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Jazz forward Joel Bolomboy focusing on little things for big-picture goal

Utah Jazz forward Joel Bolomboy (21) shoots during practice at the Equinox Sports Club in San Francisco on Tuesday, May 02, 2017.
Utah Jazz forward Joel Bolomboy (21) shoots during practice at the Equinox Sports Club in San Francisco on Tuesday, May 02, 2017.
Spenser Heaps

LAS VEGAS — As the Utah Jazz front office internally works out team building this offseason, Joel Bolomboy is determined to keep his name in the conversation.

The 6-foot-9 power forward played most of the 2016-17 season in the D-League.

He’s hoping to do his work in the NBA this upcoming season and beyond.

Though Bolomboy’s stats from Summer League play don’t exactly jump off the page — six points and five rebounds in Utah's loss to the Clippers on Sunday, for instance — he feels good about the opportunity in front of him to become a rotation player for the Jazz.

For now, Utah’s frontcourt seems unsettled after mainstays Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Joe Johnson. Management has until this weekend to decide whether to exercise the team option on Boris Diaw’s contract, while one big man ahead of Bolomboy was shipped to Denver (third-year forward Trey Lyles) in the Donovan Mitchell trade and another (backup center Jeff Withey) is an unrestricted free agent.

Bolomboy, a 2016 second-round pick whose contract is partially guaranteed this season, sees a path to playing time.

“Oh yeah,” he said when asked about that this past weekend. “I think summer league’s going to be a part of it.

Bolomboy knows he’ll need to continue to work — and impress — with his workouts when the Summer League action wraps up. The 23-year-old then will keep toiling away to reach his goals in OTAs (optional team activities that aren’t really optional) and into training camp.

“I think the biggest thing Coach Q (Quin Snyder) and (general manager) Dennis Lindsey want me to work on is just my defense,” he said, “and my ability to switch on the guards and just continue to improve on my overall defense and go from there.”

Bolomboy has picked up one big endorsement from within the organization this summer.

Consider new teammate Donovan Mitchell impressed.

“I know Caleb Swanigan. I know his work ethic. I know how hard he works,” Mitchell said after the Jazz played Portland on Saturday. “And to see Joel give him a hard, hard time is really impressive. I haven’t seen that since I’ve known Caleb.

In that game, Swanigan notched a double-double of 16 points and 13 rebounds, but the former Salt Lake City resident and Purdue product had a tough go offensively, hitting just four of 12 shots.

“Joel’s just incredible with his work ethic, with his rebounding,” Mitchell said.

Jazz assistant coach Zach Guthrie, who’s coaching Utah’s squad in Las Vegas, liked that Bolomboy responded when challenged to “screen, screen, screen” in the final two minutes of that Portland game. Bolomboy ended up getting called for setting an illegal screen.

“That’s good,” Guthrie said. “In the last two minutes of the game, you have to get your teammate open.”

Bolomboy’s assessment of himself?

“I think I’m doing all right so far,” he said. “I’ve just got to hang in there, keep playing hard and it will come.”

Bolomboy set an admirable-but-lofty goal to be the leading rebounder in summer leagues in Salt Lake City and Sin City, and that would be impressive. (He’s averaging 6.5 boards and will need to absolutely dominate the glass to surpass current leader Marc Costello of Minnesota and his 11.0 boards per game.)

But Bolomboy will need to continue to show he can do more than just rebound to earn playing time and a consistent role.

“I think he needs to focus on the little things. I’m not worried about whatever his field-goal percentage was,” Guthrie said. “I’m worried about, ‘Is he doing the little things that translate over to getting NBA minutes?’ And that’s setting good screens, getting your teammate open, getting rebounds, getting the hit on someone every single time.

"Those are the things we’re holding him accountable on, not box score stats.”

Guthrie, whose team plays Memphis on Tuesday afternoon (2:30 p.m. MT, ESPNU) pointed out that he’ll need teammates’ help (not to accomplish a goal but to snare more rebounds).

“Rebounding is a team game,” Guthrie said. “I know that’s what he wants and what he cares about, but you can’t hold just Joel accountable for the rebounds. Joel’s a team defender; he’s going to come over. Everyone, all five, have to come over on the glass. Obviously, he needs to do a better job. I think his motor is there. His aggression is there. It’s more of a team-wide issue with rebounding.”

Bolomboy averaged six boards and was second on the team in rebounding in Utah's Summer League, but the Big Sky’s all-time leading rebounder and Weber State record-holder said he still hopes to lead Las Vegas in that stat.

“That’s still a personal goal of mine,” he said, “because I’m a great rebounder.”