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Has Luka Samanic done enough to make the Utah Jazz roster?

Improved play of Samanic deserves some appreciation

NBA Salt Lake City Summer League - Memphis Grizzlies v Utah Jazz Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

In the 2019 NBA Draft, then rookie Luka Samanic might have considered himself blessed knowing he was picked up by a celebrated franchise in the San Antonio Spurs. Unfortunately, it quickly turned sideways as he got cut after a year with the team, where he could be at fault after all.

Fast forward to 2023, a new lease of life was resuscitated in Samanic’s career as the Utah Jazz took a bet on him, following a few stints in the NBA G-League. Situation remains to be bleak for the Croatian big man, with a tricky contract full of intricacies that still needs to be hurdled.

Now the task at hand for Samanic is to pass the acid test of impressing the Jazz coaching staff in the NBA Summer League, where he definitely gave himself a chance to crack the team by next season.

It’s been a yearly lesson for every NBA fan to not overreact whether their squad made the right choice in the draft. One big reason to not do so is the small sample size, which doesn’t provide enough evidence to conclude how a young player would become in the future. So the important thing to notice in this setting is the player’s processing in relation to their context. For Samanic’s case, a good barometer would be the incremental improvements he has developed since his rookie year in the league.

Turning the focus on the Samanic’s performance, it was an overall solid showing for him with averages of 15 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.7 stocks (steals + blocks) on 49/37/100 shooting splits (60.1 TS%) in six Summer League games. But the question becomes what does these numbers all mean in a low sample against lesser competition? That’s what we’ll try to figure out with the help of film.

The knock on Samanic’s offensive game has been his ability to shoot, only at a career 28% from deep. He also doesn’t take a lot of them with an average of 1.9 attempts per game, which doesn’t fit the current style of play. Good thing is it wasn’t the case during the duration of the Summer League.

Helped by having the whole Jazz squad jack the most threes in the tournament, Samanic showed an uptick on that aspect – where he shot an efficient 37% on good volume of 5.0 attempts. To put more perspective, here’s the nerdier stuff: Samanic shot 35.7% on spot-ups, 50% on guarded catch-and-shoots, and 42.7% on transition threes.

Again, we might still be at the stage of wait and see in the long run, but the opportunities have at least been intriguing. And among the aforementioned play and shot types, most interesting is if he can be a threat in transition. The Jazz had a middling performance in transition (19th in points per game last season), so it’s worth keeping an eye on how Samanic will be utilized – especially in their early offense.

Another facet that has popped for Samanic is his ability to pass the rock on optimal spots. We really don’t look at the raw average of his assists here, but it’s fascinating to see how he saw passing angles. Vision is already there, but like the same thought bubble in his shooting – it remains to be seen if he gets on-ball reps like what he had in the Summer League.

Samanic also had a fine defensive stint. Per Synergy, the opposition only managed to shoot at a rate of 20.8% (5/24) when directly guarded by the 23-year old player. Definitely, an encouraging sign, especially taking into consideration the scheme the team implemented.

Switching (from 1-5) was the scheme the Jazz stuck with the most the whole Summer League. With most teams relying on a ball screen centered offense, Samanic inevitably had to keep in front of more perimeter oriented guards or simply quicker players.

Talent discrepancy from the big league must be taken into consideration in evaluating Samanic’s perimeter defense. So important to recognize his mechanics, in terms of sliding his feet and the use of his hands for contesting and not for reaching.

Assessing the whole package that Samanic can offer for the Jazz, he seems to fit with the versatile big/tweener which could be a useful back-up for All-Star Lauri Markannen. If the finishing will also translate, he’s a good assurance to have and can play along with the different big lineups the Jazz can throw.

A strong argument that could be borne out from this exercise is the growth of Luka Samanic’s game into a real NBA player. The decision now lies with the Jazz organization, whether it merits an inclusion with the final roster, get rotational minutes, or even have a bigger runway in the upcoming season.