While his listed 6’1 may feel a bit generous, perhaps no one has played bigger this summer than Bryce Cotton. Often the smallest player on the court, few have performed better.
In fact, he is the toast of the town. The diminutive point guard is simply making a name for himself. More importantly, Cotton is showing the Utah Jazz — and the entire league — that he is a bona fide, legitimate NBA player.
When the Jazz inked him to a 10-day contract in late February, few thought much of the transaction given the way the 15th roster spot continually changed names the latter half of the season. Little was known about Cotton, but he did have one source of validation: the San Antonio Spurs liked him enough to give him a summer league spot, a training camp opportunity and even a partially guaranteed contract1. The deal was made mostly to keep Cotton in the fold, as he spent much of last season toiling for the Spurs’ D-League affiliate, the Austin Spurs.
If we have learned anything over the years, if the Spurs like a player, that is a fairly strong endorsement.
It was clear early on that the Jazz were also familiar with Cotton. While he did not see much on-court action early on, the Utah coaching staff lauded him publicly. Despite playing 12 minutes over three games, the Jazz signed him to a multi-year deal2.
On the whole, Cotton was solid. While his overall stats were not gaudy — 5.3 PPG, 1.0 APG, 1.2 RPG — it was the way he finished the season that got Jazz fans excited. With some injuries opening up some playing time, Cotton took advantage of the opportunity. Over the final five games, the speedy guard played 23 MPG, contributing 13.0 PPG with 48 FG% and 81 FT%, 2.4 APG and 2.6 RPG. His athleticism and quickness were fully on display. Cotton pushed the ball constantly, and was able to easily create for both himself and his teammates thanks to his ability to get to the basket. It made for a great story to finish up a fantastic and encouraging season.
He also made this electrifying play, one of the absolute highlights of the 2014-15 Utah Jazz campaign:
It is clear that Cotton wants more. He has obviously worked hard this offseason, as demonstrated by his consistently good summer league play. There have been several occasions where Cotton has not only been the best Jazzman, but also the best player on the court. In the Utah Jazz Summer League finale, it was his play that helped his team secure the “championship” victory.
Cotton’s strengths are plenty. He plays with a swagger and confidence. His lightning quick speed makes him tough to handle. Cotton is crafty offensively, using his quickness to beat his man off the dribble. He can finish inside3 and has an effective floater. Cotton’s mid-range jumper is solid and he has potential to be a good 3-point shooter, hitting 35 percent. He gets to the charity stripe, something with which fellow point guards Dante Exum and Trey Burke struggled.
Cotton is also a willing passer. While he possesses great capacity to score4, he looks for his teammates. The way he pushes the ball up is conducive to what head coach Quin Snyder espoused going into last season, although much has been said about Utah’s slow pace.
He has his deficiencies. Because of his size, strong opposing point guards sometimes take it at him. Cotton is also turnover-prone, perhaps partly a result of his frenetic style of play.
The point guard situation is perhaps the most interesting to consider going into the next season. Exum is the team’s starter, the point guard of the now and the future. Burke is also in the fold, and now, two seasons after being selected, Raul Neto is too. That is a full house. Even so, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey has said that the team is not afraid to keep four point guards5.
Cotton is helping make that decision a somewhat easy one. He is a player who can contribute. Naturally, there could be some movement before the season starts, which would be a factor. While Burke is currently the established back-up, if Cotton can continue to work hard and improve, not only will he make the Jazz roster, but he could command some minutes. The fact that he is on a minimum salary this year and next only helps make his case.
For a team that prides itself on discovering hidden talent, Utah may have struck gold in Bryce Cotton.