Probably the rookie who has had the greatest impact on the Utah Jazz this season has been Raul Neto. The Brazilian guard played in his homeland and Spain for a number of years -- even after being drafted. Bereft of a 2015 Summer League you'd think that he was at a disadvantage coming into the 2015-2016 season. While he is coming from another part of the world, team first basketball is a universal language. And it's a language Raulzinho Togni Neto is fluent in. For Jazz fans he speaks another language as well, it's an old school, pass-first point guard language that we collectively haven't heard spoken in a long time. Sure, it's absurd to make comparisons to John Stockton. Yes,Stockton wrote the book on that tough, tenacious, and efficient style of play for a below-the-rim point guard. Neto appears to be one of the few point guards of his generation who has even read that book. The NBA has changed too much to ever see another point guard average 15 assists a game. And Raul Neto will never do that. But in Raul Neto, the Utah Jazz have a refreshingly old school player in a new school era of basketball.
At a glance:
Who is Raulzinho Togni Neto? He's the Utah Jazz' sexy-not-swarthy Brazilian point guard. The starter for most of the season, Neto is a classic two-way lead who appears to be an amazing mix of scrappy and spectacular. While not a true rookie as he has years and years of experience playing in South America and Europe, he's still growing as a player. Neto has experience before coming to the NBA; however, his experiences aren't like that of a four-year college guy, for example. Neto is a guy who has been blessed with both speed and quickness, and went pro as a teenager and has played for his National team in the Olympics and World Cup a number of times (2010, 2012, 2013, 2014). Point guards who have to play four years at a mid-major rarely play for their country, and very few have NBA-level athleticism. Neto has both -- and he's still only 23 years old. So while he's not a 19 or 20 year old, this rookie is way better than most other 23 year old rookies.
His natural point guard instincts are old school to the core, and even rarer, he seems to play on-ball defense in an era that has a "you score, then I score" mentality. The bossa nova rhythm to his game is fun to watch, especially when he keeps his dribble alive and makes a crazy pass to the right player at the right time. He's not quite a scorer, but he's shooting nearly 40% from downtown and is someone all 30 teams in the NBA would want on their roster.
Neto wasn't a huge name when he threw his hat into the ring for the NBA Draft. The slim but speedy point guard was a second generation pro baller (his dad was a former teammate of in Brazil's top league), and grew up watching John Stockton videos on VHS (his dad's favorite player). He did excel in his age group due to both his speed and quickness, and also his basketball IQ. As a result he was on the 2010 Nike Hoop Summit "World Team" and played for his home country in a number of junior exhibitions and tournaments. After three years as a professional in Brazil (pro at 16!) he said goodbye to South America and joined the Spanish ACB league -- where he would test his mettle against the best non-NBA players in the world. First with Gipuzkoa Basket (his pre-draft club) and then for UCAM Murcia for a season before joining the Jazz. Never a "name" player, he did impress the people who know basketball with his play at the Adidas Eurocamp 2013, where he was awarded MVP.
Neto's talents shone under brighter lights in Europe as he was somewhat tucked away in South America, and even somewhat hidden on his National teams behind higher profile point guards like Scott Machado. The teams he played for in the ACB weren't that popular or successful either. And it's not like his numbers were breath taking., Larry Taylor, and
He struggled to get on the floor everywhere except for Gipuzkoa, and wasn't much of a shooter (though back in 2012-2013 he did hit for 39% from deep, an aberration according to the rest of his International career). Neto did play defense, and he knew how to drive and dish. In fact, natural point guard instincts were, well, natural for him. There was more "Brazilian Showtime" with Murcia than his first club in the ACB, but how much of that was chemistry related?
The South American point guard knew the game and could play the game on every level. NBA scouts were impressed even if not a lot of front offices were lauding him. Still though, Jazz fans didn't know what kind of player they were getting when the team moved back into the 2nd round to get him.
