I’m not going to sugarcoat things. Not seeing Taylor Hendricks or Brice Sensabaugh play any Summer League ball was a disappointment.

Whether you’re a Utah Jazz fan, a teammate, a coach, an analyst, or a Jazz beat reporter, there was an immense amount of intrigue after the Jazz drafted three players on June 22. Though Hendricks had a mild hamstring strain during pre-draft workouts and Sensabaugh is coming off knee surgery in March, they were both hoping to play. But the Jazz brass decided that caution and bubblewrap were more important than a few games without stakes in the offseason.

I get it, why aggravate an injury or rush them back to play in the summer when you want them fresh and feeling their best when training camp rolls around? That was the Jazz’s thought process.

So they forged on, and even without Hendricks and Sensabaugh, the ninth and 28th overall draft picks, respectively, the Jazz’s Summer League stretch was really fascinating and fun and illuminating.

With six players of major interest and an assistant coach on the rise, there’s a lot to take away from the Jazz’s 2023 Salt Lake City and Las Vegas Summer League performance.

Keyonte George

The 16th overall pick in the 2023 draft (10th best player in the draft on the Jazz’s internal big board) came in with a lot of question marks. With a negative assist-to-turnover ratio at Baylor, can he really be a point guard for the Jazz? Can he clean up his shot selection? Can he be efficient?

Three games played in Utah and two-and-a-half more played in Las Vegas. That’s all it took for Keyonte George to make a really convincing case for himself. And, of course we don’t want to be guilty of overreacting to a Summer League performance, but it’s hard not to when one of the most questionable positions on the Jazz roster is point guard.

George showed that he can knock down shots (scoring 33 points in his Las Vegas debut), that he can find other ways to impact the game when his shots aren’t falling (going 10 of 10 from the free-throw line in Utah when he was struggling from outside), and that he can run an offense unselfishly and with precision passes.

I think that it would be realistic to expect George to need time to acclimate to NBA physicality and gain some strength. But it’s also not a stretch to hope that, based on what we’ve seen, he can become the Jazz’s primary ballhandler of the future.

We can’t finish talking about George without mentioning the reason he only played in half of the Jazz’s third game in Las Vegas. George stepped on another player’s foot on the way to the basket just before halftime of that game. He went down immediately and on replay it was clear that he’d rolled his ankle.

He’s going to need this offseason to let the ankle heal and while team sources have indicated that there’s not long-term concern, a setback in the offseason could mean a setback in the regular season. After all, it’s the same ankle that George sprained back in February at Baylor.

Even so, if he takes a little more time to ramp up, and if he needs some extra time to develop, that’s OK. The Jazz have the personnel to withstand that and they’ll be patient with George.

Related
Can Jazz newcomer Ömer Yurtseven build on competitive habits he forged in Miami?
As Luka Samanic plays for his NBA life, here’s who he’s trying to emulate

Ochai Agbaji

It’s not like the Jazz needed Ochai Agbaji to play in Summer League. They got a hefty dose of what he is capable of last season and that dose included some notable growth near the end of the season.

But Agbaji was challenged by the coaching staff to be ready for heavy minutes and a larger role this coming season. They wanted to test his conditioning and experiment with him a little bit this summer. So, he worked really hard, he is in the best shape of his life, and he was ready for anything they were going to throw at him.

The Jazz frequently switched Agbaji between point guard and shooting guard during Summer League games. They ran him hard, playing him heavy minutes, they asked a lot of him on the defensive end and also expected him to be a big part of the offense.

What we learned is that it’s going to take a lot to wear out Agbaji. He just keeps going and his conditioning is really impressive. We also learned that putting him in the unfamiliar and uncomfortable position as point guard didn’t always yield the best results, but he’s absolutely capable. 

We also learned that there might be even more defensive ability than we previously thought out of Agbaji and that his rookie year in the NBA gave him a lot of wisdom. He looked more comfortable and more in control than a lot of the players he went against (his 10-foul game in SLC notwithstanding).

Though, I really think the most important thing from Agbaji this summer was his attitude. He never seemed slighted by the Jazz wanting him to play in Summer League, he was up to every challenge, he’s excited about what’s to come and he’s dedicated to improving.

Luka Samanic

Though the Jazz were able to have Luka Samanic on the team last season, it was only for a handful of games.

The Jazz really like Samanic and they want to give him a chance, which is why he was included on the Summer League roster and why he will be on the training camp roster.

Samanic had a really nice run through in both the Salt Lake City and Las Vegas showcases. He averaged 13.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 36.4% from 3-point range in Utah and averaged 16.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game white shooting 36.8% from 3 and 51.3% overall in Vegas.

Honestly though, Samanic’s game is not really one that’s well suited for Summer League. The impact that he can have is better measured over more time, which is why I think the Jazz have structured his contract to have two more guarantee trigger dates (one just before the start of the 2023-24 season in October and one in early January).

Two-way players

Last year the Jazz had both Micah Potter and Johnny Juzang on two-way deals. This year, NBA teams are allowed to have up to three players on two-way deals, so the Jazz added Joey Hauser to the mix.

Potter showed some really nice flashes for the Jazz in Las Vegas. Playing the majority of his minutes with George, the two developed some quick chemistry and their two-man game was pretty impressive. They found each other cutting, protected one another on drives and just seemed to work really well together.

Potter also showed some strength and aggressiveness that I thought he’d been lacking through the Salt Lake City Summer League and it was nice to see.

Though Juzang’s 3-point shooting was really impressive this summer (52.2% in Salt Lake City and 50% in Las Vegas), I found myself wondering what else he offered to the Jazz’s offense, and I don’t mean their Summer League team. I was trying to find where he would fit into the Jazz’s regular season rotation and the problem is that I just don’t think he’s ready for that role.

There’s nothing that he does that’s egregiously bad, but there are small things that add up — he picks up his dribble at inopportune times, he’s not a great passer, he seems to get caught in no-man’s land, and he doesn’t always feel like he’s completely under control. 

The same could be said for Hauser. I know the Jazz really wanted to bolster their shooting depth and that they are looking for dynamic scorers, but there wasn’t any time during Summer League where I felt wowed by Juzang or Hauser outside of a few good shots.

Final thoughts

View Comments

I liked the thought that Jazz assistant coach Evan Bradds put into the Summer League plan. I appreciated him letting George show off his potential and putting Agbaji into uncomfortable situations. It’s also reassuring to see how much the players respect Bradds and how quickly he gains the trust of the players.

Everyone would have loved to see Hendricks and Sensabaugh, but there’s plenty of time for them, the Jazz are not rushing anything — not the development of their young players and not the timeline to becoming a contender.

I’m not alone in being impressed with George. I wasn’t sure that he would be able to quiet the concerns regarding his game, but he proved me and a lot of other people wrong.

In all, the Jazz played some competitive basketball, they were fun to watch and there were a lot of players to watch who could really end up mattering.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.