LAS VEGAS — When a team has a first-round pick, taken 16th overall, who is the focal point of the team’s Summer League squad, the hope is that he vindicates and validates the team’s decision to draft him.

For the most part, Keyonte George has pulled his weight in making the Utah Jazz’s front office look good this summer. After a slow but promising start in the Salt Lake City Summer League, he followed up his 33-point, 10-assist Las Vegas debut with a 26-point performance in the Jazz’s 108-96 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night.

“I think everyone likes what they see, right?” Jazz Summer League head coach Evan Bradds said. “But I think they want to keep seeing it … He gets better every game. It keeps getting a little bit better.”

It’s clear that George has the offensive tools that the Jazz saw when they were scouting him — he’s able to score at all three levels and has shown that he has the wherewithal to be a primary ball handler. But that doesn’t mean he’s a finished product.

Summer League is one thing, and the NBA is a completely different beast. Dealing with the length, strength and experience against NBA players is going to test George in new ways.

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“That’s tough,” Bradds said. “I think it’s tough for anybody. NBA length is real and the athleticism is part of that. (Keyonte) does a good job of using his speed, agility, whatever you want to call it, to kind of counter that. As he gets more reps under him he’ll get better at it.”

George got a small taste of what’s to come on Monday, playing against Minnesota’s Josh Minott, an NBA sophomore forward. 

“He’s a great defender,” George said. “He was showing his length, poking at the ball. I mean, I think I was able to get him off the line and try to get to my spots, but it was very competitive between me and him. It was fun to get that experience with NBA length, NBA physicality with a tough defender.”

And although George was able to still put up 26 points, he knows that there are tougher and stronger opponents that he’ll have to contend with at the next level. That makes strength conditioning one of George’s top offseason priorities.

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“That’s gonna be my main focus going into training camp,” George said. “I’ll go back home, get in elite-level shape, get stronger, stay focused on my body. I’ll continue to get shots up and make sure everything on the basketball court is up to par. But, like I said, my main focus is going to be making sure I’m in elite-level shape, so come regular season, I’m able to chase guys off down screens or get over the top of screens, things like that.”

Gaining strength is going to be important for George on both sides of the ball. It’ll be important when he’s driving to the basket and going against the NBA’s best rim protectors. He’ll need that strength to be able to fight around screens and to create opportunities for himself and his teammates. But the offensive side of things is likely to come easier than the other.

On defense there is going to be a learning curve for George that includes the need to gain strength, the need for consistent reps and most of all, time.

“He’s 19 years old,” Bradds said. “So the more he plays, the more he’ll get comfortable with the physicality … and he’ll be able to play with more freedom.”

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