The NBA Draft and Historical Revisionism:
Our man Neto went 47th in the 2013 NBA Draft. He was acquired via a draft night trade with the Atlanta Hawks for the Brooklyn Nets 2015 second round draft pick. (This turned out to be Marcus Eriksson and honestly it doesn't matter at this point.)
Picked right after (#37-46): Mike Muscala (DAL), Marko Todorovic (POR), (UTA).(DET), (WAS), Jeff Withey (POR), (POR), (MEM), (PHI), (MIL),
Picked before (#48-57): Romero Osby (ORL), Lorenzo Brown (MIN), Colton Iverson (IND), Arsalan Kazemi (WAS), (MEM), Payton Siva (DET), Alex Oriakhi (PHX).(LAL), (CHI), (ATL),
Yes, that same 2013 draft that was also populated but current, past, or one-time Jazzmen like Trey Burke, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, Rudy Gobert, , Jeff Withey, Grant Jerrett, Erick Green, and Erik Murphy. That whole night was kind of screwy, with going first, Nerlens Noel falling to 6th, the eventual Rookie of the year, Michael Carter-Williams, going 11th, and countless trades. Utah made three that night, moving Bazz and Dieng for Trey, trading Green and cash for Rudy, and moving back into the second round to snatch Raulzinho.
The best players, by Win Shares, from that draft class are Rudy Gobert, Mason Plumlee, Giannis Antetokounmpo, , and Gorgui Dieng. Yeah, most of them are bigs. Though, C.J. McCollum (possible 2016 MIP candidate) is lighting things up right now. But most of the guards picked in the first round have somewhat stalled careers, especially the lotto picks. The same cannot fully be said about the guards picked in the second round. With a lower expectation these guys are working their way onto rosters and attempting to be rotation players. Probably the best example of this right now is Neto -- who is looking to be a draft steal.
Coming to the Jazz:
Neto actually joined the Jazz the summer after being drafted (2013), while he was still on contract with Gipuzkoa. Utah went down to the Orlando Summer league and because of the Byzantine rules for FIBA, he wasn't even allowed to take part in practice until considerable concessions were made. But he was finally cleared to play, and his first game was even more impressive when you recognize that it was his first time playing with any of those guys before.
Our back-up-point-guard-of-the-future (the Jazz had moved up to select Trey Burke in that same draft, if you remember) would play in just three games and average 3.7 ppg, 3.0 apg, 2.0 rpg, and 0.3 bpg in a whopping 16.2 mpg. He didn't make any of his threes, and shot 27.3% from the field and only 62.5% from the line. And that's really all Utah Jazz fans would see of him as he returned to Spain. He would finish out his contract with Gipuzkoa and then sign as a free agent with Murcia -- delaying his eventual signing with the Jazz.
He would not emerge again until this past summer where he (assisted by the Jazz) bought out his contract in Spain and was free to join the team. The guy who had been a pro since 16, and was now 23, didn't need to play in either the Salt Lake City or Las Vegas Summer Leagues, so did not. But during that same summer Dante Exum sustained an injury that would make him miss the entire season. Suddenly the third string point guard had a chance to become the starting point guard. And by the time training camp and preseason came along Neto was determined to show the world, eyes finally on him, that he was going to win that spot.
In Hawaii, donning the ceremonial number of former Jazz great John Crotty, Neto's tenacity on defense and pass first instincts really stole the show.
While he would only play in 17.0 mpg in the preseason, and only started two of the seven games, he won the starting job over Trey Burke. There are different ways to spin this, of course. Trey Burke is a natural scorer and Neto only averaged 4.6 ppg oof of 34.3 FG% in preseason, so it was probably best to put Trey in a position where his talents succeeded and did not compete against his own teammates. Neto, as a starter, could set up the bigmen Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, while letting Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood handle the scoring load.
It worked out great early on in the season.
