Gordon Monson: By Keyonte George, a young star may be emerging for the Utah Jazz

The No. 16 pick has been the brightest spot for the Jazz in summer league action.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Keyonte George (3) looks down court past the 76ers defense during an NBA Summer League basketball game Wednesday, July 5, 2023, at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City.

It’s become evident through the years that one of many things Jazz fans get fired up over — correctly so — is a young rookie who shows promise, especially a young rookie who wasn’t a top draft pick. It’s a formula that mixes hope with a kind of unexpectedness, a feeling that a team — their team — in a smaller market without some of the advantages enjoyed by so-called destination franchises outsmarted everyone. That is satisfyingly explosive because that’s what the Jazz have to do to be successful.

It happened with a couple of fellows who became famous around here, taken as they were with the 16th and 13th picks in 1984 and 1985. You-Know-Who and You-Know-Who. It happened more recently with a couple of other guys who ultimately became All-Stars, fleshed out in the forms of Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.

Is it happening again now? Let’s keep that in question form primarily because it remains a major question, regardless of optimistic signs being shown by this kid, by the 16th pick in the most recent draft out of Baylor, name of Keyonte George.

By George, I think he’s got it! Or … by George, I think he’s got it?

Of course it’s still a question. Showings in summer leagues are iffy, particularly just a small smattering of them. Anyone who doubts that should harken back to when a young Jazz center with the name of Greg Ostertag dominated another young center, name of Tim Duncan in summer games.

There’s considerable slack in what these preparatory games offer. They sometimes are mere mirages in the desert. But they also reveal bits and pieces of truth, of what might be. And that’s why there’s no harm in folks around here getting amped up about the 19-year-old George and not just what he’s doing on the court, but his words spoken after what’s done is done.

For instance, George’s 33 points and 10 assists tallied in the rook’s now-famous showing — if a summer league game can be called that — against a Clippers outfit in Vegas the other night. That, on top of some bright spots demonstrated in Salt Lake City in the run-up.

George was smart with the ball, setting up his teammates while setting himself up, too, quite a trick for one in such early stages of his pro development. He epitomized the duality of the term playmaker that night, doing unto others what he also was doing unto himself — uh-huh, making plays, here, there, everywhere. Impressive.

And his remarks afterward were equally impressive, talking about motivation and the need to learn and listen and improve in order to be what he wants to be. Everyone else knows it’s just the beginning for him, that there’s a steep mountain to climb, a whole lot of attention to detail and work straight ahead, and he seems to know it, as well.

There hasn’t been this much excitement about a young player since Mitchell arrived here, exhibiting some of the same energy and explosiveness and excitement and eagerness.

And that has caught the cautious attention not just of Jazz executives, coaches, teammates and fans, but also others who escaped the Vegas heat to sit in the stands, watching heat of a different kind on the court.

Will it last? Is it the truth or even a particle of a hint or a hint of a particle of it? Is it an overheated mirage?

Beats me.

But the Jazz are a young team looking for ways to make that aforementioned climb, right alongside the rookie. If you want to go in the other direction, they are like a 3-handicap golfer trying to shave strokes off his or her rounds, knowing full well that the strokes they lose now will be lost easier from this point to the next, rather than from the next to whatever sub-scratch scores that theoretically will come after that — in the Jazz’s case, namely, a deep playoff run.

They’ve got Lauri Markkanen, Walker Kessler, John Collins, Jordan Clarkson and the others. They’ve got a thousand future draft picks. They’ve got cap room. Now, they have the promise that comes alongside the young rookie with the moves and the motivation to get better. And they haven’t even unwrapped their other two first-round selections, neither of which has played for them yet.

Are there dramatic moves yet in store, moves that will hurry this whole thing up? Only Danny Ainge and Justin Zanik know that with any exactness and perhaps they lack exactness in that regard, too.

In the meantime, nothing wrong with folks mixing hope with unexpectedness, looking for satisfaction in an explosion that may or may not blow, but that has to blow in one form or another, at one time or another, for the Jazz to win the way they intend to — big.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.