Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 98-77 summer league loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jared Butler, struggling to find space
I had really high hopes for Jared Butler after the Jazz drafted him last year, after a surprising second-round fall. After all, he’s was an NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player, and perhaps the best player on a championship-winning team. He showed what I considered to be an NBA-level jump shot and an NBA-level handle in college, and has definitely shown flashes of that in NBA playing time
But a player’s summer league entering their second season can be a good bellwether for whether or not they’re ready to make a difference in a rotation. And the first returns on Butler were unfortunately pretty negative: he simply didn’t find a way to stand out, even among the Jazz’s iffy summer league roster.
Butler scored only 10 points on 3-10 shooting, while garnering four assists next to three turnovers.
Part of those struggles were because of Oklahoma City’s unique defensive length, which gave him a lot of problems when he did try to drive. That being said, every NBA team is going to be long when compared to Butler’s relatively diminutive size.
“I think he’s just got to get better at making reads out of the pick and roll,” Jazz summer league coach Bryan Bailey said. “He can make that first pass, get out, space, and get it back and then play on a closeout situation where it doesn’t take as many dribbles.”
Again, that’s something we’ve heard repeatedly from Jazz coaches about Butler: he simply can’t dribble as much as he currently does. They want him getting into actions more quickly so they can run multiple screens in the same play. They want him to get off the ball more quickly, and they want him to be able to attack closeouts — or, frankly, just use his excellent catch-and-shoot ability.
They also want him to make better reads in the pick-and-roll. I thought Butler was good at making the pass out to the corner shooter on the weak side once he was deep in the paint, but the other reads eluded him tonight. In his defense, he’s playing with a pretty iffy set of big men in this summer league — the screen and roll chemistry just wasn’t there.
Butler was frustrated after the game. He put a brave face on his performance, but he was clearly disappointed with it.
“You just want to play so well, you know? You want to make every shot — just high expectations. And sometimes, expectations don’t meet reality, and it’s hard.”
We’ll see if he can turn it around. He said he’d be playing in tomorrow’s game, despite the back-to-back, and he’ll have five opportunities in Las Vegas to play better, too.
2. Chet Holmgren looked incredible
Chet Holmgren has calves like toothpicks. At one point, he was admittedly trucked by Kofi Cockburn for an easy post bucket.
But my goodness, was that an impressive performance. Honestly, it was one of the legendary summer league debuts ever: it reminded me of Kevin Durant’s 29-point outburst in his only Rocky Mountain Revue game in 2007.
Look at some of these highlights: the smooth jumper in transition, the Dirk-esque fadeaway, and the absolutely monstrous defensive performance, swatting a Utah Jazz Summer League record six shots.
After the game, Holmgren was told about his record-setting blocks total.
“That’s a record?,” he asked. “Well, I’m coming to break it again.”
Now, it’s going to be harder for him to do that Wednesday and Thursday: the Grizzlies and 76ers’ summer-league teams are better. They don’t have Vic Law just crashing into the paint without any regard for the fact Holmgren is there, like the young Chicago Bulls crashing into Rudy Gobert in his 9-block game. And frankly, it’s going to be difficult for Holmgren to make 66% of his threes moving forward too.
But still, he looks like he’s going to be an incredible player, and he’s still just 20 years old. He’ll need to fill out his body, obviously, but he has so many tools. He’s in the Jazz’s division for a long time, and that’s a scary prospect.
3. Will Hardy’s press conference
It’s been a long day, with new Jazz head coach Will Hardy hosting his introductory press conference at 9 AM this morning. For a really good recap on that, check out Eric Walden’s article. In addition, Eric also wrote a feature, talking to many of the people who knew Hardy as he grew up and worked his way up the coaching ranks — including Warriors coach Steve Kerr. That is going online tomorrow.
But I figured I’d go ahead and note some impression points that came out of the press conference itself, as well as the media’s chance to talk to him more intimately afterwards:
• Hardy spoke about the moment Jazz CEO Danny Ainge called him and told him he had been selected as the Jazz’s head coach. “In classic Danny fashion, he kind of downplayed it, you know. ‘So we’ve decided that you’re the guy.’” Hardy then gave his wife a big thumbs up, who was sitting in the next room over in his home. His first call after learning he was the coach? His mom.
• With such a young coach, you might expect an Xs and Os mastermind who was still learning the finer points of dealing with others. But everyone was much more uniformly focused on Hardy’s character, and what he brings to individual relationships. At one point, we even asked Ainge about what he expects from Hardy’s tactics... and he brought his answer back to his ability to his experience and his ability to teach, rather than the whiteboard.
• But the Jazz did have Hardy do sample player development profiles and scouting reports that they could evaluate. I would love to see those and what made them unique.
• Ainge said most of the interviews with the coaching candidates were done over Zoom... that makes sense, but it is just a tough way to have those critical conversations.
It’s interesting to compare Quin Snyder’s introductory presser and Hardy’s — I think I’m one of the only SLC media members who attended both. Snyder’s was fascinating because he was so charming right away: he wins you over with high-energy enthusiasm, the sheer detail of his plans and his excitement in sharing them with you. He’s powerfully charismatic in sort of the way people say Bill Clinton was: Snyder will even throw in a well-timed wink from time to time.
Hardy, at least in our first meeting, and by reports from those who know him well, isn’t like that. He’s got kind of a quiet competitiveness and humility. He’s ambitious, obviously, but more measured. Strongly positive and confident, but in a very natural sort of way. When he was asked if he prefers to be called “Coach” or “Will” by the media, he strongly preferred the latter.
As kind of an anecdotal example: Both Snyder and Hardy emphasized three things in their press conference, a statement of how they wanted to play. Snyder’s was catchy, a slogan he wanted to build around. I can still remember it off the top of my head eight years later. Snyder wanted what he called the three Ps: to play with the pass, play with pace, and play with purpose.
Hardy’s version? “I want our team to represent toughness, sacrifice and passion.” He repeated those three things in that order multiple times: it was clearly something he had thought about, and wanted to make clear during this press conference. But it was less catchy, less memorable — I had to relisten to the audio to remember Hardy’s three things, just hours later. That’s fine, but shows off a difference between the two men: one’s more like a marketing slogan, and one is more of a vibe of humility.
Hardy’s three things were also not basketball tactical choices, but emotional choices. At this point, it feels like if Snyder was logos, Hardy is more pathos. Obviously, it’s so early. We’ll see how that holds up over the course of Hardy’s first season, but that’s my initial impression.
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