The Utah Jazz won just one of their first five NBA Summer League games, including an 0-3 record last week in Salt Lake City.
On the surface, that looks like a disaster for Utah’s younger players, proving that it will be up to the veterans to get the Jazz back to the postseason in 2016-17.
But if you dig beneath that surface, it is obvious that the Jazz have a lot they can build upon from the past couple weeks.
First and foremost, second-year forward Trey Lyles is the real deal. He has a chance to become something truly special in the league. He merely needs more seasoning to show what he can really do. His shot hasn’t been falling this summer, but he has found ways to contribute, whether it be through driving hard to the basket and getting to the free-throw line or grabbing a key rebound. A season or two of learning under an established professional like Boris Diaw could do wonders for the young Lyles, who already has taken a leadership role at the tender age of 20.
Rookie guard Marcus Paige certainly has potential as well. While the diminutive guard from North Carolina certainly isn’t the most imposing figure on the court, he has shown no fear in taking open shots from long range — much as he did for the Tar Heels this past March during the NCAA Tournament, where his would-be national title-winning 3-pointer was answered at the other end as Villanova snagged the championship. Paige may make one of Utah’s multitude of tweener-type guards expendable, giving the Jazz an opportunity to improve what already appears to be an intriguing roster.
Fellow rookie Joel Bolomboy of Weber State may be a project for the Jazz, but he has one thing that can’t be taught: hustle. There are plenty of players who have had successful NBA careers without being top-flight offensive stars. Many players have found their niche over the years as so-called “energy guys.” Could Bolomboy become one of those? Time will tell.
It is hard to judge a player based on summer league games — look at Bolomboy’s new Jazz teammate, George Hill, for example. When Hill came out of IUPUI in 2008, he struggled with his shot throughout the Las Vegas summer league and the Rocky Mountain Revue. Since then, he’s become one of the most respected point guards in the NBA.
Tibor Pleiss has also been a revelation this summer for Utah. The 7-foot-3 big man from Germany has shown an impressive shooting touch from the perimeter — even if his shot is decidedly unorthodox. With his height, he appears to be shooting down at the basket, and the ball barely rotates, much to the amusement of his coaches and teammates. But, as summer league coach Johnnie Bryant noted before the Jazz left for Las Vegas last week, it goes in — so why mess with success?
Something tells me Pleiss won’t see “did not play — coaches’ decision” next to his name as many times this coming season.
Something also tells me that these young players have the chance to be contributors to a playoff team next spring.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He was disappointed that he couldn’t use Dionte Christmas’ name in a headline pun during the summer league. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.