The Triple Team: Jazz stay undefeated in summer league, thanks to great defense and Trent Forrest’s excellent play

(Andy Larsen | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jazz summer league coach Bryan Bailey.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 84-65 summer league win over the Miami Heat from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz defense and setting a tone

This Jazz summer league performance has been pretty remarkable. At first, I thought it was a result of playing some pretty weak competition so far — the Suns and Mavericks aren’t inspiring summer league rosters at all. In Salt Lake City, the Jazz got a little bit lucky in that the Grizzlies and Spurs rested players against them.

This was the first game, though, that I expected them to lose, and they won it. They won it through yet another slow, defensive first half, where both teams ended up scoring closer to 30 than 40 points. But in the second half, the Jazz stomped all over the Heat, 52-32.

How’d they do it? They figured out the Heat’s defensive pressure. The Heat’s high perimeter defense was physcial and difficult to break down: guys like Jarrell Brantley and Elijah Hughes couldn’t really figure out how to get consistent separation. But Udoka Azubuike started to set better screens, the Jazz became a little bit more patient, and once they broke past the initial line of defense, the Jazz could score again.

Meanwhile, the defense stayed stifling. The biggest reason for this was Azubuike, who continues to be an absolute monster down low. He still struggles with everything that isn’t being huge and contesting shots, but honestly, that’s absolutely enough to make the Jazz a defensive force in this setting. I also think the Jazz’s perimeter defenders have been good: MaCio Teague has been a bright spot, and Hughes is doing well to break the “Syracuse wings can’t play defense” stereotype.

It kind of reminds me of the Jazz 3-5 seasons ago: maybe the best defensive team in the league, but a slog offensively. And that’s okay! Credit to Bryan Bailey, Jazz summer league coach, for getting this roster to defend as well as they do.

2. Role player vs. starter evaluation

I love everything about what Trent Forrest has done in this summer league.

He’s been 100% poised, he’s been aggressive, he’s played well defensively, and he makes every single kind of pass — passes that most NBA players can’t make, let alone summer league players. He’s broken down every kind of perimeter defender to be able to get to the rim and either finish or create for others. He has been, by far, the biggest bright spot for a Jazz summer league team that’s now 6-0 in play — somehow, a team with no real exciting NBA prospects has been one of the best teams in summer league. If summer league was the NBA, he’d be in line for a max contract.

I have two questions remaining about Forrest:

1. He’s been brilliant with the ball in his hands. However, with the real life Utah Jazz, the ball isn’t goiing to be in his hands a tremendous amount: they have Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, and now Rudy Gay and Jared Butler all very capable players of doing something great with the ball. Will Forrest get the kinds of opportunities he needs to shine on the Jazz, or would he have to go to another team to shine?

2. And if he’s playing without the ball, can he do enough to make it make sense to play him over another type of player? In particular, and to be very forward, can he shoot well enough?

I think the 3-point shot has looked much improved, and yet, he’s still not talking very many of them, and it’s a small sample size. The form, though, looks much more consistent than it did in regular season play.

I don’t know, though — he’s actually an incredibly entertaining player in this setting. He’s undoubtedly improved his stock. I’m rooting for him to be able to show that improvement next year, too.

3. Jared Butler’s new contract

The summer league contract news keeps coming in, as Jared Butler’s agency confirmed that he signed a two-year guaranteed contract with the Jazz. Interestingly, the story was broken by the NBA’s transactions website, a whole new level of secrecy!

It’s another good one in a line of good contracts for the Jazz, in my opinion. I really believe in Butler as a player, so to get him for the maximum number of years at a minimum contract is likely to be good value. And because of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement rules, he’ll be eligible for restricted free agency after his contract expires, keeping him in the Jazz’s grasp.

I also think he’s going to play relatively significant minutes. I’m not saying 20 minutes a night, but I think he has a path into the rotation as a 10th man, and especially when Mike Conley or Donovan Mitchell is rested. He will compete with Forrest with time — if Forrest really has taken a leap, it’d be a good battle to have. But on paper, Butler should be the better player.