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SALT LAKE CITY — Jared Butler made another case to be a part of the regular season rotation Wednesday. In a 124-120 win over Milwaukee in Utah's preseason finale, the rookie guard had 16 points on 7-for-12 shooting and seven assists in 22 minutes.
And that performance wasn't against roster fodder either. A lot of it was against the main guys of the defending world champions.
Butler scored over Khris Middleton with a scooping layup; he stared down Giannis Antetokounmpo and buried a 3-pointer; he completely locked up George Hill on a crossover and then drove in for a two-handed slam.
"You're just gonna jump in the water with a bunch of sharks and you've got to see if you're a shark or not," Butler said.
After a few preseason games, the No. 40th pick in this year's draft is looking more and more like a shark. In the three games he played, Butler averaged 18.0 points and 4.3 assists — both team highs. He was controlled, confident and unfazed going up against Luka Doncic, Dejounte Murray, Jrue Holiday or anyone else. Heck, he even surprised some opponents.
"Jrue holiday today he said, 'Oh, you can handle the ball!,'" Butler said.
But as comfortable and effective as he's looked, it doesn't mean Butler is a lock for Quin Snyder's rotation once the regular season begins Wednesday against Oklahoma City.
He's got some accomplished guys ahead of him in the pecking order. There are two All-Stars (Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley), the reigning Sixth Man of the Year (Jordan Clarkson) and the runner up for Sixth Man of the Year (Joe Ingles).
It'll be hard to get time over those four; and with Snyder traditionally preferring a nine-man rotation, it doesn't seem like there's a spot — even if Butler may be ready for one.
Jared putting on a show in his first game in front of the Utah crowd:— utahjazz (@utahjazz) October 14, 2021
14 points, 6 assists & 2 3-pointers so far 🖤 pic.twitter.com/tCU6uPDWVu
If you're currently thinking: Can't the Jazz just shave a few minutes from Mitchell, Conley, Ingles and Clarkson to make some time? Well, yes, but Snyder has another view.
"If I played Donovan 29 minutes, you would probably say, 'Why is he playing Donovan 29 minutes?'" Snyder said (which, to be fair, is accurate).
Snyder also thinks that for Clarkson to have the most impact, he has to play at least 24 minutes. He likely has a number in his head for Conley and Ingles, too. The Jazz are trying to win a championship this season; that means less time to develop young talent like Butler and more time honing in on a rotation that can be the top team in the league.
That doesn't mean there won't be chances for Butler, just maybe not consistent opportunities. And having a young guard that can shoot, dribble and already has an elite feel for the game waiting on the bench is a pretty luxurious problem to have.
"I think it's all about trust," Butler said. "If I'm the head coach with the team with the best record in the league, (I'm thinking), 'Why do I need to put in this rookie?' And that's how I'm looking at it, and I'm just trying to make the case of why you should."
Will Rudy Gobert finally hit a 3-pointer this season?
Late in the first quarter, Miye Oni passed the ball to Rudy Gobert at the free-throw line. That led to one of the most surprising plays of the night: Gobert stepped into the jumper in rhythm and swished it, sending the Jazz bench into a celebratory frenzy.
That probably won't be part of Utah's regular offense, but when the chance arises, the team isn't opposed to the big man taking the shot — even out to the 3-point line. Gobert hasn't made a 3 in his NBA career, but Clarkson thinks that might change this season.
"He shot a few 3's in a practice (game) recently, so I wouldn't be surprised if he takes one and makes it," Clarkson said. "He made them. I think he shot two of them in practice during a training camp game, so it's not like he hasn't done it.
"The third one he missed and I got kind of pissed because I was trying to win that game in practice," he finished with a laugh.
Clarkson also was a little upset with Gobert a few minutes after the big man hit the 16-footer. Gobert had gotten an inbound pass right at the same spot, but instead of shooting the open jumper, he instead tried a dribble move into the basket that ended in a missed shot.
"I was like, 'Bruh, you're wide open, just shoot the ball right now. … You didn't have to make no move, the easy one was right there!'" Clarkson laughed.