The reason why the Utah Jazz announced their Utah Summer League roster as a mini-camp roster is because, duh, their roster wasn't set due to contract issues. Ideally it would be a roster that includes not just Dante Exum and Rodney Hood, but perhaps also 1st round draft pick Trey Lyles, and possible international players Raul Neto and Tibor Pleiss. All three could be suiting up for Vegas, meaning that the Jazz mini-camp roster could experience some cuts. And that's a good thing because not all of these players have shown (on the court in the large sample size of two games) that they are "ready for this jelly." So let's go over who has done what so far in the first two games, and guess what's in store for them.
1. Rodney Hood - SF/SG:
Rodney has played in all two games, and is obviously the primary player on this squad. He could start for the actual Utah Jazz this upcoming season, and clearly needed to demonstrate his overwhelming superiority. He's been mostly money all game long, and his defensive stand on the second to the last Spurs possession last game was an indication of his all-around talent. I have been impressed with his ability to take on a larger responsibility on offense while still performing at that silky smooth level that we've come to enjoy. He's effectively playing PG/SG/SF/PF depending on team need here. And he's doing it well.
Hood is averaging 27.38 mpg, and in that time he's putting in work: 20.50 ppg (.5484 fg%), 7.50 rpg, 2.50 apg, 1.00 spg, and 0.5 bpg. He's doing plenty. It's 32.00 BARPS per game, and overall he's a +19 in +/-. So not only is he getting stats, but his team is winning with him on the floor. He has two steals and one block, and when you put that up against his three fouls I think that evens out. Just for fun his Per36 values balloon up to 26.96 ppg, and 9.86 rpg. This is the dude who is starting at SG/SF. Wow.
He hasn't been perfect, though. He's been good enough and occasionally dominant, but compared to the current wing rotation in Utah, I would have expected Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks to average over 30 points with the same minutes against the same competition. If you start your best two wings I don't think Hood is among them just yet. (But there's still time for a mid-season shake up.) Rodney hasn't been hitting his threes, he's 1 for 7, which is a lowly .1429. Perhaps he's not getting the space he's used to with the senior club? Or maybe it's just something small, but as it stands right now this is an obvious issue. He could go 6/6 in his next game and make this all pointless. He demonstrated last summer that he can be a streak shooting assassin. Rodney sees the floor well, but I will chalk it up to being summer league to explain his 5 assists (low) to 3 turn overs (normal for all the ball handling he's been forced into). His free throw shooting, 6 for 9, or .6667, isn't where it shoot be.
Say something offensive: The Prince of Threes is turning into the Prince of Clanks
Bottom line: Rodney has the inside track to be the MVP of the Utah Summer League. And he's going to Vegas. But he may not have to play in every game there.
2. Dante Exum - PG/SG:
Dante tore it up in game one before suffering an ankle injury with about a minute left to play in the game. He controlled the flow of the game, and was mini- Magic Johnson out there. Much more aggressive than we've ever seen him, Exum is becoming the guy we thought we drafted a year ago. It could be as simple as just putting the ball in his hands (he didn't get that in Vegas last season with Trey Burke starting with him, and he didn't get that during the season with Gordon Hayward being our point forward). Dante's thrown down dunks and thrown no-look passes for assists. He is a pick and roll monster and was nearly flawless.
Exum, in one game, played 28.67 minutes, and finished with 20 / 5 / 5, and a super-impressive 5:00 to 1:00 assist to turn over ratio. He was a force of nature out there, but also poised and played a nearly mistake free game. Probably the most impressive thing was his ability to translated an aggressive style of play towards tangible results. Dante went to the line 10 times in those 28 minutes, and absolutely killed the Celtics by making 9. Last season he played in 82 games and went to the line only 32 times. And he shot in the 60% range. Statistically we call this an anomaly. But as a Jazz fan, we call this a taste of things to come. He was efficient and magnificent. He scored 20 points on 11 shots, that's a PPS of 1.81. Frame of reference, Karl Malone was a career 1.41. I don't know if they have mail down in Australia (some sort of Emu-post?), but Dante Delivers. Per 36 he busted up Boston for 25 / 6 / 6, which is Russell Westbrook, without the scowl.
