Utah Jazz’s Mike Conley, right, slips as he is defended by San Antonio Spurs’ Keldon Johnson during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021, in San Antonio.
(Darren Abate, Associated Press)
Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Maybe it wasn’t so bad that Utah’s first preseason game wasn’t televised locally (Check that, it was very bad).
The Jazz started off their preseason with a bit of a whimper, shooting 23% from 3-point range (and 31.7% overall) in a 111-85 loss to San Antonio. It’s a good thing it’s just preseason.
“Our execution in general needs to be better,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Not to write it off as the first preseason game, but I didn’t think we were as sharp as we needed to be.”
Snyder may not be willing to chalk it up to being the first preseason game, but we sure will. The Jazz were without Rudy Gay and Bojan Bogdanovic, who are both recovering from injuries; and before the game, Snyder announced he was giving Joe Ingles and Rudy Gobert the night off to help them recharge after a busy summer playing in the Olympics.
So with the Jazz missing four key contributors, it’s not much of a surprise Utah wasn’t as crisp as it was for much of last season. But without those players suiting up, it gave Utah’s new additions a chance for more playing time. Isn’t that what the preseason is all about anyway?
So how did they do?
The rookie guard’s first NBA action didn’t start too well. He began the game shooting 1 of 8 from the field and was often sped up against the higher level of competition. It turns out, he’s a pretty quick learner.
“It was just getting a little more comfortable,” Butler said. “It’s my first time playing an NBA game. There’s a lot of emotions and stuff like that. I played in a national championship game so I wasn’t nervous — just trying to get comfortable. That’s what it was.”
Butler hit five of his last seven shots and ended up leading the Jazz in scoring with 16 points.
“I think we saw some of the same things we talked about,” Snyder said of Butler. “He plays with poise. Jared has shown his ability to not just put the ball in the basket but make plays for other people.”
One thing about Butler really stood out, especially in the second half: his ability to run the pick and roll. Butler showed a good feel for how to set up the play with his bigs, and his search dribble extended a few plays.
“I didn’t know he had that to be honest,” Donovan Mitchell said. “The biggest thing that I saw, just his pace coming off (the pick) — being able to kind of manipulate the big and be able to manipulate the read.”
If he continues to progress in that area, Butler could find a spot in the regular rotation.
As for Butler overall performance, he said his first NBA game was a “6 out of 10” or a “C.” Solid, but plenty of room for improvement.
With Gobert out, Whiteside got the start for the Jazz. While his size, alone, allows him to get away with some things and put up some stats — he finished with 6 points and 10 rebounds in 20 minutes — Utah’s new center seemed to struggle with positioning on both sides of the floor.
Utah’s offense is built heavily around screens and dives to the hoop to open up space for the team’s arsenal of shooters. Gobert is a master of that; Whiteside is still adjusting. And Whiteside admitted as much, saying he still needs to figure out exactly where to set picks for different guys and on different sets.
“I’m picking up the plays,” Whiteside said. “I learned probably five new plays today. So just every day, they’re bringing in new stuff.”
That’s happening on the defensive end as well. Whiteside is getting accustomed to Snyder’s defensive system, where he has different assignments than he’s used to in order to keep him in the paint longer.
“I think I could have been better at touching the guy when they ran the action,” Whiteside said. “I think I switched a little too much, so they got a lot of like a couple open dunks. … I think just a little more of me staying with my man and at the rim. I think I’m gonna do that better next time.”
Paschall finished with 7 points and five rebounds in a solid Jazz debut for the third-year forward. Paschall plays with a ton of energy, has a good basketball IQ and fights for loose balls. There’s a lot of things he can do to help a team, but how good of a role player he is for the Jazz may come down to how he shoots the 3-ball.
On Monday, he at least showed he was willing to put them up. He shot seven times against the Spurs, and five of those attempts were from 3-point range. That’s the good news. The bad? He went 1 of 5.
Paschall, though, was far from the only Jazz player to struggle with his shot. Mitchell was 0 for 6 from deep, and Mike Conley and Butler were both 1 for 5. The fact that Paschall is taking the shots is good enough — at least for now.
“I thought Eric took good shots, and I also thought he got into the lane and made some good plays for his teammates when he got in there,” Snyder said. “And it’s good to see a guy play with passion. I think that he’s got a lot of pride in how he plays, and I was happy with how he competed.”