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Eric Paschall is remaking himself into a perimeter defender for the Jazz

Stout forward shows the quickness to stay in front of leaner players.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Eric Paschall (0) defending Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) as the Utah Jazz host the Milwaukee Bucks, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021.

Last season, Eric Paschall played 65% of his minutes at the center position for the Golden State Warriors.

They didn’t go brilliantly. Paschall’s rim protection didn’t do much for the Warriors, nor was he a fit for the style of offense that Steph Curry and friends wanted to play. The season went poorly enough that Paschall, after making the All-Rookie First Team in his first year, was available for a second round pick by the next.

But through 10 games, Paschall has reinvented himself in a new position for the Jazz: perimeter defender. In those contests and in a bench role, he’s taken on some pretty difficult matchups and exceeded expectations. Paschall stands as a stout 6-foot-6, 255 pounds, but he’s been able to stay in front of much leaner players by showing impressive quickness.

The defensive numbers are impressive. According to Synergy Sports, which tracks individual defensive possessions, Paschall’s allowing just 0.8 points per possession when he’s attacked on defense. When he’s attacked in isolation, that number goes down to just 0.6 points per possession.

And this is against some relatively good players, too. Paschall has guarded DeMar DeRozan, Buddy Hield, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Lou Williams, and Will Barton in his 15 minutes or so per night off the bench. Remember, these minutes were going to Georges Niang last season — an improved defender, but still one that was exposed in the playoffs.

What allows Paschall to have more success than you’d expect for a big man defending the perimeter?

“I think it’s his physicality, his competitiveness. I think if you have those things, you’re able to continue to get better,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Having not been in those situations, there’s a lot of patience involved and experience that comes with it. I saw him in draft workouts two years ago, too. You watch tape, I think he plays with passion.”

To be sure, in order to continue to stay on the floor, Paschall will need to start contributing more on the offensive end. While he’s impressed with a couple of drives and dunks, the overall scoring game has been more limited. He’s shooting just 36% from the field overall and 24% from 3-point distance. If he’s unable to sink more of his 3s, the Jazz’s bench unit will start to suffer against teams that read the scouting report and let Paschall fire away.

And Paschall will soon have competition for his minutes, too. The biggest acquisition of the offseason wasn’t Paschall, but Rudy Gay, who also figures to first find a home playing the backup power forward position. He’s progressing toward his debut with the Jazz, likely within the next month. Once Gay is healthy, he’ll likely be relegated to the bench, though would still see significant opportunity if one of the Jazz’s forwards went down, or if Hassan Whiteside can’t keep up his very solid play so far.

Regardless, Gay’s absence has allowed Paschall to show off versatility in the league, one of its most in-demand traits. No, he hasn’t put it all together yet, but flashes of scoring and defense give him the ability to extend his NBA future.

“I’ve just tried to take on the role: bring energy, bring defense, make effort plays. This year is just like, I don’t have to focus on scoring. It’s kind of a good thing for me,” Paschall said. “My rookie year, I showed I was capable of scoring. This year, I don’t have to worry about that. Now I’m showing my defense, and showing what I can do in other areas. This is great for me, and great for my development.”

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