Three thoughts on the two games of the Salt Lake City Summer League Day 1 from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Trent Forrest impresses
It’s so funny, right? Trent Forrest played in 30 real-life NBA games against real-life NBA competition last season. I watched all of those games, attended most of them, and so should probably base my opinion on whether or not he’ll be an effective NBA player based on those games. Certainly, I should prioritize those games over one summer league performance against a bad San Antonio Spurs team whose best players were injured and not playing, right?
But when it’s been six weeks between Jazz games, and Forrest pops in that game, my natural inclination — even though I know it’s wrong! — is to weigh it over everything else. “Forrest is going to be a good NBA player!,” I think.
He did pop, though; he was the game’s best player. Certainly, it looked like he was playing at a different speed than everyone else. He ran pick and roll to perfection, finding Udoka Azubuike for four dunks. He assisted two made 3-point shots and a few other missed ones, along with a converted layup assist to Juwan Morgan. He made an impact on the defensive end, too.
Forrest was a little reluctant to shoot, but when he did, he made two of his three deep balls. That, more than anything else, is his swing skill: if he figures out how to shoot, he’ll be a rotational NBA player and make tens of millions of dollars throughout his career. If not, he could be out of the NBA before he makes more than six figures.
The good news is that he knows this. “The main focus for me has been my shooting,” Forrest said after the game. “And I feel like it’s gotten a lot better from the season until now, and I feel like that’s still going to be a focus even after summer league.”
He cited Royce O’Neale’s 3-point shooting improvement as a confidence-booster for him. “I know one of the coaches I work with, worked with Royce. I know Royce, when he came in, I heard he wasn’t like the best shooter, but every day they just did little things to help him get better. And now, I mean, you look at Royce, I don’t know what year he’s in, but he’s like a forty percent shooter.”
Here’s the bummer: O’Neale was actually a very good shooter in college — he shot 39.9% over the course of his 4-year college career from deep. Forrest shot 24.8% in four years at Florida State.
But Forrest went 2-3 in this game, so that’s sort of promising! I think it’s about consistency of form for Forrest, and he talks about that in interesting terms. “Just basically being ready before the catch has been a big thing for me, just being in rhythm. Just like how I play with a rhythm in pick and roll, (I want to have) a rhythm to my jumpshot.”
He’s had six weeks to work on it, so it’s possible he’s gotten better; he’ll have six weeks more before training camp begins.
2. Udoka Azubuike — big, good, out of shape
Until Jared Butler’s able to play, Azubuike will be the most interesting piece of the Jazz’s summer league situation.
First, know this: Dok said that “I haven’t played organized basketball 5-on-5 for, like, two years now — since my senior year of college.” That’s not technically true — he did play 57 minutes for the Jazz last season in garbage time, and 28 minutes for the Stars before severely spraining his ankle, but, well, it’s close enough.”
So what did we see? Well, kind of what you might expect out of a guy like that: he proved to be impactful with his size above all else. Because he’s so big, especially against a small Spurs summer league roster, he scared off a lot of rim attempts, just like Rudy Gobert tends to do. Good!
He also was an impactful screener, if kind of a goofy one — he never failed to point over his shoulder as he set the screen, instructing his teammates to use it. They probably know that. And rebounding wise, he certainly did his share, gathering 14 in only 23 minutes on the court.
He did struggle to consistently make an impact offensively, or when the game went uptempo. All four of his buckets were from Forrest lobs like this, for example:
At one point, the Jazz’s coaching staff called a timeout, it seemed mostly to give ‘Dok a breather, because he wasn’t able to keep up with the pace of play on the floor. Right now, he’s not going to be impactful in transition on either end, he needs to get in much better shape by the preseason.
In the third quarter, the news broke: the Jazz signed Hassan Whiteside, who will likely take most of Azubuike’s minutes next season. On one hand, that takes some of the pressure off of Azubuike, on the other, it costs him a chance to stake his claim to a rotational future with the Jazz in real NBA action.
There’s an outline there of a useful player, and I would have liked the pick a lot more in last year’s draft if it came in the middle of the second round (where he was predicted to be selected) rather than at No. 27, where Desmond Bane and Jaden McDaniels were available. But he’ll need to fill out the rough edges, and we’ll watch to see how he plays in a back-to-back situation tomorrow.
3. First-round busts
As good as Jazz White looked in a 29-point win over the Spurs, Jazz Blue looked equally bad in a 39-point loss to the Grizzlies.
In their defense, it was kind of an unfair matchup. This Grizzlies summer league team is very good, with two no-doubt NBA players in Bane and Xavier Tillman, and then probably three fringe NBA guys in Killian Tillie, John Konchar, and Yves Pons.
Jazz Blue has two former first-round draft picks: Justin Patton and Jarell Martin. The team’s best player was actually Joe Chealey, who was Jarrell Brantley’s point guard at the College of Charleston; Chealey’s played in five total NBA games with the Hornets in the last two years.
Patton did some flashy things — at one point, he blocked a shot, then took it coast-to-coast for a layup. But I was pretty unimpressed with his overall rim protection despite the three blocks. Martin was a catastrophe: six points on eight shots, a -28, and looked like the slowest player on the floor. It is unimaginable that the Grizzlies played him in real NBA minutes at the small forward position, but they did. (It also earned them Ja Morant, so who’s to complain?)
Anyway, it’s a good reminder: we talk about the value of first round picks, and there’s no doubt that they are valuable assets. When they hit, a team can have cheap control of a good player for four years, and then market-value control of that player for the next four years. (See Donovan Mitchell. That he made $5 million last season is robbery.)
But they sometimes don’t hit. When they don’t, players can be out of the league fast.
Correction • An earlier version of this article misidentified 2020 draft pick Jaden McDaniels.