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The Triple Team: On the Jazz’s 3rd year players, Udoka Azubuike’s size, and Jared Butler’s Uno games

Baylor guard Jared Butler (12) celebrates the win over TCU with guard MaCio Teague (31) after an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/ Richard W. Rodriguez)

Three thoughts on Day 2 of Salt Lake City Summer League action from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Our expectations for third year players

You know, generally, we’d expect a player entering his third year in the NBA to really dominate in summer league. After two years of practicing and playing around real NBA talent, those guys should naturally have a leg up on the guys who are getting their first taste of quasi-NBA action.

But here’s the thing: this isn’t the typical third-year summer league. There wasn’t a summer league at all last year, and there was only a 15-game G-League season, too. Players like Juwan Morgan and Jarrell Brantley haven’t actually gotten that much playing time; Brantley talked about how he was maybe too excited to show what he could do in real minutes.

“I got another game to just kind of figure it out. I mean, I haven’t played in real minutes in a live setting in a year or so. So last night was fun to be in the game and kind of get a feel for it,” Brantley said. “But today I could be more focused”.

Brantley struggled on Tuesday, but he did much better on Wednesday. He scored 19 points, on 6-11 shooting, adding five rebounds, a steal, and an assist. Ultimately, there were times when he was a little out of control, maybe a little bit too eager to show what he could do one-on-one, but it was a lot better than it was Tuesday. Maybe that’s due to the nerves! We’ll watch it moving forward.

I have been a big fan of Juwan Morgan for his whole pro career, but I’m more worried about him now. He was a dominant G-League player through sheer intelligence: getting rebounds through finding the ideal spot, making the right pass at the right time, always being present on the defensive end.

But we’re getting to the point that it’s not enough. At some point, there’s a binary level to some of basketball’s outcomes. Can you put the ball in the basket? Can you jump higher than other athletic guys to get the rebound? And at this point, Morgan isn’t there on either level: not skilled enough from the perimeter, not athletic or physical enough to really hang inside.

Both guys got a bad piece of news when the Jazz traded for Eric Paschall earlier in the day, the roster stands at 14 players without them. The Jazz don’t need to bring either Brantley or Morgan back. What happens over the next week is very important.

All I’m saying is — let’s not judge them on the first couple of games, but maybe over the entirety of their summer league experience.

2. Benefits of being big

Udoka Azubuike is absolutely a massive human being. He stands at 6-10 without shoes, has a 7-foot-7 wingspan. Oh, and he has a pretty ridiculous vertical leap, at 37 inches.

The whole package just adds up to a terrifying prospect for opponents, who just don’t want to shoot when ‘Dok is around. A quick scan through the game’s play-by-play shows that the Grizzlies were able to get just six shots at the rim when Azubuike was in the game. They’re just scared of getting the ball over this incredible mountain in front of them.

He also finished with a truly excellent scoreline: 19 points in 25 minutes, 9-9 FG, 11 rebounds, three blocks and two steals, including his first non-dunk of summer league: a 13-foot hook shot. Again, his offense is going to be nearly 100% dependent on what other guys can create for him, but he is certainly good at finishing those opportunities.

I’ll be curious to see what happens when he faces trickier opposition: can they get him in the air early, then get the ball over or around him? Will they be able to draw fouls? Or will ‘Dok’s size rule the day, and make him an effective NBA center?

There’s no doubt he has to get in a lot better shape: again, he wasn’t always running up and down the court, and again, timeouts had to be called for his benefit. But there might be something here.

3. MaCio Teague, Jared Butler, and Uno

MaCio Teague and Jared Butler were part of the 3-headed lion of Baylor (along with Davion Mitchell, drafted by the Kings) that led them to the NCAA national championship last April. All three were known for their two-way play: tough defenders who hustled. All three proved an ability to score when needed, too.

Teague was clearly the worst prospect of the three, owing to his age — 24 — and his secondary offensive skills; he never showed as much ability to playmake as did Butler and Mitchell. But he definitely can score, and he showed that off in the Jazz Blue team’s second game on Wednesday. He had 26 points on 9-18 shooting; characteristically, he also had 0 assists. He was the best player on the court that featured two lottery picks from the Spurs, Josh Primo and Devin Vassell, and Teague guarded both well.

If he keeps this up, he’ll definitely have the chance to earn a two-way contract on someone’s roster, Utah or otherwise. We’ll see what happens with Trent Forrest and Brantley in the Jazz’s two-way spots to determine whether there’s an opening for Teague next to his college teammate.

But mostly, I want to share with you this story of Teague and Butler playing Uno. The story by Dana O’Neil in The Athletic is terrific, but the upshot of it is that Teague and Butler have an ongoing Uno game, and a whiteboard to keep track of who wins more. They made “Uno Champion” t-shirts. O’Neil watches them play a game.

“On the next deal, Butler mistakenly gives Teague an extra card. ‘See? See?’ Teague yells. ‘He thinks I cheat,’ Butler says with a laugh. ‘I don’t have to cheat.’ Back and forth, back and forth, the trash talking only interrupted by critiques of game strategy. (Again, there is none.) When Teague calls out ‘blue’ on a wild card and proceeds to draw from the pile, Butler rolls his eyes at the blunder. ‘You see that? He called a color he didn’t even have.’

On and on it goes. Butler insists the game is 90 percent luck, and Teague, upon throwing down his final card to go up three games to two, shouts back, ‘100 percent skill.’

I think we just learned a lot about Utah’s No. 40 draft pick.

First of all, Butler is right: Uno is 90% luck.

Second, calling out a card you don’t have on a wild card is a wild strategy that only makes sense if you know the other player is going to be able to change the color on you — next level thinking if true, but given imperfect information, rarely the right play.

Third, Butler giving Teague an extra card shows that he’s willing to grift to win. Some of the NBA’s best point guards, from Chris Paul to Kyle Lowry, engage in extensive grifting. Claiming a mistake has been made on a devious action is also in the Paul and Lowry playbook.

Without yet seeing him in this summer league, I’m already convinced: Jared Butler’s going to be a success.

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