Of course, he's not really Russell Westbrook, and he needs to fix some things. First of all, one game isn't a large enough sample size. So take any of the good things and any of the bad things with a grain of salt. Second, he went 1/5 from deep. And he had no blocks and no steals. Maybe if he was healthy enough to play against the Spurs he fixes some of that. I don't know.
Say something offensive: Nah, I'm good. I think Craig Bolerjack did enough damage with the mouth breathing thing. Once again showing just how out-of-touch some of the Jazz' employees are.
Bottom line: He's Vegas bound. No need to play him in Game 3 of the USL. Also probably better, need to figure out the rest of the point guards thing first.
3. Jack Cooley - PF/C:
Simple Jack isn't a multi-tool player. He knows his limitations, and he knows his strengths. And his strengths are getting boards, setting screens, and being physical. He's not going to dunk like Jeremy Evans. Block shots like Kyrylo Fesenko. Bust people apart with spin moves like Andris Biedrins. Or hit free throws like Francisco Elson. But as a potential Utah Jazz deep bench big he has an NBA level skill. And so far that's been the ability to out physical other 3rd string guys. Is he going to be effective against Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond, and DeAndre Jordan? No. Is he going to be able to play 6 minutes in a row and be the Matt Harpring of bigmen? Yes. A real throwback to the Charles Oakley days of the NBA, the 6'9 PF is playing out of position and out of time as a C in this era. But like Jorah Mormont, here he stands.
Having bruised and banged the Spurs and Celtics he's put up some important numbers in his 18.86 mpg. Mostly, people are noticing his 9.50 ppg and 10.50 rpg. That's about a double double, and he's getting it done at nearly a 50/50 split on the offense and defensive glass. While he's only shooting .4667 right now, and seems to get blocked way more than is healthy for one's ego, he is a put back king. Sometimes you don't need to be fancy. You just need to get the ball and put it in the hole. Cooley is capable of that. Per 36 the bigman looks like a titan with his 18.14 ppg and 20.04 rpg.
He has limitations to his game though. He's shooting under .500, and while he has gotten to the line 9 times, he's not making the other team pay. Now how much can one expect to have their 5th rotation big hot 80% from the line? You can't. And he doesn't seem to have expanded his range, which was his #1 priority with the Idaho Stampede last season. Also, he's not going to protect the rim by blocking shots. He's an imperfect player playing in a more technically proficient time. Put this guy in the 70s or 80s and he's a 10 year vet in a heart beat. Sadly, the other thing I have to mention is that there just isn't any competition here. He's looking excellent compared to Brock Motum and JaJuan Johnson. He's not having the share the paint with Trey Lyles or Tibor Pleiss . . . yet.
Say something offensive: I think I already did
Bottom line: I think Cooley does have a chance to make it to Vegas, make it through there, get back to Jazz training camp in the fall, and fight for one of the remaining roster spots. He has a non-guaranteed contract right now for $800k, which is much more expensive than his 10-day bids last season. He's a great guy. Doesn't disrupt chemistry. And will have a big test in Vegas against all the lotto pick bigs playing there.
4. Chris Johnson - SG/SF:
Christapher has been balling hard. During stretches of both games he has been the second best Jazz player on the floor. He started the first game and came off the bench for the second -- but in both he has played defense, gotten the team in transition, and made smart plays on offense. He's made the pass to the guy who makes the assist countless times. He's shifted over on defense to help his team on almost every defensive breakdown. He's not getting the stats, but he's helping the team win games. And I know the Jazz brass recognizes that. After Rodney Hood was dropped by Kyle Anderson on the last play of the Spurs game it was Chris who shifted over, played defense on Anderson without fouling, and prevented him from winning the game. Sadly, I don't know if there is space for him. He's not better than Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Rodney Hood, Joe Ingles, or Elijah Millsap. But he's good enough to be an NBA player in my books.
Chris is averaging 25.72 mpg, and is doing a little bit of everything. He averages 9.50 ppg, 5.50 rpg, 2.50 apg, 1.50 spg, and 1.50 bpg. Yeah, he has three steals and three blocks, while going out there hitting 50% of his threes (three shots a game), and playing defense. His Per 36 stat line is 14 / 8 / 4 / 2 / 2. That's ridiculous. I wish more people knew how well he has played. But then there would be a greater chance that he signs with another franchise then.
