Earlier this summer the Utah Jazz re-signed Trent Forrest to a two-way contract. That move keeps the former Florida State point guard for at least another year after having him on a two-way deal for the 2020-21 season.
That re-signing came at the heels of Forrest’s great performance in the Salt Lake City Summer League. In three games he averaged 14.3 points and 9.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals. Later in the Las Vegas Summer League, he averaged 15.8 points, 6.8 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals in five games.
All told, in seven summer league games (a truly glorious sample size), Forrest’s averages amounted to 15.1 points, 7.7 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 1.9 steals.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Forrest outside of the garbage minutes — he averaged 18.6 minutes across 10 games in late April and early May — but it’s the first time we’ve seen him in a volume role. Utah’s summer league squad is run through Forrest when he’s on the floor and he’s clearly answered the call with some great all-around play.
Except, we’ve seen this song and dance before. Summer League superstars are a yearly phenomenon. Sometimes it works out (see also: Donovan Mitchell), many times it doesn’t (see also: Josh Selby). Forrest is going to keep looking good in summer league and G-League scenarios, but is there any chance it will translate to the NBA?
It’s pretty clear from these games, even given the short sample size, that his passing and vision is definitely NBA-worthy. Most of Udoka Azubuike’s offense came from Forrest constantly setting him up for easy buckets in the pick-and-roll. Forrest was also able to spray passes to the perimeter out of this action and became the linchpin of the offense.
Showing proficiency in the pick-and-roll with Azubuike is situationally a great thing for Forrest given that Utah’s two rotation centers, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside, are both better versions of the same archetype Azubuike can be classified as — long, rim-running centers.
On the other side of the ball, Forrest has pretty much everything needed to be a good defender at the NBA level. Standing just over 6-foot-4 in shoes with a 6-foot-7 wingspan, Forrest is long enough to defend any point guard, plenty of shooting guards and a handful of smaller forwards. And unlike the hundreds of players who “have all the tools,” Forrest actually has a history of using his tools to be a plus defender.
But while Forrest has most skills needed for any modern point guard, he’s really lacking in one of the most crucial. Forrest is non-viable as a shooter, and becoming a viable 3-point threat may be the one thing that keeps him in the NBA for years and dooms him to a short career in the big leagues. These games provided a glimpse of what Forrest can do when guys go over screens (guys who clearly didn’t read the scouting report). So if he can shoot anything close to league average, Forrest’s ceiling jumps from two-way body to fringe starter.
So how has Forrest been getting along in improving this skill? Well, he improved each year from three in college, going from 12.5 percent (1 of 8) as a freshman to 28.1 percent (16 of 57). That steady improvement didn’t carry into his rookie season (just 19.2 percent on 26 attempts) but to be fair the 3-point line moves back from college to NBA. The encouraging thing is that Forrest has shot 36.8 percent (7 of 19) in the SLC and Las Vegas Summer Leagues combined.
One issue Forrest has working against him is that while he improved in college, he also developed an unconventional release. As a right-handed shooter, he brings the ball just above the left side of his face. Remember Lonzo Ball’s shooting motion at UCLA and his early career? Forrest’s motion is a less exaggerated version of that.
There are few wrong answers for where to set the ball in a jump shot (John Stockton defied convention by setting the ball by his ear and was still a fantastic shooter), but this is one of them. It leads to a lack of power and inconsistency as the shooter often compensates for that lack by generating more power from the wrist.
The odd thing is that Forrest’s ball placement wasn’t nearly as obvious in his early college years at Florida State. It’s something that’s become worse as he’s gotten older and it happened alongside his improvement as a 3-point shooter. So it’s going to hurt more to deconstruct and rebuild.
Some hope comes way of the fact that Ball has pretty much fixed his shot mechanics. Here is a snippet from his previous season in which Ball made 37.8 percent of his triples.
So at least in one instance, this hitch in a shooting motion appears fixable with some work (2-3 years in Ball’s case). And we have a glimpse of Forrest’s shooting without this opposite side windup. His free throw motion is *almost* straight up and down and since 2018 he’s shot 81.1 percent on free throws including a perfect 19-for-19 in his NBA career.
It seems that if Forrest is able to straighten up his jump shooting motion (literally) he’s more likely to become an effective, consistent 3-point shooter. And that really is the swing skill for him. Forrest has all the hallmarks of a high-end backup point guard or even fringe starter. He can pass, has a few tricks in his bag for half-court scoring and his defense is solid. He just can’t shoot and that simply won’t pass muster in today’s NBA.
One problem for Forrest is that Utah’s ball-handling guard rotation won’t be as thin as last year. Jared Butler, a man the Jazz were willing to draft in the first round if the rest of the league weren’t down on him, will likely see any leftover minutes from Mitchell and Conley. If another injury situation develops, like the one that led to Forrest being a rotation player for 10 games, Butler will likely be looked to instead of Forrest.
It’s possible that early in the year Forrest will be ahead of Butler in terms of who Quin Snyder trusts more for emergency point guard duties; but the window is not open wide for Forrest.