The Rookie Year so far:
Raulzinho has played in 1241 minutes this season, and seems to have gotten tougher as the season went on. Perhaps this is his year-round training, his 2% body fat, or experience as a professional for years, but he didn't hit a rookie wall. He has averaged 6.0 ppg, 2.3 apg, 1.5 rpg, 0.8 spg, and most impressive, 0.8 made threes a game in 19.7 mpg. These numbers aren't dominant, but they are efficient. He plays a lot of the game without the ball in his hand as Quin Snyder runs things through his wings, but Neto plays mostly mistake-free basketball. He doesn't take bad shots. He doesn't get caught reaching or making dumb fouls. And he doesn't turn the ball over much -- seriously, a starting NBA point guard who only averages 1.4 turn overs a game? That's very rare, like Neto's old school skill set.
Now supplanted in the starting line-up by Shelvin Mack, Neto is re-finding himself in a reserve role after being the starter for 53 of the 63 games he has played in so far this season. He comes in for defense, offensively flow, and surprisingly, for floor spacing. Earlier on I mentioned how there was that one aberrant year in Neto's Spanish career where he hit for 39% from downtown. In his rookie season with the Jazz he has gone 50/130 from downtown. That's 38.5% right off the bat. Sure, it's not going to make anyone forget about , and it's not at the same volume of threes that Trey Burke takes -- but being nearly 40% from deep as a rookie is a great building block for this guy.
Neto, a pass first guy, has scored in double digits 11 times this season (missing out with either 8 or 9 points another 13 times). He is opportunistic, using his lack of scouting to his advantage to score in transition zones on the court between defensive coverage. He's also one of the few fast people on this team, and has gotten a few dunks this year on breakaways. He's not going to make anyone forget about Dante Exum on those plays though.
He hasn't had any double doubles, but as a defensive pest he's had five games of three or more steals, and another 11 with two steals. On a team that is below .500 he has 31 games where he ended up on the positive side of +/-, which is hard to do as the starter. Furthermore, 12 of his 63 games played this season have ended up with him reaching +10 or greater in +/-. The team doesn't suck when he's out there on the court.
Raul has stepped up big this season at times, and was a primary reason why former NBA MVP point guard Derrick Rose had such a struggle game a few weeks ago.
Sadly, advanced stats don't love him (9.9 PER, -0.2 VORP, -2.8 Box +/-, only 1.2 Win Shares); however, there are some very lovable things out there when he's on the court. And this is probably the greatest example of his old school proficiency, he's a much better player in the eye-ball test than on the spread sheet.
Hall of Famer, and Utah Jazz legend, John Stockton was both. I don't think you could say the same about Deron Williams, Devin Harris, Mo Williams, and Trey Burke. Those five other starting point guards had a lot of flash to their game, as does Neto. But Raulzinho is doing it on defense and with playmaking, not with fancy dribbles and individual shot taking.,
Unless we're all wrong, Neto isn't heading to the Hall of Fame. What he is heading to is probably the best back-up point guard in Jazz history . . . since John Stockton was a back-up point guard. In my tireless defense of I've spent a lot of time crunching the numbers to look at the point guard position in Utah, the bench situation around the NBA, and where those two points meet. Neto is good enough to not be trifled with the 2015-2016 rotation of and Trey Burke. He's good enough to be a factor moving forward with and whomever else. And that's objective and fair.
He's not a bulldog like Raul Lopez, but he's not carrying around a history of injuries either. I don't know if he'll ever play big minutes in the NBA Finals like , but I do believe that he is going to be as historically significant to this franchise.on defense, but he can actually hit threes. He's not super athletic like , but he is fundamentally sound and can actually run an offense. He's not the overt scorer and clutch performer that Trey Burke is, but he's a legit two-way player with the lateral speed to keep up on defense. He may never look as good with the ball as
Unless he has alike sophomore slump, I expect him to be even deadlier next season. He will know when to take the shot instead of over-dribbling. He will get more leeway from the refs to hound people on defense. And he will help this team return to the playoffs. And he will do it by being a team player.