Bryce Cotton has had to fight every step of the way in his basketball career. As an undersized player in a game where height is of such paramount importance, he’s spent years being written off and underestimated, from his time at Providence through the NBA draft and into his NBA career.
Nothing is changing anytime soon. Despite a strong performance to close the 2014-15 regular season, Cotton finds himself in a five-man battle for what might be just three or four spots in Utah’s point guard rotation next season. But if his play in summer league thus far is any indication, he plans to make it very difficult to get rid of him.
Cotton capped off a strong three games here in Utah with his best yet Thursday night, posting 20 points along with five rebounds and five assists in front of a raucous Energy Solutions Arena crowd. He took command down the stretch and in overtime with several big shots, and pushed the pace throughout the game in a way the 76ers weren’t ready for at times. Always the consummate professional, though, Cotton downplayed the notion of any extra motivation for him due to Utah’s crowded situation at the point1.
“Being in the NBA in itself, there’s always a sense of urgency,” Cotton said. “There’s thousands of people that want this job, and you could lose it any minute, so you never take it for granted.”
Utah summer coach Alex Jensen had nothing but praise for Cotton, even noting that he and Quin Snyder have pushed Bryce to be more selfish at times and take more of the shots he creates for himself with his raw speed and deception in the pick-and-roll. It was those shots, Jensen said, that Cotton hit a few of down the stretch to seal the game.
But like Cotton, he doesn’t think there’s much in the way of added motivation. Rather, Jensen senses the sort of long-term chip on Cotton’s shoulder that may have arisen from years of being looked past, and thinks Bryce plays with a certain level of intensity in general mostly due to this.
“Bryce, ever since I’ve been around him, he always plays hard,” Jensen said. “I think he’s always trying to earn a spot. It’s summer league, he plays just as hard as he did during the season.”
The decisions at the point were already tough for the Jazz brass, and Cotton isn’t making things any easier.
|Philadelphia 76ers||78||Final | Box Score||84||Utah Jazz|
|Olivier Hanlan, SG 21 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | +15 +/-Topping off a mostly anonymous Utah summer league was more of the same from Hanlan, who isn’t doing all that much specifically wrong, but isn’t really making his presence known or showing any positive signs either.|
|Brock Motum, PF 16 MIN | 3-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +13 +/-Motum was a little better tonight than the two previous games, in particular some strong work against Jahlil Okafor down low. But he still has a long way to go to approach being a rotation player in the NBA.|
|Jack Cooley, C 19 MIN | 3-8 FG | 4-4 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 3 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | +9 +/-Cooley is the new toast of the town. He’s ridiculously energetic and shows an incredible amount of hustle, and saved many of his best plays tonight for the end of the game when it really counted. He’s making a case for a roster spot.|
|Chris Johnson, SF 24 MIN | 3-6 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 3 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 9 PTS | +10 +/-His overall stat line was somewhat pedestrian, but Johnson had an excellent week here in Utah and another solid game Thursday night. He’s active defensively and has clearly worked on his shot over the summer, and is another making a serious case for a spot on the roster.|
|Bryce Cotton, PG 32 MIN | 6-14 FG | 8-9 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 20 PTS | +16 +/-While he didn’t know about until after the game, it appeared the signing of Raul Neto lit a fire under Cotton. He was aggressive and saved his best for last while posting an excellent stat line.|
|J.J O’Brien, SF 17 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | -14 +/-O’Brien didn’t have the same sort of impact as he did on Tuesday night, finding fewer opportunities in general. He still has a bit of intriguing upside to me down the road, pending the development of his jumper.|
|Wesley Saunders, SF 20 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -2 +/-Taking his move to the second unit in stride, Johnson was Utah’s most energetic player. He stuffed the box score and played aggressive defense, and appears out to prove that he belongs on a full-time NBA roster this year.|
|Jared Cunningham, SG 12 MIN | 2-10 FG | 3-4 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | -13 +/-He just hasn’t shown enough for the Jazz to even consider him alongside several other guards for a long-term spot. Cunningham’s shot was way off tonight, and he doesn’t do enough elsewhere to make up for it when that’s the case.|
|JaJuan Johnson, PF 10 MIN | 4-4 FG | 4-4 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | -7 +/-Johnson may not be as talented as many, but he knows his role and does a great job staying within it. He made all of his shots and all of his free-throws Thursday, and while this was more a result of being set up well, he also made good defensive contributions throughout the week.|
|Trey Lyles, PF 21 MIN | 3-9 FG | 4-6 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | +15 +/-In his first Jazz action, Lyles was a mixed bag. His shot wouldn’t go down for some of the night, something he attributed to nerves, but he showed a solid all-around game elsewhere and looks comfortable with the pace and speed of the game.|
Jensen did everything that would be expected of him this week. He gave guys a chance to prove themselves, imparted some good messages and was excellent with the media in his brief time at the helm. He even commented after Thursday’s game on how the experience will make him a better assistant for Quin Snyder moving forward.