With Donovan Mitchell sidelined by a sprained ankle and Mike Conley out with a sore hamstring, a contingent of Utah Jazz fans were eager and excited for coach Quin Snyder to finally throw some extra minutes Miye Oni’s way.
Except that, rather than feed some extra playing time to the lithe, athletic, second-year defensive specialist, Snyder has instead rolled with Trent Forrest, a rookie point guard on a two-way contract known for his deficiencies in the area of 3-point shooting. The consensus reaction?
What. The. Hell?!
Virtually every time the 22-year-old Florida State product has taken the court this season, Jazz Nation has grumbled on social media, wondering what the upside is of a guy with zero positional versatility who wrecks the team’s offensive flow by either passing up open 3-point looks or —when he does finally decide to let one fly — missing them.
The Jazz’s past two games, though, have begun to change the narrative, have begun to illustrate the presence of something.
In Saturday’s victory over the Raptors, he logged 15 minutes, 24 seconds on the court, and contributed seven points, two rebounds, and three assists. He also helped shut down microwave scorer Fred VanVleet in the fourth quarter, including a huge block of a jump shot, then followed that up with by drilling a clutch corner 3 that expanded Utah’s lead from two to five points.
“Trent was amazing. I don’t think we win this game without him,” Rudy Gobert said afterward.
Then, in Monday’s win against the Spurs, Forrest played 21:02, and dropped in nine points (on 3-for-5 shooting), four rebounds, and a steal.
“I thought Trent did an excellent job of coming in,” Snyder said.
Asked if learning that Snyder planned to roll with him as part of the team’s rotation initially inspired terror or confidence, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound guard did not hesitate.
“I would say more confidence, honestly,” Forrest said. “I mean, since I’ve been here, they’ve been working with me, and knowing that [Snyder] has the trust in me, I feel like that gives me a lot of confidence because I’ve had to really work and just lock in since I’ve been here to gain these opportunities.”
That’s true enough.
When the Jazz signed Forrest to a two-way contract back on Nov. 19, he was coming off a senior season with the Seminoles in which he averaged 11.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists, and earned All-ACC Second Team and All-ACC Defensive Team honors. However, he also shot just 28.1% (a career high) from 3-point range.
JAZZ VS. SPURS
At Vivint Smart Home Arena
When • Wednesday, 7 p.m.
TV • ATTSN
There was no reasonable expectation that he’d be any kind of key contributor for the team this season. And, given that he’s averaging 2.0 points and 1.4 assists in 23 mostly mop-up appearances, that’s generally been the case.
Still, his daily work with assistant coach Lamar Skeeter and player development coach Keyon Dooling has been paying off.
“My first week here, I was really amazed at how much time they put into shooting,” Forrest said. “And I knew, for me, that was going to be a big part of my game, and it’s working. [I’m] just continuing to shoot those shots.”
True — he’s made all of three total shots from 3-point range this season (in 12 attempts), but two of those have come in the last two games.
Just as important is that his comfort level with firing them up is continuing to grow — to the point that when he got that crucial open look against Toronto, he didn’t even think about it.
“Not at all. Every day in practice, we rep it out — every shot, every 3 that we take, we rep it out,” he said. “[Whichever] coach that I work with, he stays on top of me: ‘Even if you miss three in a row, however many you miss, the next one is always going in.’ So that was just my mindset going into that shot. So, I mean, for me, it was just another shot to take.”
His teammates and coaches have seen his game grow elsewhere, too — in large part because he’s always asking them questions.
Forrest said that before he checks in, he makes it a point to talk to Mitchell or Conley or Joe Ingles — What are you seeing? How would you handle this coverage? How do you defend that action? He joked that he probably spends a disproportionate amount of time watching Royce O’Neale on defense so that he can pick his brain about specific tactics when he checks out of the game and comes to the bench. His grasp on the nuances of directing traffic and knowing where to be and how to exploit opponents is growing, too.
“Really, really smart player,” said Bojan Bogdanovic. “Offensively, he knows how to how to play pick-and-roll, how to read the situation over there. Whenever he’s on the court, we get something from him.”
“He really works defensively. … And he’s unselfish. I think he’s got a great pace in pick-and-roll when he got in the lane. Because he hasn’t played as much, that’s something that people haven’t seen,” Snyder added. “But for a young player that has just got thrown into it, he’s got a lot of poise and a great tempo to his game.”
And he’s starting to turn the fans around too.
In the third quarter Monday, Forrest saw a seam open up in the Spurs’ defense, and he accelerated, rose through the air, and rammed home a two-handed slam that brought the Vivint Arena crowd to its feet.
“The only thing I was missing [from the NBA experience] so far was a dunk, so I definitely had to get one tonight for my mom and my college coach,” Forrest beamed afterward.
After Forrest finished his throwdown over Spurs big man Gogui Dieng, Jazz fans were likely once again saying of the guard, “What. The. Hell?!” Only this time, they meant it in the best of ways.