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The Triple Team: Jazz starters almost complete 26-point comeback against Memphis


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SALT LAKE CITY — Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz's 95-92 summer league loss to the Memphis Grizzlies from KSL.com's Jazz beat writer, Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz starters make amends for bad bench stretch in first half

Jazz first-round pick Grayson Allen sat this game out, partially due to rest, partially due to a strained adductor that was still nagging him a little that he had suffered in the pre-draft process. That left the Jazz to start a lineup of Naz Mitrou-Long, Georges Niang, Tony Bradley, Kendrick Ray, and Malcolm Hill.

You've probably heard of three of those players (Bradley, Mitrou-Long, and Niang), those three that have been on the Jazz's roster. Those three were far and away the Jazz's best players on Tuesday night, and it showed in the stats and with the eye test.

Those three combined to shoot 23-37 from the field, or 62 percent. The rest of their teammates went 11-34, or 32 percent. Bradley ended up with a +16 plus-minus, and Mitrou-Long and Niang were +12. Their bench teammates were all at least -15 (except for Thomas Wilder, who played with the starters as they went on their second-half run).

Especially in the second quarter, the bench couldn't get a defensive stop, eventually allowing a 26-point Memphis lead in the first half. But to their immense credit, the Jazz made a comeback in the second half, eventually gaining a 1-point lead before the Grizzlies made some tough shots to win it in the final two minutes.

That comeback was really impressive because of the Grizzlies' summer league talent. Not only do they have the No. 4 pick in the draft, Jaren Jackson Jr., they have Wayne Seldon, Kobi Simmons, Deyonta Davis, and Ivan Rabb — all guys who spent significant time last year playing for the real-life NBA Memphis Grizzlies. So that the Jazz held them to 36 second-half points was encouraging.

“I couldn’t have been prouder of our whole effort in the second half," Jazz summer league coach Mike Wells said. "To give up 59 points in the first half and then only 36 points in the second, I thought everybody battled. The whole second half was Jazz basketball."

2. Tony Bradley did some nice things

Tony Bradley was much better finishing around the basket in his second summer league game, eventually making eight of his 12 shots and scoring 18 points overall.

You can see that most of his baskets are just about staying in space, rolling at the right times, and sealing his man. While that post move against Jackson early in the game was impressive, the truth is that Bradley is not going to be getting the ball in the post like that often. Instead, it's about getting open, catching the ball on the move, and finishing. Bradley did that well.

He's also still a good offensive rebounder, ending up with five tonight. Admittedly, a couple of those came on his own misses, but it was good that he stuck with the plays.

There were a couple of discouraging signs. Bradley did get a layup blocked once, with the lack of vertical on full display. The most worrying play for me was the layup by Selden that sealed the game.

This play is mostly Malcolm Hill's fault, but Bradley has to rotate over and do a much better job of contesting this layup than he did. Instead, no arms up, doesn't get off the ground, nothing. It's discouraging.

Bradley's coaches will show him that game film, and he'll improve. I think he's a good on-ball rim protector. But Bradley doesn't show the innate help-side rim protection tendencies of the NBA's best centers.

3. The Naz Mitrou-Long and Georges Niang connection

Mitrou-Long and Niang are best friends. They were teammates and roommates at Iowa State, and now that they're both with the Jazz organization. They even live together in Utah.

"Peer pressure sometimes can lead people to do bad things," Niang said. "With me and him, we're best friends, we're always peer pressuring each other to get the most out of each other. That's why we get along so well."

It shows on the court. Mitrou-Long and Niang have a clear connection on the court, finding each other in tight spaces or with long-distance passes that surprise everyone watching, especially the opposition. That was definitely on display Tuesday night, when both had phenomenal success in leading the Jazz's second-half comeback, including on plays like this.

Mitrou-Long had 19 points to lead the Jazz, adding eight assists, six rebounds, and two steals. He did a fantastic job of reading the defense and making the right play, especially late. I also liked how Mitrou-Long attacked the rim and finished, even with some taller defenders around. Mitrou-Long only missed one of his six 2-point attempts. That he played point guard frequently for the Salt Lake City Stars may not have been ideal for that franchise, but it's clearly showing in his skill development.

As good as Mitrou-Long was, I thought Niang matched his output. Niang scored 18 points, but also added 10 rebounds and four assists in the contest in 29 minutes on the floor.

With Niang, there's no doubt about it: He has NBA-player skills. He's a terrific shooter, frequently winning shooting contests in Jazz practices. But Niang is also very good at making the right play, finding creative passes that other big men wouldn't dream of. He's versatile, too, able to play both forward positions. Niang's rebounding has improved, and is at the level of most perimeter-oriented big men.

The NBA knock: Niang is very slow. This means he has trouble staying out in front of switches. And he's not going to jump out of the gym: the dunk you see above is about what you're going to get from him.

Niang's NBA comparison is late-career Boris Diaw, when Diaw was a magician with the ball and used his savvy to make winning plays all over the floor without moving all that much. Niang actually might be a little bit better shooter than Diaw.

It's worth noting, though, that Diaw fell out of the league after his last season in Utah due to his defensive concerns. Despite this comparison to late-career Diaw, Niang has a real NBA chance. I've been told he's the most likely of the two-way players that the Jazz have rotated in and out of to actually make the roster for the long term, and the Jazz have the ability to match any contract Niang is given as a restricted free agent.

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