Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 94-90 summer league loss to the Los Angeles Clippers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Unlocking skills for Udoka Azubuike
Udoka Azubuike is just extremely good at dunking.
His dunks are ferocious. He’s so gigantic, so strong, and so bouncy, that he can get just ridiculously high above the rim and throw it down with incredible force. This is actually an extremely good skill to have: it might be enough to make him an NBA player.
But there’s a huge amount of development still left to do with the little things. For example, in loading up for those dunks, Azubuike will often shuffle his feet, trying to budge traffic out of the way or get from out from under the hoop. It’s understandable — he’s just so excited to dunk! But he’ll be better served if he establishes smart footwork patterns to establish himself with balance, giving him the opportunity to use his awesome talent.
It’s the same thing on the defensive end. He’s just a ferocious shot blocker: he surprises people with his length and athleticism, blocking shots that opponents figure they’re going to be able to safely get off.
But again, I think he’s so excited to get those blocks that he will put himself in some bad positions. Check this play out, for example:
Boston has a nice move, but I do think ‘Dok could have done a better job at defending it. In particular, he seems to think that Boston’s shot is going to come earlier on the drive, in kind of a 10-foot floater as he moves to the rim. But actually, he’s setting himself up for the much easier and nicer finish on the right.
Does Rudy Gobert get this one? I think he does. I realize it’s unfair to compare a second-year player who’s barely played to one of the greatest defensive centers of all time, and yet, I think there are lessons to be learned for Azubuike. He has such, such incredible tools — even Gobert might be jealous. And yet, in order to unlock those tools, he’ll have to get his feet in the right place.
2. Jarrell Brantley’s struggles
I regret to inform you that Jarrell Brantley has had a pretty rough summer league.
Look, I really liked Brantley’s rookie summer league, and even his play with the Salt Lake City Stars. Especially in his rookie season, he was just so dynamic as a player that there really seemed to be a lot to build on. Sure, he was a little smaller than your archetypical playmaking forward, but there was a path forward for him to make a name for himself through his ability to ballhandle, rebound, and get low in a defensive stance.
It hasn’t really come together, though. It’s really, really hard to be an aggressive offensive and defensive playmaker in the NBA, especially as a second-round pick — for the most part, your coaches are going to tell you to play within the system and scheme that is built around the stars of the league. You have to pick and choose your spots, but that’s a skill in its own right.
And I just don’t know that Brantley has it. Four turnovers, six fouls, 4-14 shooting. Yes, he had two blocks and two steals, so there is good news! But it might not be worth all of the other associated aggressive failures that come with it. The Clippers outscored the Jazz with 12 points when Brantley was on the floor, the game’s lowest plus-minus.
The Jazz have tried him as a small-ball five, and that sort of works — Brantley can see everything in front of him, and make defensive gambles in the right place. But then he may not be an effective enough rebounder among the trees to really get that done.
He signed the Jazz’s qualifying offer, so he has the $84,000 guaranteed from the team, but I just don’t know that he’s going to be able to stay on the Jazz’s roster long term — there have been more impressive players on this summer league roster, even at his same position.
3. MaCio Teague signs an Exhibit 10 contract
Jared Butler’s teammate, national champion, and long wing MaCio Teague signed a Exhibit 10 contract with the Jazz. What’s that?
Essentially, it’s a training camp deal — with the chance to become a two-way contract. Read Larry Coon’s always brilliant CBAFAQ.com for more details, but Exhibit 10 gives the Jazz the opportunity to turn MaCio Teague into a two-way player if they want to, which would mean that he could play with the Jazz for up to 50 games.
What if they don’t do that? Well, then an Exhibit 10 contract can also give the player a bonus if he’s assigned to the team’s G-League affiliate, a bonus which is allowed to be between $5,000 and $50,000. If the Jazz cut him from the main team in training camp, he’ll likely head to the Stars and get that amount plus his Stars salary, which is not a bad deal.
I think Teague is a reasonable bet for a Stars player, but I’d probably hold a competition for that remaining two-way spot. I really like Teague’s game as a role player, because he has a 6-foot-10 wingspan that gives him the ability to make an impact on the defensive end — he’s been critical to the Jazz’s usually good defensive performances in this summer league. He can also shoot from three, given that he made 37% of his attempts from deep at Baylor.
But he’s also already 24 years old, so there’s going to be less improvement than you’d expect from, say, a 20 year old. If he can defend well, rebound well, and knock down the NBA three as well as he did the college three, though, he has a chance.