NBA Summer League basketball is a notorious time for knee-jerk overreactions to largely meaningless basketball played by fringe NBA players. That’s what makes it fun. In all honestly, most of the actual basketball is lack-luster, so what else are you supposed to do?
In the case of the Utah Jazz, how much can we read into their summer league success? After all, they have gone an undefeated 5-0 between the Salt Lake City and Las Vegas leagues. And after all, they have had some exciting performances from both Trent Forrest and Udoka Azubuike.
Well, to be realistic, most takeaways that can be made are insignificant. Still, in the spirit of the game, here are some of the biggest takeaways from Utah’s time at summer league up until this point:
Udoka Azubuike is Simultaneously Awesome and Worrying
Utah’s relatively controversial first-round pick from last year has finally been able to play some real minutes in front of the public eye. With most of the context around that pick buried away, it’s become really easy to root for the guy. Obviously, Azubuike’s large stature and 7-foot-7 wingspan gives him the ability to block shots and finish lobs at the rim. But what's more impressive is his ability to use that size to take up space. Because of his poor scores on lateral-movement tests in the Draft Combine, I was worried that he wouldn’t be able to effectively use his physical tools in the wider-spacing of NBA basketball. Essentialy, I was worried he’d repeatedly get blown by.
But to my surprise, Azubuike does a fantastic job of using his athleticism and body to bump guys off their lines, contain players coming off pick and roles, and recover when he does get beat. That isn’t to say that he’s the best at defending when isolated on the perimeter; he’s not. It just means that Azubuike has been much more serviceable in that department than I expected.
On the flip side, Azubuike’s rebounding has left much to be desired. In Las Vegas, he’s only averaged 8 rebounds per game, which for his size, is pretty low. I’m not sure if it has to do with his conditioning, but for whatever reason, he doesn’t attack the glass as much as he should. The other (and probably more important note) is that Azubuike is only shooting ~50% from the free-throw line, something that could render him useless for extended minutes in the NBA.
Trent Forrest is One of the Better Guards in Summer League, But He’s Still a Fringe NBA Player
Trent Forrest has been really, really good in Summer League. In every game up until this point, he’s been the best player on the court. So how in the world could he still only be a fringe rotation player?
The brutal reality for Forrest is that in the NBA, he simply won’t have the luxury of being a focal point on offense. In Summer League, Forrest can show off all of the great parts of his game because he has the ball in his hands every position. In the NBA (and especially in Quin Snyder’s system), Forrest will spend the majority of his time sitting in the corner, waiting for a swing pass. That directly contradicts who Forrest is as a player and his lack of shooting only makes that problem worse. He still doesn’t look very comfortable when he shoots triples and I’m not totally sure that will change in the span of a couple months. Either way, as a two-way contract player, Forrest is an absolute bargain. If he ever figures out his shot, he could be a rotation player.
Juwan Morgan, Jarrell Brantley, and Elijah Hughes Have Been Somewhat Disappointing
Out of all the players on the roster, Summer League may be most important to these three guys. To varying extents, this summer could dictate their future with the organization.
In Juwan Morgan’s case, this summer has confirmed that his offensive limitations are hampering his chances at a rotation spot in the league. I personally still believe that Morgan could be a good player. He’s got a ton going for him, but similar to Trent Forrest, if he doesn't prove his outside jumper soon then later, he may be in trouble.
Jarrell Brantley has had a pretty up and down summer. In large part, this has been the story of his career. At one moment, Brantley looks like he could be a wildly impactful role player in the league with his size, driving ability, and passing. At other moments, he looks totally lost on defense, forces ill-advised shots, and struggles to make any impact. I think his biggest issue is that he's pretty good at a handful of things, but isn’t neccisarlily great at anything.
Elijah Hughes’ summer has been filled with tough luck. Between going through the NBA’s concussion protocol and missing shots he usually makes, he's had a rough out. I think his offensive inconsistency can be chalked up to not playing very many meaningful minutes in the past year, but it’s something that has to be noted nonetheless. The silver linings for Hughes come on defense. It’s pretty clear that he’s worked hard on becoming a serviceable defender, and I think it’s paying off.
In the end, everything in Summer League should be taken with a grain of salt. Remember this: Trey Lyles looked like a future all-star when he played in Las Vegas. We all know how that story played out.