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Jazz believe that Udoka Azubuike still has the tools

Team exercised third-year option on 2020 first-round draft last week to give him more time to develop

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Utah Jazz center Udoka Azubuike, wearing white, goes for a dunk during preseason game against Milwaukee

Utah Jazz center Udoka Azubuike goes for a dunk during preseason game against Milwaukee Bucks at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021.

Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

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Last week the Utah Jazz decided to exercise their third-year option on 2020 first-round draft pick Udoka Azubuike. The option extends the center’s contract through the 2022-23 season.

Though Azubuike showed some flashes of promise during Summer League play, it seems that he’s still not ready for real NBA minutes. His time played during the Jazz’s preseason games were not as productive as his time in the Salt Lake City or Las Vegas Summer League, to say the least. So why did the Jazz pick up Azubuike’s option?

The simple answer is that it was a cheap way to give Azubuike more time to develop.

A longer answer was provided by Jazz general manager Justin Zanik on Saturday prior to the Jazz’s loss to the Chicago Bulls, and in part Zanik said the Jazz feel like Azubuike hasn’t really been dealt that fair of a hand since being drafted.

“Last year we drafted him, and four days later he shows up to camp and we’re asking of him, 1; you’re not going to get any reps in the regular season because of the goals that we have as the veteran team, and 2; nobody in college plays like us,” Zanik said. “The only way you can learn that is reps, but last year he had a major injury. He only played in one game.”

By the time that Azubuike was healthy, the Jazz were the top seed in the West, headed into a playoff run. This season, the Jazz’s center minutes are pretty much locked up with Rudy Gobert backed up by Hassan Whiteside and flanked by small-ball five options in Rudy Gay and Eric Paschall.

Even so, the Jazz still believe that Azubuike has the tools that could develop him into the type of rim-running defensive big that the Jazz’s system revolves around. In order to see if he can really play NBA ball at the level they need, he needs more time.

With Whiteside on a one-year deal, there’s opportunity if Azubuike can prove that he deserves minutes by the time next season rolls around. If he still needs next season to be molded, keeping him is inexpensive and the Jazz could always find another center on a minimum deal as they did with Whiteside.

In the meantime the Jazz have sent Azubuike to the SLC Stars and will continue to do so as much as possible throughout the season, so that the former 27th overall pick can get as much on-court and individualized attention as possible.

New with the Jazz

Stat of the week

The Utah Jazz’s shooting has been below what many expected of the team in the early days of the 2021-22 season, but Joe Ingles is not having any problems. Through eight games Ingles is shooting 51.2% from 3-point range.

This week on ‘Unsalvageable’

Check out “Unsalvageable: A Utah Jazz Podcast,” hosted by Deseret News Utah Jazz beat reporter Sarah Todd and lifelong Jazz fan Greg Foster (no, not that Greg Foster). This week, the crew discusses ESPN’s investigative story on the Phoenix Suns and goes over the recent stretch of games from the Jazz.

New episodes come out every week. You can listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast and anywhere else you stream podcasts.

From the archives

This week in Jazz history

On Nov. 2, 1990, the Phoenix Suns defeated the Utah Jazz, 119-96, at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium in Japan in the first regular-season game played outside North America by any major professional sports league. The teams also met the next night in Tokyo, with the Jazz winning, 102-101.

Extra points

  • The difference a Utah Jazz scholarship is making for this BYU freshman (Deseret News)
  • The NBA revealed every team’s City ‘mashup’ uniforms (Deseret News)
  • Jazz not blaming shooting struggles on NBA’s new ball (KSL.com)
  • Five of Joe Ingles’ Aussie mates reflect on the forward’s career (Salt Lake Tribune)

Around the league

Allegations of racism, misogyny within the Phoenix Suns under ownership of Robert Sarver.

Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James out for a week with abdominal strain.

NBA coaches are stuck in a pandemic fashion rut.

Up next

Nov. 6 | 5:30 p.m. | Utah Jazz @ Miami Heat | NBATV

Nov. 7 | 4 p.m. | Utah Jazz @ Orlando Magic | AT&T SportsNet

Nov. 9 | 7 p.m. | Utah Jazz vs. Atlanta Hawks | AT&T SportsNet

Nov. 11 | 7 p.m. | Utah Jazz vs. Indiana Pacers | AT&T SportsNet

Nov. 13 | 3 p.m. | Utah Jazz vs. Miami Heat | NBATV