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Summer League is about development, but the Utah Jazz want to win the championship, too

The Jazz’s summer squad is banking on being able to achieve everything they want to in Vegas, without sacrificing winning

Utah Jazz guard Trent Forrest (3) passes the ball during an NBA summer league basketball game.
Utah Jazz guard Trent Forrest (3) passes the ball away from Miami Heat guard Marcus Garrett during the first half of an NBA summer league basketball game Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, in Las Vegas. The Jazz are hoping to win the tournament championship.
David Becker, AP

LAS VEGAS — The Utah Jazz aren’t in Las Vegas just to have a couple of players shine. They want to win a trophy.

Summer League often produces aesthetically displeasing basketball. There are plenty of highlight reel plays, but they usually come from either the top draft prospects or are produced through players trying to play hero ball.

It’s completely understandable that players would want to do that here. For many of the players in Las Vegas, this is their last chance to catch the eye of a scout, coach or front office executive. It might be their only shot at making an NBA roster or having their contract guaranteed. You can’t really blame them for going all out.

There are also players on summer teams who are still developing and these games are useful in trying to accelerate development in certain areas.

But, the Jazz’s summer squad is banking on being able to achieve everything without sacrificing winning.

“I don’t think development and winning are mutually exclusive,” Jazz summer league coach Bryan Bailey said. “They can go together. Part of the development is learning how to win. You want to see things, want guys to work on things. But it’s all together, it’s all intertwined.”

The Jazz are 3-0 so far in Vegas, and they’ve gone undefeated by doing the little things, especially on the defensive end. When it comes to offense, nobody is too concerned with makes or misses, so long as they’re playing the right way and not taking any moment for granted. That means setting hard screens, making sure that the guards have what they need to break the first line of defense, and then sharing the ball and constantly moving.

“The goal right now in Summer League, to be honest with you, is to win,” Jarrell Brantley said. “I want to win it all and I’ll say it confidently. As long as we keep winning I’ll take my misses.”

Flashy plays will of course catch the attention of those watching, but so does winning, playing within a system and showing patience and maturity on the court.

“If we win we all look good, simple as that,” Elijah Hughes said.

So far, it’s worked for the Jazz. But with the Summer League format rules, even if they go undefeated it might not be enough.

On Aug. 17 the top two teams through four games will play in a championship game. But if there are more than two teams with the same winning percentage, point differential through the first four games acts as a tiebreaker and will determine who plays for the Summer League championship trophy.

Of the teams that remain undefeated in Las Vegas, the Jazz have the smallest point differential. So, in order to advance to a championship game, the Jazz need win on Sunday against the Los Angeles Clippers and might have do so by a pretty big margin or be lucky enough for three of the remaining four undefeated teams to lose a game.

There’s not a ton of prestige that comes with winning the Summer League championship, but that game will be the one with the most eyes on it and that’s what this whole thing is about.

If the Jazz can keep winning, and win the whole thing without top draft prospects, they must be doing something right and there are people around the league who will make a note of the players who are able to win without needing to play hero ball or fill a highlight reel.