Back in July, the Utah Jazz signed Brazilian point guard Raul Neto. The Jazz owned the rights to sign him from the 2013 Draft in hopes that he would add depth to the point guard position behind Dante Exum.
However, a noncontact ACL injury during a game over the summer for the Australian National Team has placed Exum on the bench while he recovers. Suddenly, Neto’s signing becomes that much more significant.
Battling with Michigan product Trey Burke for the starting point guard position, no one knows as of yet who will come out on top as the starter just four games into the preseason.
Utah has even dabbled with running a three-wing, or even a four-wing, offense, at times, abandoning the traditional point guard look.
Time will tell if Neto will earn his role in the Jazz offense, but just what kind of player do they have in the 23-year-old Brazilian? Let’s take a look at the team’s preseason home opener Monday night against the Portland Trail Blazers to find out.
Let’s first find out what he brings to the offense.
Heading into the league, Neto doesn’t boast a reputation as a scorer. His father’s favorite player was John Stockton, and Neto looks up to former league MVP Steve Nash, so it’s no secret that Neto is a pass-first point guard. He was brought up that way, and that won’t change for the Jazz this season.
The 6-foot-1, 179-pound Brazilian won’t wow anyone in the league with his speed or athleticism, but one thing that Neto does really well is facilitate.
On this play, Neto didn’t do anything spectacular, but just he made the right point guard play. First off, from the small sample size that we have seen from Neto, it doesn’t seem that he has a weak hand dribbling the ball, which was evident in this clip as he drives the lane with his left hand.
Realizing that he doesn’t have a shot at the rim, Neto continues his dribble and kicks it back out to the 3-point line. Though his initial pass to Trevor Booker didn’t produce any points, Booker quickly fired over to Gordon Hayward to the top of the arc for a wide-open shot. Hayward missed, but Neto’s facilitating skills will earn him playing time throughout the season.
While he certainly looks more comfortable looking for the pass when driving, Neto does have the ability to create a shot as well. In this clip, the Brazilian receives a pass on the wing and immediately takes advantage. With a quick one-step fake to the left, Neto swiftly brings the ball back to his right hand and drives the lane.
Unfortunately for him, he dribbles into a pair of Blazers, but the first-year guard doesn’t panic. Rather, he subtly pump fakes to get one of the defenders in the air and takes advantage by sneaking under the outstretched arms of the defender for the easy lay-in.
The best part about this play, however, is that Neto doesn’t stop after the ball goes through the hoop. Instead, he nearly immediately turns around to play defense all the way up the court, a trend that continued throughout this game (more on Neto’s defense later).
It’s clear just by watching him play that Neto is a pass-first point guard, but every now and again he can make a play like you saw in that last clip. However, there are times where the point guard will look to score, and it just doesn’t seem as natural as someone like Burke.
You can see on this play that Neto was clearly looking for a bucket. Maybe he wanted to finish the drive, or maybe he was planning to pull up the entire time, but either way, the result was not a good one. He fumbled the ball after originally pump faking, resulting in a turnover.
Again, there could have been a number of reasons why that play went wrong, but the simple fact that Neto just looks more comfortable passing the ball — and his track record alludes to this — you should expect to see him giving up the rock more than cutting nets.
And don’t forget about his pick-and-roll game. This is probably where Neto will do most of his damage, especially with bigs like Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors down low. On this play, Neto takes the screen from the seven-foot Frenchman to open up some operating space.
While Gobert did roll and may have even had a shot at a bucket in the paint, Neto used his vision to kick the ball out to Chris Johnson, who drove it in for a relatively easy layup. It seemed like Neto saw the lane for his teammate in Johnson. Though the easier play may have been to dump it down to Gobert, Neto read the defense and made a solid play to lead to a quick two points for Utah.
Neto's defensive skills are the main reason he will keep his position in the NBA. The second he steps onto the floor, you can tell that he is a high-energy player and for that reason alone should bring excitement to the Jazz fan base.
He also has very active hands, evident by his four steals in the preseason opener in Hawaii and will make opposing guards earn everything they get.
That said, there is a learning curve for Neto in his conversion to the NBA, and it will take some time getting used to. On this play, Neto gets switched up on a screen to cover wingman Allen Crabbe. Given the latter has a few inches on Neto, Crabbe is hardly Kyrie Irving when it comes to his handles, yet was easily able to shake Neto and cross him up for the good look at the hoop.
Additionally, on this next play, Neto is so locked in on defending Portland’s CJ McCollum, it’s almost as if he didn’t see the screen from 6-foot-11, 225-pound Ed Davis coming up on his left side. Neto ran right into the screen, allowing McCollum to run free and get the easy look from the free-throw line.
Look, everyone gets screened. Not a big deal, but this happened on a number of occasions at EnergySolutions Arena on Monday. Sometimes, you just bite on that crossover or get caught up in a screen, but this is a little alarming moving forward just because of the strength of the point guard position in the West.
Neto will have to go against the likes of Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, etc., at times, and the skill set of those players far surpasses that of McCollum. No disrespect to McCollum, who may develop into a fine player for Portland, but Neto will definitely need some time to adjust to the speed, strength and size of his new league (see next play for example).
While all of that will take time to get used to, Neto is easily the strongest defending point guard on this Utah roster. He’s pesky and wily, and can make opponents lives a lot harder than what they were probably hoping heading into the matchup.
Though adjustments will be necessary, Neto has already begun to correct some of the mistakes he has made, even in-game. As we saw earlier, Neto is still getting acquainted with the speed of the NBA game, but on this next play, he shows that with time, he can adapt.
Here, Neto gets screened again, but this time he is able to fight over it and stay with McCollum. This forces the former Lehigh product to give up the rock briefly before getting it right back. But those fast hands by Neto disrupted McCollum’s flow and forced him into an ill-advised shot.
Sure, the shot almost went in, and maybe it’s not a terrible look for the best Blazer player on the floor at the time, but Neto sure made that one difficult shot for McCollum.
So there you have it. I’m sure as the preseason and season move along, we will find out more and more about the Jazz new point guard. But for now, get used to seeing Neto as a pass-first, defensive-minded point guard, which may be just what Utah needs heading into the regular season.