He is a complimentary player, so he doesn't demand the ball. That's not a fault or flaw or anything. Just a point. He also doesn't get to the line, going 0/1 in his 51.4 total minutes of play. If the worst things I can say about him are: he doesn't shoot much and doesn't get to the line, then there aren't a lot of bad things to say about Johnson. Right now he's ranked #4 on my big board for Jazz mini-camp. For a reason.
Say something offensive: Ha ha ha, you played for the Milwaukee Bucks! Oh wait, they made the playoffs last season. Dang. What year is it?
Bottom line: Clearly head and shoulders above so many wing players the Jazz brought in for the USL. Deserves to play in Vegas, for the Jazz or for any other team there.
5. JaJuan Johnson - PF/C:
Him? Yes. J^3 is the fifth most deserving guy to go to Vegas from this squad in my estimation. And perhaps this is the opportunity vs. competition thing that makes Cooley look so good, but from watching the game you can tell that this guy is hungry and gets it. While the trend is to find that Chris Bosh guy who gets rebounds, makes free throws, passes, can post up, and hit threes . . . .not every PF in the game is all that, and also 7'0. Johnson is a little more dynamic and a little taller than Cooley. Cooley is a chronic pain for the other team. Johnson here is an acute attack. Cooley is killing it on Delta D (remember that thing everyone hated?), but Johnson is Alpha D right now when he's in the game. And he's doing a great job of it.
JaJuan played in both games and yeah, he's only playing 12.59 mpg -- but he's still averaging 1.00 spg, and 2.00 bpg. Yes, he's got six steals+blocks, while getting called for one three fouls. That ratio is really in his favor, and his steals and blocks usually come during critical times where the other team is closing in. I've been impressed with his ability to fit the Jazz doctrine of being at least average on defense. Per 36 this numbers explode to 2.86 spg and 5.72 bpg. But, again, is this because of opportunity? Or ability? How does his numbers fare if he's sharing the paint for Tibor or Trey?
And this is where we get to his weaknesses. He's not in any way a successful stretch big just yet, which may have given him an edge over Cooley. And he's not doing much on the boards. A big part of that are his low minutes, but also he's the guy defending the shot -- leaving the rebound for someone else. The cherry on the top here seems to be his .4444 shooting so far. If he can turn that up and become more efficient and hit the glass a little harder he could be a training camp invite.
Say something offensive: Still somehow probably behind Brock Motum on the Jazz' own internal big board
Bottom line: Per 36 values look great (13 / 9 / 0 / 3 / 6), but hard to really put a lot of stock into that. He's been the second best big in Utah so far, so he deserves to go to Vegas.
6. J.J. O'Brien - SF:
Yeah, you really didn't think to see him at #6. Neither did I. But after watching both games live, and once again (thank you based Tivo) I can't rank him any lower. Part of it is, yes, guys who have played more have not doing enough to deserve their playing time. But the other half is clearly that this guy is only earning more and more trust from the coaching staff with each stint on the floor. This true rookie went undrafted this year, but he has the chance to actually develop into that long awaited three and D player. His numbers don't blow you away, but that's the thing. You have to watch him a lot closer to get it, and him. Having done so I can say with a clear heart that he plays defense, and his length on the wings is disruptive at this level.
Statistically, sure, he's playing 11.12 mpg and averaging 4.00 ppg, 3.00 rpg, and has nothing else to his name on the box score besides one block and one turn over. He's making .5000 of his shots, while shooting 1/2 from downtown. He's not out there for offense. And he's not there to make his own offense. But he can finish plays if he's set up. And that's what he's done. What he's there for is man defense.
Last night the Jazz coaches had him in there during crunch time and his ability to switch, go through screens, and produce a long physical defensive front made him someone who really made a difference, he was +8 last night in +/-, and while that's small, in a 2 point game it's all the difference. There may not be a wing vacancy in Utah this upcoming season, but compared to the rest of the guys who have played so far in the USL, he's deserved another look.
Same something offensive: He is the mixed race version of Diedrich Bader.
Bottom line: I'm probably crazy here in ranking him so highly after two games, but he needs two more solid stints out there to secure his plane ticket.
