The last Utah Jazz player to appear in the NBA All-Star game was Deron Williams in 2011, but since then the Jazz have sent a number of players to participate in the All-Star weekend activities. Most notably last year, Utah had three players in the NBA Rising Stars Challenge; Trey Burke (Team USA), Rudy Gobert and Dante Exum (Team World). While it seems unlikely Utah’s All-Star draught ends, there is a chance the Jazz will once again be represented in the Rising Stars Challenge.
When the Jazz drafted Lyles with the 12th pick, a lot of fans thought the team would have been better off drafting a shooter like Devin Booker. Through the halfway point, Lyles is shooting 47.5 percent from three, which leads all rookies who average at least one three point attempt per game. The hope, when the Jazz drafted Lyles, was that he would eventually turn into a stretch big man. Thanks to the onslaught of injuries, Lyles’ development has been occurring more rapidly than anticipated.
Lyles is also one of the better rebounders among his rookie class, grabbing 4.2 rebounds a game. While he’s only averaging 5 points, his offensive production has seen an uptick in the month of January, much like Rodney Hood. His points, assists and rebounds have all increased this month and if he can stay hot from behind the arc, he should get serious consideration for the Rising Stars Challenge.
Raul Neto, or “João Stockton” as I wish he was referred to, has been a pleasant surprise this year. While his numbers might not inspire awe, he’s proven he’s a viable NBA player. Neto has shown he is a much better shooter than his number from Europe would indicate. In fact, Neto is making almost 39 percent of his threes and is at 41.7 percent overall. He’s tied for sixth among rookies in steals (0.9) and ranks fifth in assists (2.4).
Raul Neto has enough creativity and shot making ability to be a fine playmaker off the bench for the Jazz next year and has enough skills to help guide Utah to the playoffs this year.
Among sophomores, Hood ranks highly in most offensive categories. Hood is third in points (13.6), fourth in assists (2.6) and second in free throw percentage (88.4). There was a stretch of the season when Rodney Hood couldn’t buy a bucket, but those days are behind him. In the month of January Hood is shooting lights out, averaging 17.5 points and knocking down almost 45 percent from deep.
Hood has been effective as Utah’s second scoring option behind Gordon Hayward, particularly when it comes to operating in the pick-and-roll. Hood’s decision making has improved and it’s a big reason why his assists rank so highly among second year players. Hood should be a lock to receive an invite to play with Team USA as a Rising Star.