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Eric Paschall is ready to play — whenever that may happen to be

The 6-foot-6 “big man” for the Utah Jazz has been only a sporadic part of Quin Snyder’s rotation, but he’s bringing an even-keeled approach to remaining prepared for when his number is called.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Eric Paschall (0) as the Utah Jazz host the Denver Nuggets, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021.

Way back on Nov. 18, Eric Paschall was doing a post-shootaround media session ahead of the Utah Jazz’s game that night vs. the Raptors.

He was in a jovial mood, discussing his game-to-game sneaker choices (Kobe 11 lows are his default) and his present lack of a shoe deal (”I’m a sneaker free agent,” he said, pausing meaningfully and smiling before adding, “just to let everyone know”).

You could suppose his mood was buoyed not only by his fresh start, but also from getting the chance to step into the Rudy Gay injury void and play substantive rotation minutes in the team’s first 14 games, after being acquired from Golden State for the pittance of a protected 2026 second-round pick.

Almost exactly two months later, this past Wednesday, Paschall was once again doing a post-shootaround media session, this time ahead of the Jazz’s game against the visiting Rockets. And he was once again an engaging, entertaining, thoughtful presence — even though his more recent playing time has been pretty sporadic.

Between Dec. 17 and Jan. 10 — a span of 10 games — he only played once, for a grand total of 56 seconds. And while Wednesday’s curious “DNP-CD” in a frustrating loss to Houston snapped a streak of seven consecutive games played, his time on the court during that stretch varied wildly, from as much as 36:39 during that weird trip to Toronto where almost none of the regulars were available, to as little as the 3:46 he logged in Monday’s loss to the Lakers.

And yet, his approach always remains the same.

“I feel like it’s a mental thing. I feel like a lot of people, if they were in my position, would just put their head down or complain about it. But there’s no reason [to do that] for me. You get to wake up every day and your job is to play basketball. You can’t be too pissed about it,” Paschall said. “So I come in, get my work in, and mentally stay ready — just know that stuff can’t affect you when you get on the court, and you can’t hold those emotions, like if you’re pissed. I just keep my head on a swivel and make sure I stay ready when it comes to playing in games.”

He noted that he’s actually had quite a bit of experience in going from key cog to virtual afterthought. After scoring 15.9 ppg as a freshman at Fordham, he transferred to Villanova, where he initially was a far lesser-used player, having to gradually earn back his minutes through his senior year. Then, after being drafted by the Warriors, he played extensively as a rookie on a team decimated by injuries, only to see his role significantly diminished in his second season.

Coach Quin Snyder said a player’s ability to not only come to terms with such variance in playing time, but to then actually flourish in the minutes that are available, is a rare commodity.

“There are certain players that have the mental makeup, that are mentally tough enough to be able to come into a game, and maybe only play for a short stretch, but because of the way they come into the game, their intelligence, their aggressiveness, their competitiveness, they have a chance to impact the game even in a short period of time,” he said. “… From a coaching standpoint, I don’t know if players always understand how valuable that is.”

Of course, a segment of Jazz fans might counter that Snyder perhaps doesn’t fully understand how valuable Paschall really is. They see a guy who brings physicality, effort, and energy — characteristics the Jazz have not had an abundance of during this recent downswing.

Then again, they may also be overlooking his limitations as both a rebounder (just 5.7 per 36 minutes) and a defender (0.2 defensive win shares, minus-0.9 defensive box plus/minus, 113 defensive rating, though he’s had a bit of success staying front of perimeter players).

Still, there’s something to be said for a guy who remains constantly engaged, no matter the circumstances.

“Eric’s been great. More than anything is his attitude when he wasn’t playing, when he was the guy cheering on everybody, and just being animated and having a lot of energy, and going at people in practice,” said Mike Conley. “I tell him every day, ‘Man, that’s an impressive trait to have, because not a lot of people would or can sit there and do that.’ But because of him having that work ethic and attitude, when his number’s called — and it has been lately — he’s been phenomenal. He hasn’t missed a beat.”

He’d like for his number to be called more, of course, but that decision isn’t up to him.

Still, he’s doing what he can to try and make it happen a bit more often. He feels like the combination of a quick first step and his strength and leverage make him an effective driver to the rim. He’s taken childhood friend Donovan Mitchell’s advice to heart and worked extensively on getting more consistent from 3-point range, and while he concedes “I still wish I could shoot a little midrange!” he adds that his outside shot is “getting more comfortable.”

Meanwhile, Snyder noted that the coaching staff’s emphasis to Paschall has been “quick reads and decisions,” and that the third-year forward is increasingly improving his ability to handle making choices in pick-and-pop or dribble-handoff situations, getting better at dissecting when defenders are shifting in and he needs to pass, or recognizing when he’s on the back end of a pass-pass situation and needs to simply fire away because he’s got the best shot the Jazz are going to get.

The coach recognizes that Paschall’s position as a guy on the outside of the rotation looking in “requires a selflessness, it requires a mental toughness.”

Paschall, meanwhile, recognizes that, stuck in a hurry up and wait situation, all he can do is make the best of it.

“A big part of it is attitude and maturity. I said this at the beginning of the year, and I say it every year: You’ve got to establish yourself in the NBA every year,” he said. “And I feel like I’m doing that now, just knowing that I can stay ready [for] whenever my name is called, stay prepared, and have a good mentality about it. I just try to keep a positive attitude every day and get my work in, and just know when my name is called [to] be ready and play as hard as I can.”

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