SALT LAKE CITY — The NBA announced their first regular season games on Tuesday. It was almost to remind everyone that a better product is coming.
Summer League games can be a lot of fun: weird overtime rules, the debut of top picks, Trent Forrest waving after a walk-off free throw, and ridiculous effort from guys you've never heard of or will ever hear of again. But they can also feel like you're watching exactly what they are: meaningless exhibitions between two bad teams.
But we all made it through. On Tuesday, Summer League wrapped up with the Jazz playing just seven guys in a 103-98 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers
Summer League is over. Here's what we learned:
Trent Forrest is good
The second-year guard from Florida State was easily Utah's best player this summer. He played in a fashion and confidence that he knew he was better than his opponents. He broke down defenses with ease and handled things well when teams adjusted to trap him in pick and roll. He created for others, scored and even showed an improved 3-point shot.
The Jazz have Forrest on a two-way deal, so he'll likely be lighting it up the G League this season. He could get some spot minutes, though, if the Jazz have injuries; however, his path to playing time seems pretty blocked.
Forrest has been phenomenal with the ball in his hands, and for him to be effective he kind of needs to be running the show. Sure, his form on his 3-point shot is better, but he's still probably not going to be a threat off the ball. The problem with that: Utah has a lot of ball handlers. But the Jazz should be comfortable that if guys like Joe Ingles, Jordan Clarkson or even Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley need a break, they can call upon Forrest.
For a team that desperately needed a true third point guard last season, his development is good news.
Udoka Azubuike was the wrong pick, but he might not be a bad player
A lot of the ill feelings toward the selection of Udoka Azubuike last November had nothing to do with him and more to do with the position he played. A case could have been made for his selection before free agency, but once Derrick Favors chose to come back and Rudy Gobert signed a big extension — two moves the Jazz were planning on — it seemed like a wasted pick, especially when First Team All-Rookie wing Desmond Bane (and others) was still on the board.
But that doesn't mean Azubuike is a bad player, and this summer showed just how imposing he can be. He's huge, and someone with his size shouldn't be able to get off the ground as quickly or as high as he can. Opponents are scared to shoot when he's around the hoop — he amazingly gets out and blocks midrange shots and he dunks literally everything (and that's only kind of hyperbole).
His footwork is lacking, his screens aren't always effective and he definitely needs to improve his conditioning, but the last few weeks showed that Azubuike likely has a place in the NBA.
Utah's lack of competition
The Jazz won their first six Summer League games as Forrest and Azubuike led the way, but they were also helped by a favorable schedule. In Salt Lake City, Memphis and San Antonio both rested their regular NBA guys against the Jazz. When Utah got to Vegas, it didn't face any high-profile lottery picks.
Wins aren't always wins, especially in Summer League. It would have been nice to see how Forrest and Azubuike would have looked against more legitimate NBA competition to see how improved they are this year.
The lone impressive victory the Jazz had was against the Miami Heat, who played some NBA-caliber prospects. Utah's defense won that game, and Azubuike was a big reason for that — showing that being huge can be greatly effective — but MaCio Teague, Elijah Hughes and Forrest were also effective on the perimeter. It was a good summer of development but more sample size against better teams would have been preferred.
Jarrell Brantley's struggles
While 'Dok and Forrest improved their NBA stock, Jarrell Brantley has seen his come crashing down. During his rookie season in 2019-20, Brantley was a revelation with the Stars and even had some bright moments playing for the Jazz. He was a dynamic forward that had an array of tools; it looked like a season he could build off of and makes strides.
Maybe it was the lack of playing time last season and no G League to go down to, but Brantley struggled to regain that form this summer.
The effort was there but the production really wasn't. He was out of control for much of the time, which led to several turnovers, and he didn't shoot well enough. His aggressive style of defense also doesn't really fit with what the Jazz want to do, especially when he gambles wrong. He signed Utah's qualifying offer, but it's only guaranteed for $84,000. That's not a lot to eat if the Jazz want another roster spot.
Other quick thoughts:
- Elijah Hughes was better than expected defensively and did well to try to change the perception that Syracuse wings can't guard. But he was also somewhat disappointing in the scoring department. He struggled to gain separation at times, and aside from shooting the 3-point ball well, he didn't have much of a positive impact on the offense. He's got a guaranteed deal this season.
- Teague has a really nice drive game. He got defenders off balance and showed some crafty finishes. He shot 37% from deep at Baylor, so we knew he could shoot. He's already 24 years old but seems to have the makings of a nice role player.
- Juwan Morgan was injured midway through Summer League, but it didn't look like he was going to demand time on the floor anyway. He didn't shoot well enough to be a stretch big threat, especially with his rebounding that lacked, as well.
- Summer League is a lot more fun with lottery picks — or any new picks.