, 38 percent is certainly an improvement from last season and includes some desperation heaves late in the clock when the Jazz offense failed to generate good looks. Nobody can say for certain whether Forrest’s shot is for real, but it’s a good start.
Did Learn: Udoka Azubuike Can Dunk
Udoka Azubuike had a miserably rough rookie season. Not only was there no summer league for him to prove he was worthy of a first-round pick, he got seriously hurt during his first game with the Salt Lake City Stars in the G League.
Back in action for the first time in months, Azubuike showed what made him such a dominant force at Kansas, especially on the offensive end.
The former Jayhawk was not afraid to flash his 41 inch vertical as he dunked just about everything around the rim including lobs and back-to-the-basket post-ups. Even when he couldn’t dunk the ball, he displayed tremendous touch around the rim with his collection of hook and push shots.
As a result, the center shot an incredible 84.6 percent in Vegas and 87 percent in Salt Lake City, both of which led the leagues.
At nearly 7’0 and 260-pounds, Azubuike sets good screens and rolls to the basket which is perfect for the Jazz system. With a little more experience, he could help the Jazz for stretches as soon as this season.
Didn’t Learn: Can He Defend Or Hit Free-Throws
While Azubuike is an NBA-level finisher already, he has work to do defensively, and at the free-throw line.
The second-year center showed a tendency to find himself out of position as he over-helped and over-rotated leading to open lanes and offensive rebounds in Las Vegas. He won the Big-12 Defensive Player of the Year Award at Kansas but will have to do more than block shots in the NBA to be an effective defender.
Worse yet, Azubuike’s free-throw shooting is bad enough that it could keep him off the floor entirely in the NBA. Dok shot just 39 percent on seven attempts per game in Vegas as opposing teams gladly sent him to the free-throw line to prevent him from getting easy finishes at the rim.
If Azubuike proves he can get to the rim in the NBA, opposing defenses will simply send him to the free-throw line and live with what is basically a turnover for the Jazz offense. He simply must get his completion rate above 50 percent if he wants to be an NBA player.
Didn’t Learn: Did Brantley Or Hughes Improve?
Jarrell Brantley looked good in his first summer league with the Jazz before a hip injury likely cost him a chance at a guaranteed contract with the team.
In limited opportunities last season, Brantley again brought intrigue while he shared the floor with other Jazz rotation pieces.
In Vegas, Brantley again had his moments, but never quite dominated the way a player with his experience and physique would be expected to in year three. The forward averaged 12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and handed out 2.0 assists per game, showing off his versatility, though he struggled to shoot the ball, and too often got sped up with the ball in his hands.
He signed his qualifying offer with the Jazz giving him a chance to earn a spot on the team, but with summer league behind him, it’s hard to say what he’s better at today than he was last season.
Similarly, Elijah Hughes had flashes of real intrigue highlighting his ability to spread the floor as a shooter and finish the paint with his big frame for a guard.
As a result, the former Syracuse star averaged a promising 14 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.8 assists while shooting 41 percent from the floor and 36 percent from the three-point line.
However, there were several long stretches where Hughes simply didn’t impact the game the way a four-year college player with a year of NBA basketball under his belt should.
Playing off the ball more than he did in college, Hughes seemed to be trying to process his role rather than making quick decisions that would have helped the Jazz offensive reach another gear next to Forrest and Azubuike.
With a guaranteed contract this year, Hughes will get another chance to put his collection of tools together, likely getting significant playing time with the Stars. But unlike the Jazz’s other second-year players, his Vegas performance didn’t jump off the screen.
Did Learn: MaCio Teague Is Worth A Gamble
When the Jazz drafted Jared Butler out of Baylor, most fans expected it would be he, and not teammate MaCio Teague that would be wearing a Jazz uniform during summer league.
Unfortunately, offseason inactively due to the Fitness-to-Play protocol sidelined Butler but opened up more opportunities for Teague in Salt Lake City and Vegas.
The former Bear led all Jazz scores in Utah averaging 15.3 points per game and followed it up with a healthy 10.4 points per game in Vegas.
Where he really shined however was in the Jazz Las Vegas finale where for the first time, Teague started at point guard and showed off hidden playmaking skills that hadn’t been obvious throughout summer league or in college.
In 33 minutes, Teague recorded 12 assists, the most of his basketball career at any point while adding 17 points on 7-15 shooting.
Having played behind Forrest with the Jazz and next to Butler and lottery pick Davion Mitchell, it’s possible Teague was simply never able to show off his playmaking skills with more talented teammates on the ball.
Regardless, his knack for scoring the ball and potential as a playmaker make him an intriguing option for the Salt Lake City Stars and a potential two-way contract candidate.
Didn’t Learn: Anything About Jared Butler
As just noted, Butler didn’t step foot on the court during summer league, significantly reducing the excitement about the Jazz during the offseason.
Had Butler played, would Forrest have been given the opportunity to show off his better than advertised scoring instincts? Would Teague’s role as a playmaker remained completely hidden?
Without him playing, did the Jazz feel increased pressure to sign Forrest to a two-way contract in case Butler’s learning curve is steeper than expected? Will he be healthy enough to play in the NBA?
Those are all questions that arose during the summer league and remain unanswered.
Butler was a home run pick on draft night in the second round, but what he actually brings to the team is a mystery.