7. Bryce Cotton - PG; Jared Cunningham SG / PG; Olivier Hanlan PG / SG:
All of these guys have underwhelmed at their respective levels. But I don't know which of them is more deserving of staying on with the team. So I've grouped them all together. Cotton played in the NBA last season, and looked to be someone who could challenge for the full-time back up spot to Dante Exum. So far what we've seen looks contrary to that position. Cunningham was a first round draft pick and has played in the NBA for parts of the last three seasons (with the Mavericks, Hawks, Kings, and Clippers). At times he looks like a player, at times he does not. Hanlan was a star in the ACC last season, but the 2nd round pick hasn't quite caught up to the NBA speed yet, even if it's Summer League and most everything is at half-speed.
Bryce Cotton does what he does best -- he gets himself going. He's a great chance of pace guard who can find holes in the defense and has an asymmetric, skirmishing game that allows for himself to take advantage of it. He has a number of floaters and is far from gun shy. Just like last season we've seen him use dribble penetration to put himself in scoring position. In 49 minutes of action he has scored 19 points off of 19 shots. He shoots the ball once every 155 seconds on the court (one shot every 2.6 minutes). He's not just quick with the draw, but with his hands as well, averaging 1.5 spg so far in his 24.62 mpg. He's going an excellent 7 for 7 from the line, and supported that with 2 for 5 shooting from deep.
The bad side is that he doesn't, at all, seem to get other guys shots -- even when he tries to do just that after a scripted play out of a time out. He could just be a really short shooting guard, lots of people are like that -- NBA players among them like J.J. Barea. He has five assists and three turn overs, which is not ideal. His five assists looks even worse when you compare it directly to his 19 shots. But you can't fault him over and over (and over and over) again for not being a pass-first point guard. We get it. Let's move on. On to this shooting. He has gone 5 for 19 so far, that's .2632 FG%. This is a guy who is supposed to overtake Trey Burke, not recreate Trey Burke, right? Haven't seen it so far.
Jared Cunningham shows glimpses of that 1st round talent. In the first game against Boston he got to the line eight times, and was helpful in directing the Jazz transition attack. A veteran of a number of NBA training camps, and 40 NBA Games, he played the role on this team of inexperienced youths. (Utes?) He has three point range, but for his nearly 30 minutes over two games (14.33 mpg average) he hasn't done much with his time on the floor. But at least he's shooting .6000 fg% and .5000 3pt%.
I'm not certain that the team is better with him on the floor, though. And far too often he just seems to float by, or alternatively, have the man he is supposed to guard float on by him. He's no Otto Porter with the Basketball IQ. But it's evident why the Stampede player isn't a full time NBA player yet. He's still big, long, tall, and talented for a wing. I just don't know if he's an NBA player yet.
Olivier Hanlan has that swagger, is bilingual, and is coming off of being the big man on campus for his NCAA team. He hasn't yet had to have that ego check of playing, and fighting for your life, in the minor professional leagues. He's been playing shooting guard most of the team, which isn't his role. For a stretch in the game against the Spurs, when the Jazz went on their big run, he was playing small forward. Life hits you hard, and if you are flexible and willing to do what coach asks of you, you can get on the floor. He's averaging 15.12 mpg, but in that time he's been largely ineffectual.
Like Cotton, he's had a little trouble with his shot -- going 1 for 7 from the field, and 1 for 4 from deep. The sad thing? These are shots he routinely makes, like a missed runner in the lane and a missed layup. The NBA is a results oriented league, and he hasn't shown any on court results yet. He's been okay at going around screens, and using his length. But for the most part, playing out of position, he hasn't done much. As a point guard zero assists and two turn overs isn't a nice way to start your professional resume.
Overall, all three have been disappointments for me. And that's why it's been easy for a guy like J.J. to leapfrog them all. Perhaps they all need more time on the court. But in reality, it's going to be hard to find time for them all. And this is what we get.
Say something offensive: Raul Neto has already done more good things for the Jazz this summer league, and in stadium security doesn't even recognize that he's a player.
Bottom line: Unless the next game, against the 76ers goes into triple OT, we're not going to know enough about each of these guys to determine who does and does not go to Vegas. All three should make it to Vegas, if for no other reason than a) Dante's health, b) uncertainty of Neto playing for the team, and c) because one of these guys should eventually look less horrible than the other two. I love what Cotton can bring to a team with his pace. I love Cunningham's potential. I love Hanlan's versatility. But the three of them haven't really shown much to love so far in Utah.
