1. Preseason or no, Trevor Booker looks ready to prove himself.
Quickly endearing himself to a Jazz fan base that will just love his hustle and workmanlike approach, the former Washington Wizard is sneakily making a case for himself as Utah’s early frontrunner for best offseason acquisition. He’s flown around the court in his preseason minutes so far, compensating for his size advantage at the 4 by outpacing his counterparts regularly.
Booker has attempted just five 3’s in four contests so far, but coach Quin Snyder’s stated goal of stretching both him and Enes Kanter out beyond the arc is opening up other options. Booker is a very intelligent player, and he’s picking up on defenses over-pursuing him out on the perimeter, particularly on close-out rotations. He’s faster than nearly anyone who will guard him and certainly has the chops to put the ball on the floor and get inside, something he’s already begun doing regularly. It worked early on tonight for a pretty and-one:
These sorts of plays will do nothing but endear Booker to Snyder, as they’re instrumental in the success of a motion-based offense like the one Quin is instituting. For a guy at either big position to be able to pull it out of the bag with any sort of frequency is just doubly beneficial, as even in situations where he ultimately doesn’t score, his action will pull both a potential rebounder and rim protector away from the hoop. And as he continues to flash that sort of off-the-dribble game, defenses will begin bending back in the other direction, allowing him to continue trying to expand his range, something he’s appeared capable of in an extremely small sample thus far.
Booker’s reaction here, though perhaps slightly over the top for a preseason game, also says something about him and the way he’ll be perceived by Jazz fans. Booker is in a new city with a real chance to become a useful piece, and he knows it. He may only be 26, but that counts as veteran leadership on this team, and Booker looks motivated and ready to accept such a role. Whether or not his future is with the Jazz long-term, he intends to prove to both Utah management and the league in general that he’s worth looking at.
2. Broken record and all, but slow the crazy optimism train just a bit.
I’m as guilty as anyone from time to time, but we as Jazz supporters do have to keep things in perspective. The team has undeniably looked excellent relative to expectations, but it’s important to remember that said expectations are for the entire year, not just a small sample of preseason games. This doesn’t mean don’t glean positives – there are a number of them, and it’s certainly better to see great results than terrible ones no matter what the sample size or level of competition.
In particular, this Lakers team is a somewhat terrible barometer for any sort of realistic progress. Were it not for the D-League team being fielded over in Philly, I’d be in Las Vegas right now betting my life’s savings on Los Angeles taking Utah’s 13-14 title of worst defensive team in the league rather than writing this Triple Team. The team’s interior defense is absolutely horrendous, preseason or no, and judging really any elements of Utah’s offense going forward (outside defense-independent elements like shooting, for which one game is too little to gauge anyways) from their performance against it is unwise.
On the mental side, Snyder will be wise to keep his young squad focused on the long-term task at hand. It may sound strange to some, but a couple losses or some stretches of subpar play wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, if for no other reason than to keep young heads from ballooning just a tad. No matter how good they may look right now, this team will experience plenty of rough waters during the upcoming season, and Quin will be sure to make sure none of his group gets seasick.
3. A few other odds and ends.
Enes Kanter, victim of a number of seemingly mental issues last year that many (present company included) figured might relate mostly to his relationship with the previous coach, appears in the young preseason to be having some of the same issues. His spacing on both ends of the court has been suspect, including a number of simple defensive errors against a Lakers team that could barely string three passes together tonight. He also doesn’t fully appear to understand the role his newfound green light from deep plays for the team as a whole. He appears to view his corner looks as a luxury at his disposal rather than a necessity for effective spacing within the system, lingering along the baseline midrange and mucking things up on more than one occasion tonight. He gets some further leeway because he’s once again dealing with a scheme change, but the rope is beginning to thin out for Kanter. His numbers have been respectable enough, particularly on the boards, but Booker’s continued strong play and a failure to improve fairly quickly may signal some rough times to come.
While we’re on slight negatives that also deserve the same sort of small sample/preseason treatment any positives receive, Carrick Felix looked lost in his preseason debut tonight. His stroke is off, he’s confused defensively, and he made several noticeable mental errors in just 12 minutes on the court. Felix was never a major threat to crack the consistent rotation barring an injury or two, but at this point his simple appearance on the start-of-season roster appears to be slightly in question.
Trey Burke had a bad night from the floor tonight (just 2-9), but continues to look confident and dangerous from long distance. The second-year point is now 11-22 from 3 for the preseason thus far, and his form looks excellent. He isn’t hesitating one bit, a trend that’s starting to become noticeable among the entire squad on a more regular basis. Even with an expected regression to the mean here from Burke, he remains my most pleasant surprise of the preseason given his rough time over the summer.