Trent Forrest’s big night is the culmination of a campaign of aggression

Utah Jazz’s two-way point guard totals 18 points and eight assists in a skid-ending win over the Nuggets, noting that everyone from coaches to teammates to his mom has been on him to believe he belongs.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale (23) celebrates a team win with Utah Jazz guard Trent Forrest (3) against the Denver Nuggets at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022.

On Wednesday morning, at the Utah Jazz’s shootaround at Zions Bank Basketball Campus, there was a minor debate among the reporters in attendance as to which Joe Ingles-minutes-usurper to request for the upcoming media availability: Jordan Clarkson or Trent Forrest?

The decision ultimately made was Forrest right then, save JC for postgame.

Clarkson subsequently being ruled out with right knee soreness threw a wrench into that plan, but no matter — a second session with Forrest was in order after he posted his best night as a professional basketball player, racking up 18 points and eight assists (on 6-for-7 shooting) as the Jazz brought a merciful end to their five-game losing streak with a 108-104 victory over an also-depleted Nuggets team.

“Trent’s really good,” said Mike Conley.

“Trent was special,” raved Royce O’Neale.

Given how short-handed the Jazz were (missing Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Ingles, Clarkson, Hassan Whiteside, Danuel House, and — oh yeah — even head coach Quin Snyder), Forrest giving the team a competent 38 minutes and 34 seconds was a victory in and of itself.

Competent, though, doesn’t begin to approach what he did.

On a night when the Jazz were playing with neither ball-movement verve nor pick-and-roll precision, the second-year guard on a two-way contract improbably became the team’s best isolation scoring option for extended stretches, putting his head down and getting to the rim with impunity. He also took care of the basketball, committing not one single turnover during his time on the court.

“I can’t say enough about what Trent did tonight, because I know he’s not 100% either,” acting coach Alex Jensen said, referencing Forrest’s “questionable” status on the injury report due a right ankle sprain. “But he played hard. At the end, when they were blitzing, he was cool, calm, and collected. … He was great, he took a lot of pressure off Mike and the other guys.”

Of course, while Forrest’s big game may appear to be merely an outlier, it’s not quite the one-off anomaly it might seem.

His game has actually been trending upward for a few weeks now, building to this crescendo. Several times, he’s obliquely referenced people around him — up to and including his mom — encouraging him to be more aggressive of late.

Snyder, told of Forrest’s newfound devotion to aggression in a pregame session before his coronavirus-mandated hiatus from the team, got a lopsided grin, then referenced a specific interaction they had.

“Did he tell you what I said to him in the middle of the [Jan. 21] Detroit game?” Snyder asked.

No, what?

“I told him to, ummmm, pick it up.”

Forrest laughed when reminded of that conversation, and said that while the coach’s precise words might not linger in his memory, the sentiment sure does.

“I don’t remember exactly, but the gist of it was that I needed to play defense,” he said. “Cade [Cunningham] had scored two or three possessions straight, and I had just checked in. So [Snyder] was basically like, I needed to play defense. There was probably some other words in there, too!”

Yeah, probably.

Forrest added that assistant coaches Irv Roland and Keyon Dooling have been telling him the same things, but that it hits a bit different when Snyder has a candid conversation with you about it. He said that, in retrospect, he needed the coach to get on him and to demand more of him in order to get into a higher gear.

“Quin even laughed about it after the game, and said, ‘I might need to do that more often,’” Forrest said.

Snyder said it’s as simple as him feeling like the relationship he was with the point guard necessitates blunt honesty, because that’s what Forrest craves and responds to.

And so the rest of the Jazz have been trying to hammer the point home.

“He’s naturally a point guard passer and he wants to kick it out, but he was aggressive tonight,” said Jensen. “… We’ll continue to tell him to be aggressive.”

“I told him to attack, I told him I wanted to see him get in the paint and making plays, especially if me and him were playing together,” Conley added. “I was spacing and letting him make decisions — I trust him more than anybody. He’s good at attacking the rim and finishing — he’s huge, he’s a big guard. He plays so unselfishly, we want him to be aggressive. It was a really good game for him.”

Forrest conceded he’s been beaten over the head with that particular talking point, so that was definitely his mindset going into the Nuggets game.

Then again, it’s not always that simple, as he referenced in a morning shootaround session.

“Sometimes it’s hard for guys that’s in my position — like, as a two-way — to know if you’re good enough,” Forrest said. “So I feel like that’s probably the biggest thing I learned from it, I just know that I can do it on both ends at this level.”

Snyder’s response is that the coaches are simply telling him to focus on effort, and if that is consistently high, “as you play more, against different players and teams, you find more of a comfort level in what we’re doing, where you get to be more instinctive. That’s what we’ve seen with him.”

Jensen, filling in for Snyder for now, was thrilled to see the plan come to fruition.

“I’m happy for him,” the lead assistant said.

Forrest, meanwhile, was exceedingly matter-of-fact in discussing his big game. No, he wasn’t aware he didn’t have a turnover. Yes, his body is going to be feeling all that playing time, the most he’s had in a game since high school.

He was so straightforward, in fact, he ultimately had to be asked if he was happy, too.

“I’m definitely happy,” he replied, finally cracking a smile. “… I’m probably more happy that we won rather than [with] how I played.”