A Jazz point guard shined on Wednesday night — just not the one who started.
It took a few minutes for the Utah Jazz to find an offensive rhythm in a 117-78 win over visiting Maccabi Haifa. The change came after a Jazz timeout, when new Jazzman Ricky Rubio subbed out and third-year guard Dante Exum came in.
For Exum: Nine points, six assists, no turnovers. For Rubio: Two points, five assists, six turnovers.
There’s a little sweet and a little sour for the Jazz after their second preseason game — a reminder that while a one-time lottery pick in Exum is showing signs of delivering on his promise, the first-team offense led by Rubio is a work in progress.
There’s three preseason games left, and Rubio is coming off what coach Quin Snyder called “his best practice.” But as the Jazz transition their offense to include more points in transition, there are, and will be, growing pains.
“We’re really making a point of emphasis when we do get stops to push the ball, throw ahead, make plays,” Snyder said. “In doing that, there’s a growth process that occurs. That’s what I saw early in the game.”
To be fair, Rubio started his second preseason game at Vivint Smart Home Arena at a disadvantage: The Jazz sat Rodney Hood in the starting lineup (rest), as well as Joe Johnson (rest), Donovan Mitchell (right hamstring) and Raul Neto (left quad). Without the needed shooting threat of Hood to start — Thabo Sefolosha started in his place — the Jazz’s Israeli opponent collapsed its defense around center Rudy Gobert.
It was effective, at least at the beginning. Through the first four minutes, the Jazz found themselves down 6-4, with four missed shots and three turnovers.
Exum helped turn things around, his dribbling and decision-making on display. His speed helped bring energy to Utah’s offense, and he dished to Alec Burks and Jonas Jerebko as the Jazz punched the lead up to double digits and coasted for the rest of the game.
While Exum was only 3 for 8 from the field, he did manage to get a highlight for himself as he spun past a helpless defender for a two-handed dunk.
It was the kind of promise the Jazz have been hoping for from the 22-year-old who was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft. While his development was hampered by injury in 2015, the Jazz are gathering evidence that Exum is taking strides in his fourth season.
“I think he’s just showing he can do it — his potential is through the roof,” said Alec Burks, who finished with a team-best 16 points. “I think he’s been a great passer, he’s known for that, but I think he’s just attacking more. Very confident in his moves, you know, not shying away from contact.”
While the Jazz got rolling eventually, Rubio had an uneven night on offense in 15 minutes: For the second straight game, he was 0 for 4 from the field. And his usually on-point passing created as many turnovers as opportunities.
Utah has been as careful bringing Rubio along as any player this year, trying to give him rest in training camp after he played a full Eurobasket campaign. While any new player takes time to integrate, the urgency is sloping upward as the Jazz face the Phoenix Suns at home on Friday.
“I don’t have a destination or a ceiling on that, it’s just something that’s got to evolve,” Snyder said. “Ricky’s a rhythm player. … I think as he gets comfortable and even gets his legs under him, and guys begin to know him and get to know what he’s doing on the court, that connectivity will continue to improve.”
Other key pieces of the Jazz — at least the ones who played on Wednesday — were solid. Gobert had another night of forceful post play with 12 points (mostly on dunks) and three blocks. Joe Ingles found his shooting stroke in the second quarter, finishing with 12 points and adding four assists.
Meanwhile, things were good down the bench as well: Nate Wolters, Naz Mitrou-Long and Taylor Braun got their first action as Jazzmen. All 16 players who took the floor scored for the Jazz, while Haifa struggled despite 28 points from Brandon Bowman.