Rayjon Tucker getting meaningful minutes for Jazz, thanks to his defensive focus

New York Knicks guard Damyean Dotson (21) is fouled by Utah Jazz guard Rayjon Tucker (6) while shooting during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Chris Nicoll)

New signing Rayjon Tucker wasn’t necessarily expecting to get immediate playing time — of the non-garbage variety, anyway.

“There was no set time on when I was going to play or when I wasn’t going to play,” Tucker said.

But in recent games, Jazz coach Quin Snyder has inserted Tucker into his rotation, usually during first halves. The idea is as follows: Donovan Mitchell was playing too many minutes, nearly 40 in some cases, when the Jazz’s bench was struggling. So Snyder has extended the playing time of Emmanuel Mudiay and Jordan Clarkson, but in order to prevent Mudiay from playing too many consecutive minutes, Tucker gets a short 3-5 minute stint in the first half to show what he can do.

It’s not a lot, but meaningful minutes for an G League call-up shows that the Jazz do believe in what Tucker can do — not just later, but now. That starts first on the defensive end, where both Snyder and Tucker say their focus has been so far.

“I think he can really move laterally defensively. He’s strong and he is able to chase on screens, to get up in pick-and-roll and do a lot of those things,” Snyder said. Tucker is listed at 6-3, 209 pounds, heavier than the Jazz’s other 6-3 players (Mudiay is 202 pounds, while Clarkson is 192 pounds).

Tucker has also found a balance between attacking offensively and letting his other, more experienced teammates, do the work. Some of that is Tucker’s lack of familiarity with the offense — which he calls a read-based motion offense, one he’s still learning. And then there’s Tucker’s desire to fit in with his new teammates, to not take anything off the court, so to speak.

That means Tucker is still looking for his first 3-point make; he’s missed three so far. He has found more success attacking the closeout or a defense set up to defend the other players, including a nice and-one drive against the Pelicans.

“As far as offense goes, there are just levels of that,” Snyder said. “It’s just a question of progression; he will watch film and do a lot of individual stuff (in practice).”

But Tucker is still happy to be here, up in the NBA. “It’s a blessing, that’s the biggest thing. All basketball players, come out here and put the time in on the court. But to see that come to fruition, it’s a blessing.”