When Rayjon Tucker got the call from agent Mark Bartelstein last Monday night, around 9 or 10 p.m. by his recollection, confirming that he’d be getting a fully guaranteed NBA contract from the Utah Jazz, the first thing the 22-year-old did, naturally, was call his mom.
It didn’t go exactly how he envisioned — her reaction evolving over the course of multiple hours and three phone calls.
“She had three stages, which was really funny,” Tucker recounted. “The first time I called her, she was kinda relaxed, chill, she was like, ‘Yeah, you worked hard, you deserve this.’ So I went to get something to eat, called her again — she was real happy, like geeked up, just laughing, yelling, her and my little brother. Then I went to sleep, called her in the morning, and that’s when the tears came. That’s what I was waiting on the first time! But it didn’t quite happen the way I thought it would.
“She didn’t cry fast enough!” he concluded with a smile and a laugh.
Of course, now that he’s gone from starring for the Wisconsin Herd of the G League to trying to carve out a role on the Utah Jazz, there should theoretically be plenty of additional opportunities for her to capture the proper emotion of the moment.
Tucker himself certainly didn’t have any issues doing that.
“This week has definitely been a blessing — probably the best Christmas gift I’ve ever got, for sure,” he said. “… I hoped for it. I didn’t know, really, when it was gonna come. … I was kinda in shock, I was kinda amazed, I didn’t really know what to say. It was definitely exciting.”
Now that the business of getting here is done and over with, though, it’s time to get down to showing why the organization felt compelled to waive veteran forward and rotational piece Jeff Green in order to get Tucker.
After going undrafted this past summer upon declaring after his junior season at Little Rock, Tucker subsequently showed himself to be one of the top players in the G League. In 16 games with the Herd, the 6-foot-3 guard averaged 23.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists, while shooting 49.6% from the field and 38.6% beyond the arc.
Such production created a bit of a bidding war for his services. The Jazz, who’d brought Tucker in for a predraft workout and considered selecting him with each of their three second-round picks, ultimately decided his upside was too good to miss out on.
“Rayjon was being pursued by six teams, and then it got down to us and one other team that were competing for his rights,” said executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey. “And we felt like, at the end of the day, a full roster guarantee could be a tiebreaker.”
Tucker confirmed he and Bartelstein ultimately chose the Jazz because they were, indeed, the only ones to offer such a guarantee. That said, he acknowledged there’s plenty to like about the pairing.
He got a good impression from the franchise during that aforementioned predraft workout. Then, during this month’s G League Winter Showcase, he got a chance to interact with some of the players who’ve split time between the Salt Lake City Stars and the Jazz, and came away feeling, “They play hard, they play together, they’re about winning.”
Oh, also, the Jazz have some guy named Donovan Mitchell, who Tucker got to know a few years back during a high school slam dunk competition held in Indiana.
“I remember that like it was yesterday, to be honest with you,” Mitchell said.
And considering he finished ahead of Mitchell in that competition (though both lost to Derrick Jones Jr., now of the Miami Heat), Tucker naturally isn’t letting it go either. Regardless of the fact that Mitchell has now won an NBA All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk title, Tucker wasn’t backing down when asked who’d prevail in a rematch.
“Oh, definitely I’m winning — I got more bounce than Donovan!” he said. “… I think he might’ve lost a little bit! Nah, I’m just kidding.”
“He jumps higher than me for sure, I’ll give him that,” Mitchell agreed. “We’ll have to definitely run it back.”
Still, while Tucker’s verticality is a nice asset, that alone is not why the team signed him.
“He’s a defender, I’ll start off with that. He’s a guy who’s tenacious, who works hard — similar to how Royce [O’Neale] came in and really worked hard, prides himself on the defensive end,” Mitchell said. “But he can also do things on the offensive end — he can score, he can get to the rim, he can play above the rim. He’s a very cerebral player.”
Lindsey said part of his team-building philosophy “is to have flexibility and be nimble to deal with the roster.” Still, he acknowledged, it was Stars VP of basketball ops Bart Taylor, Jazz general manager Justin Zanik and assistant GM David Morway who impressed upon him, “‘Dennis, we’ve got to react or you’re going to lose him; someone else is going to get his rights.’”
So, the Jazz got their guy. What he can contribute remains to be seen, considering Tucker has not yet appeared in either of the team’s games played since his acquisition. For his part, at least, Tucker is quite certain of what he brings to the table.
“Just energy, defense, a slasher, just being a good role player on a team, trying to get dubs — that’s what it’s all about — winning a championship,” he said.
JAZZ VS. PISTONS
At Vivint Smart Home Arena
Tipoff • Monday, 7 p.m.
TV • AT&T SportsNet
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 20-12; Pistons 12-21
Last meeting • Jazz, 100-94 (Jan. 14)
About the Jazz • Utah leads the league with 15 “clutch” wins, defined as when the point differential is five points or less in the final five minutes. … Royce O’Neale (45.3) and Bojan Bogdanovic (43.6) rank seventh and eighth in the league in 3-point shooting, while Joe Ingles (40.9) is up to 22nd. … The Jazz rank second-to-last in the league in opponents’ turnovers, at just 12.8 per game.
About the Pistons • Center Andre Drummond leads the NBA in rebounding, at 16.0 per game, and in offensive rebounding percentage (12.9%). … Detroit’s four road wins are tied for the third-fewest in the league behind the three of Atlanta and Golden State. … The Pistons are third in the NBA in 3P% (37.7) and second in bench points per game (47.5).