If Jazz Media Day is like the professional basketball version of the first day of school, then it’s only logical for players to also participate in one of the most time-honored back-to-class assignments: the “What Did You Do This Summer?” presentation.
Of course, the FIBA World Cup — and associated warmup games and practices — was a massive chunk of the summers for Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles. Mitchell, especially, enjoyed the extra work, perhaps because he was sidelined for so much of last summer due to a foot injury.
“I could go to the gym whenever I wanted to shoot,” Mitchell said. “That’s one thing you really miss when you get hurt. Just being able to just say ‘I will go two-a-day today,' sometimes three, being able to have that mindset coming in. ... I cherish that because I wasn’t there (last year).”
Gobert put his summer playing for France in more sacrificial terms, though he was proud of what his France team achieved in earning a medal.
“We have two months to practice every day, while other guys are playing pickup games, or on the beach or with their families. You sacrifice to try to accomplish something,” Gobert said. “I’ve always dreamed about beating the USA in the international tournaments. We did it this time. Hopefully we get to do it again.”
For newcomer Bojan Bogdanovic, the opposite was true. Because Croatia surprisingly didn’t qualify for the World Cup, he had no international obligations at all. That gave him a chance to work on his game in workouts, rather than in a team setting. “I worked on my ballhandling, I tried to improve my defense, worked on my slides, my legs, all kinds of different stuff actually.” It also gave him more of a chance to rest than in any other NBA offseason he’s had, he said.
Of course, with so many newcomers, moving to Salt Lake City was a consistent theme. Some NBA players are used to being nomads: this will be Jeff Green’s sixth different team in six years, Emmanuel Mudiay has moved twice in the last two years. Nigel Williams-Goss has played for four different teams over the last four years of his career: two different college squads, and two different international teams, one in Serbia and one in Greece.
But for Mike Conley, it’s been even a little tougher, thanks to a family and the accumulation of things that spending 12 years in one place necessarily brings.
“I mean, it’s never easy moving anywhere. With the kids and the wife, getting everybody up to speed and familiar with the community and stuff like that, has just been great,” Conley said. “The fans and the support that we’ve had so far has been unreal.”
Conley did spend some time early in the offseason working with Mitchell in Los Angeles as well.
Another Jazzman, Dante Exum, has been focused on recovery. After suffering a partially torn patellar tendon in March, Exum has been recovering from surgery and unable to fully participate on the court. He’s reportedly moving at 100%, but the Jazz want to make sure his balance is right before committing him to on-court, full-speed play. He could hit that benchmark before Saturday’s opening game against Adelaide, or it may be more of a wait, but Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey says they’ll be “very conservative.”
Without always being able to work on his basketball skills this summer, Exum moved to the weight room. Exum looks more muscular than ever before, with two goals: increased strength could help his ability to stay healthy and to play with physicality on the court.
The rookies who have been in Salt Lake City spoke about their experience playing in OTAs. Yes, they had the intermediate experience in playing in summer league, but playing against 100% NBA players in the up-and-down setting at Zions Bank Basketball Campus was an eye-opening experience.
For Justin Wright-Foreman, who needs to learn a bit of point guard skill along with his prodigious scoring ability, the ability to talk to and learn from Conley was paramount. The same was true for fellow two-way rookie Jarrell Brantley, who said he learned tips from the veteran Green as well as the younger Georges Niang.
The rookies aren’t the only ones who got a chance to try to improve this offseason. Mudiay said he worked on his defense, including some tips from Jazz coach Quin Snyder on how to get around screens more effectively, as well as staying involved in possessions. Niang wants to show off his ability to attack closeouts and playmake more than just hit open shots; the same is true for Royce O’Neale. Ingles told The Tribune that he wanted to work on his right hand, especially as teams work to take away his left.
And even for an 11-year veteran like Green, there were skills to work on. “I’m never satisfied. I think if you give that away, that’s when you have an early exit,” Green said. “You know I can be more consistent in 3-point percentage, better at dribbling, better at being a teammate, better at making plays. But my goal is to always continue to get better.”
With summer assignments completed, now it’s time for Snyder’s school to begin.