The Utah Jazz brought back summer league to where it's always belonged: the Salt Lake Valley! The first year of the newly re-branded USL (no more Rocky Mountain Revue) was a huge success. The show went off without any apparent glitches. There was media space for almost everyone who asked for it. And the games were exciting! Really, I mean it. While there's no tournament, and while there were only four teams (the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, San Antonio Spurs, and the host Jazz), the games were close. A few of them went to the wire -- and the last one went into Overtime! It doesn't hurt when the home crowd has something to cheer for. But it's super impressive to hear the estimations that had over 12,000 fans in the stands. Utah Jazz fans are just the best. And they really love basketball in Utah. For a point of direct comparison, the 76ers had an average home crowd attendance in the 13,000s last season. No lie.
Well, besides the return of the Summer League the main point was summer league -- as in actual basketball being played in the summer. The teams try out new players, see how existing ones are developing, and test out newly minted NBA Rookies. The Jazz, as a team, did great by going 3-0 despite having to deal with a number of important injuries. The Celtics have a lot of smile about with Jahlil Okafor.who dominated the small event. The Spurs seem to find lots of plug and play players to their system, and Becky Hammon took control on the bench -- NBA History-ish even if Vegas gets the big prize. And Philly got to show off their brand new prize, NCAA 2015 Champion,
For Jazz fans we wanted to see a few more things -- we needed to see our 1st rounders dominate. And we needed to see if the rest of our NBA-ish guys were actual NBA guys. Having now binge watched all three games again in one sitting I can honestly say . . . Jazz fans are going to be really happy this upcoming season.
Yeah. So if we look at this as tiers you have your NBA Rotation guys, your guys hoping to make a rotation, guys hoping to make the team . . . and people auditioning for minor league play. Right off the bat, I think that both Nicks fall in that last camp -- Wiggins jumped ship and is on the Minnesota Timberwolves LVSL squad. Sheesh! Like, I get it, your brother is the star there, but not even the great Maple Jordan, Andrew Wiggins, can get you playing time! Jokes aside, I don't want to trash any of these guys. I can't imagine the sacrifices they've made to get this far in their careers. Bravo!
But starting from the top . . .
Dante Exum: A
20.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 5.0 apg
Exum showed just a hint of the star ability he has. This is the kangaroo we drafted. He was dominant, and while he got hurt, the team smartly played him in only one game. And yes, he didn't hit enough threes. Big deal. Those are the only things keeping him from an A+ grade here. Dante is the future. And really, the future *is* now. (Just not in Vegas, where it doesn't look like he'll play much if at all.)
Rodney Hood: A
20.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.5 apg
The only thing keeping Hood from the A+ score was that he played in 2 of 3 games (also got hurt), and he also didn't really kill it form three. Dante shooting 20% in one game doesn't kill you. In twice the sample size Hood, a shooter, went for 14%. That's a core ability he failed to perform. But he did everything else in a way that went over and above my expectations for him. He's a great secondary ball handler, has great poise, court vision, and makes great decisions. While I am apparently in the minority that he should come off the bench next season, he may not be coming off the bench for very long.
9.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.3 apg
While both Johnson and Cotton averaged 3.3 apg, Johnson had a 5 to 1 assist to turn over ratio, while Cotton was at 2 to 1. While Hood is the hottest shooter on this roster, Johnson shot 44.4% from three, and led the team. While Exum was an outstanding +31 in +/- in his first game, Johnson was +47 total, and led the team overall. (And outside of Dante, no one was close). And while Cooley gets a lot of props for his lategame defense in the final game, it was Cotton who got the weakside block, forced a turn over, and also had the game winning stop against the Spurs two nights before. Quietly Johnson, with his 2.0 spg and 1.3 bpg, and everything game, was the Andrei Kirilenko of our summer league team. He nearly shot 50 fg% too! In a world without Joe Ingles and Elijah Millsap this is a guy you want on the Jazz.
Bryce Cotton: B+
13.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.3 apg
Cotton gets a very big B+ here. If I was even more into recency bias I would bump that up to an A-. Bryce won a game for us. That's big. He knows who he is and tries to play his game all the time. He's the Wildcat offense of American Football to my perhaps antiquated sensibilities of what a point guard should be. Cotton is closer to Will Bynum and Russell Westbrook than he is to Fat Lever and Tim Hardaway. He's a shoot first point guard. And I guess I need to get over that. He didn't really shoot that well, but when the team needed it most he made the shots that mattered. So I guess he's really a less quick Allen Iverson? Cotton was very active in the passing lanes and breaks the threshold of
gravity half court basketball with ease. He does appear entirely redundant now if Dante is getting to the FT 10 times a game and dunking it. Cotton showed me that he's not what I call a point guard (even Christapher had as many apg as you did). But he's what an NBA guard is. He's a clear rotation guy on almost any team that didn't already have back up point guards that have either been Olympians or won all of the NCAA Awards and was 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting after being Rookie of the Month three times.
