The Utah Jazz summer league basketball team exited the locker room and spilled onto the floor at Thomas and Mack Tuesday night for their 3rd game at the Las Vegas Summer League. The Jazz players went through their warmups. They huddled up, got instruction from summer league coach Brad Jones and took the court. A jump ball was had. Plays were run. Plays weren’t run. Shots were thrown up. Shots were missed. Rebounds were had. Basketball >I could and probably should tell you about Nuggets’ players Quincy Miller and Gary Harris coming out and starting the game strong and leading the Nuggets to an early lead after the 1st quarter.
I could then talk about how the Jazz’ 3ish point guards (Dante Exum, Ian Clark and Trey Burke) came out aggressive in the next stretch, making shots to give the Jazz a 35-26 lead at 5:17 left in the 2nd quarter, and how the play of Malcolm Thomas, both with his hustle on defense and his putbacks on offense, gave the team a 44-31 half-time lead.
Or perhaps the 2nd quarter storyline is how the Jazz defense (sans rim protector Rudy Gobert) stifled the Nuggets and held them to only 7 points in the 10 minute quarter. Then followed that performance by holding the Nuggets to only 13 points in the 3rd.
By that point the game was out of hand. The Jazz easily secured an 87-65 victory in what was their 3rd game in 4 nights.
This game had a different feel from the previous two though. Perhaps it was due to the fact that the heavy Jazz fan crowd had thinned as Jazzlanders returned to work up in Utah, or perhaps it had to do with the team being tired, but there seemed to be a lack of intensity by both teams in this game, Utah early in the 1st and Denver for the following 3 quarters.
After the game, former SLCDunker and current Managing Editor at Salt City Hoops, Andy Larsen, asked Trey Burke about what it is about his game that seems to not translate to summer league play. While Burke was answering that question, he seemed to shed some light on the difference between summer league games in general:
At one point in there, Burke compares the Summer League game to "open gym", which I believe he is intending to mean in both lack of structure and game intensity. He goes on to say that the players are playing so hard and that it is not relaxed like a regular season game.
This comment seems at first to be counterintuitive, as you would surmise that the intensity level of the players would be greater in real games. I believe what he is getting at though, is that while players individually may be playing at a higher intensity, they are not relaxed within the teams schemes.
Take for example the play last night of Thomas and Erik Murphy . Thomas seemed to be particularly engaged in notching his 14 points, 10 rebounds and 3 Blocked shots while Murphy’s 17 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks were also impressive. Both of these stellar performances were outliers based on the players earlier week performances.
So what was different about last night? ...hmmmm …oh that’s right, prior to the game, the Jazz signed unrestricted free agent power forward Trevor Booker to a 2 year, $10MM contract. Coincidentally (not coincidentally) Thomas and Murphy are both power forwards and both appear to be fighting for a roster spot.
Thomas has an unguaranteed salary of $948,163, while Murphy is also unguaranteed and set to earn $816,482. The Jazz signing a player at their position to a guaranteed salary of $5MM next season, would seem to have great implications on either Thomas or Murphy’s ability to make the team. Perhaps at this point they are really playing for 29 other NBA franchises, and maybe a hundred other European or D-League squads.
Coach Snyder touched on the games lack of intensity at the outset and also on Burke’s comments regarding the lack of 100% effort and offensive structure:
Cleary, Coach Snyder recognizes that the summer league play isn’t necessarily a perfect indicator of how the team will play in the regular season. He did offer a positive in that though, stating that the players in this situation can use this opportunity to learn how to make plays on their own.
For short stretches last night, the Jazz key players did in fact make those plays. The progress of Burke and Exum is simultaneously encouraging and discouraging in that regard, and they both know they have much to work on still.
Clark, Thomas and Murphy should also get props for their performances, even if they do seem likely to be playing for other teams right now. This is another key aspect of Summer League play, as the Jazz will never know when a player performing at a high level on another team, might end up in a Jazz uniform some day (see Clark, Ian).
While some may criticize the level of play of the Summer League and how much we can analyze and learn from it, there is some level of value, and at the very least, we as fans are treated to another 2 weeks of basketball entertainment.