8. Brock Motum - PF / SF:
Wow, it's taken me nearly 4k words before getting to Brock? First of all, yes, I'm clearly infatuated with Brock Motum. Most of my tweets are about him. Second, it has been brought to my attention that he's playing with an arm injury, so thank you internet and comments section of the Dunk. Third, what the heck, guy? If we can point out how below the norm Cotton, Cunningham, and Olivier are playing then it's only fair to mention that the Motum that you see in the USL is a pale comparison of the Motum that exists as a basketball player. Brock Motum is a taller, less dynamic Boris Diaw. He has three point range (I promise!), can put the ball on the floor, hit the glass, play defense, and pass.
This summer in 45.87 total mins (22.93 mpg) he's averaging 7.00 ppg, 5.50 rpg, 2.50 apg, 1.00 bpg, and doing a little of everything. He's also shooting 6 for 20 overall (30%), 1 for 8 from deep (12.5%), and 1 for 3 from the line (33%). It's awful. It's not like he's taking high degree of difficulty shots, these are spot up shots for the most part (the threes and the free throws). I guess playing with an arm injury can do that, huh?
The funny thing is that the team plays better when he's on the floor. It doesn't make sense.
Say something offensive: Dude, like half of my tweets during USL games have been offensive to Brock Motum
Bottom line: Somehow Brock is the one big who did not take advantage of having no Tibor or Trey on the team. He didn't make enough threes to qualify as a recent history stretch big. He needs a very solid game against Furkan Aldemir tomorrow to earn his spot to Vegas. If the Jazz can't get Tibor to sign off on it, he may be going anyway.
9. Grant Jerrett - PF:
He played in one game, and got hurt playing defense. Jerrett, one of seven rookies last season, got in on 13.22 minutes of action, and went 2 for 8 from the field and 2 for 5 from downtown. Yes, he took 8 shots in 13 minutes. He he took 5 threes in 13 minutes. He's trying to break some kind of record or something. He didn't make many (2) shots. And he didn't do anything else except get two rebounds, which were partially negated by one turnover and one foul.
Grant does not look like he has a lot of bigman fundamentals, as his boxouts were slow and his screens were ineffectual. He's not a "Jazz guy". The team didn't scout him much, and didn't bring him in for a pre-draft workout. He was received as filler in the great Kendrick Perkins for Steve Novak trade of last season. I don't know if he's long for the team, despite having guaranteed money this year. Of course, the Jazz got rid of Carrick Felix and Jordan Hamilton in similar cases last season. And they've gotten rid of injured guys before too, like Patrick Christopher. It doesn't look good for this kid.
Say something offensive: It's actually Grant's birthday today -- so I'll hold off.
Bottom line: I'm not the only one who wanted to see what this kid could do. We may not get that opportunity based upon what his shoulder rehab is like. He didn't do much, but again, didn't get an opportunity to do much besides shoot the ball. And that he did quite frequently. If he wasn't injured he'd be going to Vegas anyway as he's on the team's books for next season. At this stage, I think he can stay at home -- unless he is really committed to sitting behind the bench in a sling.
10. Nick Wiggins - SG; Jesse Morgan - SG:
Nick and Jesse both played in one game, the game against the Spurs. Nick played 8.57 minutes and Jesse played 4.25 minutes. Together they produced two rebounds, one assist, one turn over, and three fouls. They had a cumulative -2 in +/-. That is all you need to know.
Say something offensive: Are these really the guys getting playing time over Nick Russell, Wesley Saunders, and Jerry Evans? I guess so. (N.B. Nick Russell, Wesley Saunders, and Jerry Evans are on the roster and have yet to check into any of the games so far.)
Bottom line: They have one game to prove they deserve to fly to Vegas, as opposed to just going there because the Jazz don't cant to cut anyone.
With one more Utah Summer League game set to tip off in 30+ hours there's plenty of time for many of these players to make a lasting impression before the Las Vegas Summer League begins next week. Hopefully each of these guys will be there, in addition to Trey Lyles, Raul Neto, and Tibor Pleiss. While not all of them have been impressive, I think the Jazz organization will take their time with each player and not be hasty with casting a final judgement upon a player. There's a reason many of these guys made it here after pre-draft workouts and/or free agent mini-camps. Two so-so (or worse) games in Utah don't supersede months of scouting. But in the vacuum of just two games some of these guys have looked great. Many have not.