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New defensive look, Jared Butler's big night highlight Utah's 2nd preseason contest

Dallas Mavericks' Maxi Kleber (42), Sterling Brown (0) and Willie Cauley-Stein (33) defend as Utah Jazz forward Eric Paschall (0) looks for a shot during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game in Dallas, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021.

Dallas Mavericks' Maxi Kleber (42), Sterling Brown (0) and Willie Cauley-Stein (33) defend as Utah Jazz forward Eric Paschall (0) looks for a shot during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game in Dallas, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. (Michael Ainsworth, Associated Press)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Quin Snyder's long list of inactives begged the question.

Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley, Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic, Hassan Whiteside and Rudy Gay — a combination that could serve as seven-man lineup in and of itself — all sat out Utah's second preseason game on Wednesday. So, coach, what's the plan?

"Obviously, we have tremendous respect for Dallas, but there's just different things that you try to get out of the game," Snyder said.

One of those things clearly wasn't a win.

The Mavericks, behind a stellar first-half performance from Luka Doncic, beat the Jazz 111-101 Wednesday in Dallas. And while there's never been a meaningful preseason result, it doesn't mean the exhibitions lack significance.

With Utah missing a good chunk of its core lineup, Snyder was able to experiment with something rarely seen in Utah: a small-ball center. The Jazz started the lineup of Trent Forrest, Jordan Clarkson, Miye Oni, Royce O'Neale and Eric Paschall. And since Paschall isn't known for his rim-protecting prowess, Utah switched everything.

So how did it go?

There were some rough moments: Clarkson didn't look comfortable guarding in the post, Doncic was just plain mean at times to the Utah B team, and Paschall struggled to keep guards in front of him.

But there was also plenty of good: Oni and Forrest held their own in the post, which allowed them to swarm around ball handlers to create turnovers; and Utah was good in knowing when to go for turnovers and when to stay home, especially when factored in that the team hadn't done this before.

"I thought our activity was really good," Snyder said of the switching defense. "There were some times we broke down with our communication and we didn't get underneath a roller. But I thought that by and large having not done that one through five before … we did a pretty good job, and I thought whatever breakdowns we had we really made up for with our activity."

So was this a one-off experiment or will we see it again when the games start to count? Gay played some small-ball center when he was with the San Antonio Spurs, and his value to the team is much higher if he can fill a similar role this season. His perimeter defense is also much better than Paschall's, so it stands to reason the Jazz will look better with him in the lineup — and it could provide a much-needed look when the playoffs roll around.

There was another thing that came out of the Jazz sitting a good chunk of their roster: Jared Butler got a lot of playing time. And with apologies to Mitchell, Conley and Gobert, that's what people wanted to see in the preseason, especially with how the rookie has been playing.

Butler followed up his promising debut Monday with an even better performance Wednesday. He led the Jazz with 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting and had four assists.

Yes, it's just preseason, but there's just so much about his game that feels like it will translate to the regular season. Like when he snaked into the paint around Doncic and beat Kristaps Porzingis to the rim on a quick crossover. It was a sequence that was done with a less-than-impressive screen from Udoka Azubuike (who has a long way to go before the Jazz can think about playing him in real minutes).

Imagine what he could do with Gobert setting picks for him.

Everything seemed easy for Butler. He manipulated defenders with slight hesitation moves to get into the paint to create easy scoring opportunities and he hit defenders with dribble move after dribble move to free up space for a step back 3-pointer. He looked like someone that could contribute right away.

The best part? He did it all with his parents and former college teammates in the stands.

"It was just phenomenal knowing that they were here, and I played an OK game, too, so that helped out a lot," Butler said.

How OK?

Butler graded his performance as a 7.5; he gave himself a 6 on Monday.

The opportunity he will be given on a deep Jazz team remains to be seen, but he's not just been knocking on the door, he's been kicking it in.

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