1. The Jazz won this game with defense.
After impressing local and national observers alike on Monday night with their stellar offensive performance, tonight the Jazz won via their defensive play. The Nuggets were held to just 31.5% shooting for the night, including 3-27 from beyond the arc.
It wasn’t just the D-League level players that the Jazz shut down; impressively, it was the NBA guys who have heretofore been impressive in summer league. Quincy Miller played in 52 games for the Nuggets last year and was one of summer league’s most efficient players through two games; in game 3, he finished 3-17. Likewise, Gary Harris had 33 points in his first summer league game, he shot 6-20 tonight.
That being said, it was really the second unit of the Jazz that had the most success defensively. The first unit struggled without Rudy Gobert cleaning up their mistakes as he did so effectively in game 2, and allowed 24 Nuggets points in the 1st quarter. It was the second quarter lineup featuring the Jazz’s lesser known players (and, to be fair, the Nuggets’) that did the initial defensive damage, limiting the opposition to just 7 2nd quarter points.
Trey Burke said it was about energy, a sensical excuse after the starting lineup played relatively heavy minutes in a game less than 24 hours earlier. “They were just outplaying us at the beginning of the game, and I kinda got on the guys about our energy.” Trey’s influence seemed to work, and it’s kind of exciting to see those leadership skills take effect in a drastic way.
2. That being said, summer league probably isn’t the best fit for Trey Burke.
We all analyzed and over-analyzed Trey Burke’s struggles in last year’s summer league, when he shot abysmally and didn’t wildly impress as a point guard. While today was his best game in this year’s summer league, Trey is averaging just 32% shooting from the field this summer thus far, and has even averaged 2.7 turnovers while averaging 26 minutes per game. Compare that to last regular season, in which was a 38% shooter and averaged 1.9 TO/g in 32 minutes. Does Burke’s game fit the regular season better than summer league?
I asked Burke that same question, and he responded
“I mean, I don’t know. I think summer league is kinda, you know, it’s not as structured as the regular season. In the regular season I’m a little more comfortable, if that’s what you’re asking me. Out here, it’s kinda like, I wouldn’t say it’s like an open gym, but it’s kinda different because everyone is playing so hard, like they’re playing 100 miles per hour. It’s not as relaxed as a regular season game. So for me I’m just trying to make the right decisions, not try to do too much, but for me, it’s all about winning out here. I wanna win. So I think that’s what I’m trying to do out there in the summer league.”
While I’d normally edit that quote down a little bit, Trey seemed more uncomfortable answering that question than at any other point during the press huddle.1 You can tell that he doesn’t like the idea that this style of game isn’t something he can eventually conquer; he feels that he needs to in order to satisfy his competitive spirit in order to vanquish last summer’s shortcomings. But he’s also a smart kid: at this point, he realizes his NBA strength is his skill in being a floor general, not being a Russell Westbrook-style master of chaos. These two conflict, and in the end, he’s able to answer the question by returning to a cliche, “it’s all about winning out there”.
Winning, of course, is approximately the 6th most important thing about summer league. 2 It’s nice that the Jazz won tonight’s game, and with Trey’s help, but it may be best for his confidence if this is the last summer league he ever plays in.
3. We’ve learned some things about the non-guaranteed contract players as well.
Ian Clark, Malcolm Thomas, and Erik Murphy are the three players with non-guaranteed NBA contracts on the summer league roster, and all three have gotten considerable playing time as they fight to stay on that roster through next season. We’ll probably have a more in-depth look at these three, along with John Lucas III, later in the summer, but tonight’s game was perhaps representative of their efforts thus far for the Jazz.
Ian Clark had his best game in a Jazz summer league jersey tonight. While he hasn’t lived up to his MVP performance of last year’s summer league, Quin Snyder specifically singled him out in his interview tonight as the player who got the Jazz going after a slow start. He’s tried to do too much at times, but is showing off his nice shooting touch (60% from 3 overall) and an ability to fight through screens defensively. He has the harshest contract, becoming fully guaranteed in 2 weeks on August 1st, but the Jazz are in higher need of a wing than a big. He probably is the most likely to stay.
Malcolm Thomas has had a good showing overall, but especially in game 3 as he was perhaps the best player on the floor. Thomas shot 7-11 against Denver, recording 10 rebounds and getting 2 blocks. He’s shown good versatility by both fighting deep inside the paint and an ability to shoot from all over the floor. He’s also looked reasonably quick defensively, though he is vulnerable to wider and stronger big men. His contract is fully unguaranteed with no guarantee date, which probably means he makes it to training camp at least.
Erik Murphy also played well tonight, but has underwhelmed overall. He’s shooting just 33% over the course of three games, and he’s not hitting from outside (1-7 thus far). His release looks slow. On defense, he’s been blown by from the perimeter, and doesn’t really do anything special down low. He makes $100,000 if the Jazz don’t release him by August 1st. He’s probably an underdog to make it past that date, unless he significantly steps it up in the next 2-3 summer league games.
Overall, with Hood, Novak, Booker, and Evans on the roster with guaranteed contracts, none of these three players have irreplaceable skills that would make them especially damaging to cut. Clark probably has the best combination of youth and usefulness, while Thomas is probably the best of them right now. It will be interesting to watch how the contract battles play out.