SALT LAKE CITY — After dominating the NBA G League for the Utah Jazz affiliate during the 2019-20 season, forward Jarrell Brantley was rewarded with a second two-way contract to stay with the Jazz. This one, though, was a bit different.
With no Salt Lake City Stars to go down to last season, Brantley was more than not confined to sitting on the end of a bench.
He managed to appear in 28 games and averaged just 4.9 minutes per game. But as Brantley made clear on Wednesday, after scoring 19 points in Utah White's 94-75 win over the Summer Grizzlies, there's a difference between checking in at the end of blowouts and actually competing when the game is on the line.
"I haven't played real minutes in a live setting in a year or so," Brantley said.
At Summer League, Brantley is looking to prove he's worthy of a roster spot for the upcoming 2021-22 season.
Drafted 50th overall in 2019 from the College of Charleston, Brantley quickly acclimated to the G League and was a dominating force for the Salt Lake City Stars. In his first season, he started in 33 games and averaged 18.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game while shooting 51% from the floor and 33% from the 3-point line, earning All-G League First Team honors.
At 6-foot-5 and weighing 250 pounds, Brantley possesses great size and strength, which he put to use primarily inside the paint. It was rare for opponents to be able to contain Brantley as he'd simply put his head down and go right at them. With an elite ability to finish at the rim and a solid jump shot, it's no mystery as to why Brantley was an offensive powerhouse for the Stars.
After his impressive display in the G League during his rookie season, Brantley found himself getting some time in the NBA bubble in Orlando. While he didn't see action through the first few games, he appeared in the last four of the regular season. In the final game against the San Antonio Spurs, Brantley scored 13 points, dished out six assists and had four rebounds — a solid performance for the first-year player.
Following his showing in the bubble, the Jazz signed Brantley to a two-way contract, but with COVID-19 wiping out the all but 15 games of the G League season (and Brantley didn't make the trip to Orlando for those), there wasn't a lot of chances for him to make an impact in games. He was on the tail end of the roster on a team that finished with the best record in the league. That didn't equate to a lot of opportunity.
He wasn't alone. Udoka Azubuike, Elijah Hughes and Juwan Morgan all experienced similar roles last season with the Jazz. And as the Jazz continue to make moves this offseason, roster spots are getting slim. For Brantley, who's a restricted free agent this summer after the Jazz issued him a qualifying offer, a strong showing at Summer League could show he's worth a spot.
In Brantley's first Summer League game, he recorded 7 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block. He struggled to knock down shots, however, shooting just 2 of 11 from the field. But he was still a presence in the paint.
In one such play in the first quarter, Brantley muscled his way in for a tough rebound and put the ball back up through contact. He was aggressive on the boards and illustrated his defensive skills as he came up with multiple timely steals.
In his second game, Brantley was more efficient and ended with 19 points — a team high tied with Azubuike — on 6-of-11 shooting from the floor, and 2 of 4 from 3. He also grabbed five rebounds, dished out an assist and finished with a plus/minus of +11.
"Today, I could be more focused," Brantley said, speaking about the difference between his first and second game. "Getting to watch film just to see my movements. A lot of the things I got to do last game were natural — I just missed. Defensively, I was fine, so knowing that and being able to take that in allowed me to be more free today."
The main goal, he said, is to win. And if his team wins: "I think my goals will be shown because I have to be a big part of that."
"I feel like I took a year off in a sense not being able to play," he added. "So just getting that feel, going through mistakes, going through good games or whatever — like, yesterday was adversity for me. So it was good to be able to go through that."
With one game left in Salt Lake and more to come in the Las Vegas Summer League, Brantley will need to continue to perform at a high level in order to prove he belongs on an NBA roster as a solid contributor, regardless of whether it's in a Jazz uniform or not.