Jack Cooley: B
9.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 0.7 apg
He averaged 9.7 ppg and 9.7 rpg in 19.1 mpg. That's a double double in very quick fashion. He is a power forward, with now slightly short for the position length, who was playing center against guys much athletic, longer, and quicker than him. But he has NBA level strength, and he knows how to use his body to get what he wants. And he wants rebounds. He's a spray tan and a cayenne pepper lemonade cleanse away from dating a Kardashian. I was very impressed with his defense during crunch time against the previously mentioned Jahlil Okafor -- starting center of the NCAA Champion Duke Bluedevils. And while sometimes guys got his goat, he didn't get frustrated. And never once did you see him try to do things that aren't things he can do. He has self-awareness and did something few of our Jazz bigmen did in the last 34 months -- he made his free throws. He was nearly 70% from there. Really. Dude. While Tibor Pleiss has the length, size, and bad hair days you want from a 5th big, I think Cooley has really made a case to remain part of the team. After a while we can't keep him secluded in Idaho. He is turning himself into a guy who not only makes an NBA team, but can crack a rotation.
Trey Lyles: B
10.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 1.0 apg
Lyles, through some manner of everyone but him making decisions, sat out from practice and missed the first two games of the Utah Summer League. He did eventually get everything cleard up, he signed, and he played over 20 minutes (half!) in his one game at the ESA. He scored, passed, got to the line, and I can only imagine what he may actually look like after TWO practices, not just one and a shoot around. Lyles is a lotto pick so your expectations are a little higher than 10 points and not much else. But considering the circumstances I felt like a B was warranted. I didn't think he would play at all till Vegas. And when he did finally play I was converted. I know I liked some other players in the draft better than Lyles, but that is how I felt when we at to settle for Gordon Hayward years ago. Lyles has the tools to be a very good NBA player. I am excited to see what he can do in a Jazz jersey, and can't wait to see what he does in Vegas. Starting TONIGHT!
Brock Motum: C
7.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.7 apg
Murphy Gamma had a great year in Australia after playing for our summer league team. He may have another great one after playing for us this summer. I don't know if he's going to make our team though. He failed to show his stretch-biggie-ness. But he's a smart offensive player, and he did at least hit a three to at least qualify as one. His defense is a mystery, but he's a good guy. I like him. He has some Boris Diaw to his game. While his shot was off, and it was reported that he had a shooting elbow injury and played through it, he is able to do good things on the floor when he's not scoring. Good things happen when Brock is playing, he finished 5th in +/-, one shy of Cotton, one ahead of Hood.
J.J. O'Brien: C
4.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 0.0 apg
O'Brien plays defense. He has had a nice take, finished a few layups, and looks like a mixed-race Diedrich Bader. I'd be cool with him in Idaho. But if he does elect to enter the NBA D-League draft there's a chance we don't get him.
JaJuan Johnson: C-
7.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 0.0 apg
JaJuan had a great first game, but kind of tapered off. Perhaps he's just who he is, a guy who bounces in and out of the NBA despite obvious NBA level abilities? As a primary rim protector he's no Rudy Gobert, but he really helped Jack Cooley out a lot when he was in there. He can block shots, and he's fundamentally sound. He's a pro. A real pro. He may not be a Top 5 Draft pick, but he knows how to get position on a guy, catch the ball, and finish a post move. He shot 61.5% from the field, led the team. He also went for 83.3% from the FT line. On a team that has so much youth a guy with that journey man experience and yeoman like work history (work as a pro baller is more than just the games, but it's the practice, it's taking care of your body, it's understanding the game, listening to coaches, and so forth) he's a sight for young eyes. He was very efficient. His 1.3 bpg was tied for best, tied with you guessed it, Chris Johnson. (Aka CJ47). I wasn't crazy about this guy before, and in our crowded frontcourt there's just no space for him. I hope he sticks with some team in the USA. I'd love to see more of him.
Ya don't want to know
These two guys didn't play their best week of basketball last week. The problem with that is that they clearly have NBA level talent, but didn't show it. Or at least, didn't show it in the games. Hanlan was the more outright awful one, but you can see him as a basketball player. This is what he's supposed to do. He just didn't do it that well. Part of that could be playing zero point guard over the three games, but I dunno. Cunningham scored more easily, but despite the opportunities he had, I don't think he made the most of them. Jared finished -19 on the squad in +/-, worst on the team. He played in all three games and got regular minutes. Olivier started two games, played more minutes, and his +/- was a big zero. I think the stat guys jobbed him two assists though, but that's just because I am insane and keep detailed notes on things like this. Both of these guys may not be NBA players. And that is okay. They can still play pro ball, as I think both of them are so obviously put on this planet to do.
Everyone else didn't play enough to get a grade. Grant Jerrett was one of three guys to get hurt. He does not get a grade, but an incomplete. He did made some threes and got two boards. I would love to have seen what he could have done. He's really a mystery for me.