Veteran big man Willie Reed knows helping his young Jazz teammates will help him, too

Las Vegas • Willie Reed is 29 years old. He’s appeared in 152 NBA games in his career. And because he’s hoping to add to that total, he’s playing for the Utah Jazz’s summer league team.

Reed has been around enough to know the situation he’s in. The 6-foot-10, 220-pound center knows the Jazz are well-set at his position with two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and free-agent addition Ed Davis. He knows his summer league teammate, Tony Bradley, as a recent first-round pick with a guaranteed contract, has a lock on the third-string spot.

And so Reed knows that every time he steps onto the court, even if only in front a couple thousand people at Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus, he’s showcasing himself for anyone who might be watching and in need of a veteran big man.

“[Summer league is] big for everyone,” he conceded after putting in 14 points, 12 rebounds, and two blocks in Sunday’s 93-81 loss to the Miami Heat. “I’m trying to get back into the league. There’s a lot of stuff I can improve on, but I still think there’s a lot of things that I bring to the table that can help a team. I’m just waiting for the right opportunity.”

Part of that entails the obvious stuff — being a presence on the glass, being an impediment in the lane. Reed noted that because he has a deserved reputation as “an offensive rebounder, a high-energy guy, a lob threat,” he’s been putting in work in trying to develop a mid-post offensive game.

He even faced up and uncorked a jump shot on Sunday, though it came up well short.

Beyond the statistical contributions, though, he’s also got a rep for those intangibles that help a team without showing up in the box score.

“He’s just a pro — he’s been around for years. He’s active on the defensive end, he’s talking. And what I mean by talking, it’s not like fake-hustle talking — he’s getting guys in the right situations on the defensive end,” said Jazz assistant Johnnie Bryant, who’s heading up the team’s Vegas contingent. “So he just provides that veteran presence for us, and I think that helps. You hear him on the bench when he’s out of the game: ‘Hey, keep talking, guys.’ To have that veteran presence is good for us.”

Reed acknowledged he believes those things can only help his cause.

He knows that, unless he winds up with the Salt Lake City Stars of the G League once again, he might never play with many of these guys again. And yet, as the guy with the most experience by far on this summer league roster, he said he takes pride in teaching the newbies whatever he can to make them — and, by extension, the team — that much better.

“I’m just trying to help them out with the terminology, just telling ’em how the game is, how fast it can be — ‘It’s a fast game, but play at your pace and slow down a little bit,’” he said.

Of course, it’s all relative. Despite being older than any of them, despite having seen the league more than them, he’s in the same position as them — just trying to catch someone’s eye and prove that he has something to offer.

As much as he’s devoted to helping his Jazz teammates become more well-rounded players, he knows he must do the same himself.

“Obviously, there’s some stuff I can work on; as a player, I’m my harshest critic — I wanna get better at everything,” Reed said. “But I think I’ve done a good job of talking and trying to be a good leader on this team.”