This time two years ago, the Jazz were trying to figure out why #1 draft pick Troy Burke, the Naismith National Player of the Year from Michigan was looking a little lost and worn out. A call to Michigan’s head coach John Beilein eased their concerns.
Burke was burned out due to a grueling schedule: from the run to the NCAA Championship game through the awards circuit dinners, and finally the many physically and mentally demanding pre-Draft workouts. Now it seems obvious the Jazz concerns about Burke’s lackluster Summer League play 2 years ago was really an early insight into the issues that continue to dog Burke early in his NBA career. His eye-popping 2013 NCAA Tournament shooting is a distant memory. So far, Burke can’t shoot it as well as the Jazz thought. He’s not as quick as other high-end point guards and at just 6’1” that combination means Burke’s just an okay defender.
So these days the Jazz are seriously evaluating their point guard position and just eased the pressure on one of their assets.
Thursday they signed 23 year old Brazilian Raul Neto to a multiyear contract, with certain guarantees. I asked Neto what the guaranteed years mean to him. “I don’t feel a lot of pressure, I have 2 years guaranteed. I think it’s better for me to work without thinking I’ve got to make the team. I’m here so I don’t have a lot of pressure.” This 6’2” kid has ‘quicks’ and understands that shooting 20% from 3 pt land in his Spanish league won’t cut it in the NBA. “I’m a European point guard,” Neto says. “I’m a pass-first point, so it’s my job to make my teammates better.”
Neto’s 1 of 5 point guards in the mix, but only 1 (Burke 2013 first round pick) has more than one season of NBA experience. GM Dennis Lindsey’s trying to keep all 5 engaged in the process by stressing there’s plenty of opportunity with the Jazz. Lindsey’s throwing out the classic “GM chum” in the water. Telling Salt Lake media the Jazz could “absolutely” carry 4 point guards this season but since they NEVER have and the Jazz have the type of offense that can de-emphasize the importance of a traditional point guard position by having multiple ways of initiating their offense, his quote is designed to keep hope alive among those (likely the two odd points out, Cotton and Hanlon) in the point guard battle. Plus talking up the value of all your assets is just good business.
Here’s the Jazz quintet at the point. Starter’s Dante Exum, 2014 first round pick, Burke, Neto (2nd round pick, 47th overall 2013), Bryce Cotton (Undrafted, played 15 games with Jazz this past season) and Olivier Hanlon (2nd round pick, 42nd overall in 2015)
As reported in NBA Wire, “The 3 highest salaried, guaranteed deals belong to Exum, Burke and now Neto. Barring a trade those 3 are the Jazz top 3 and likely ONLY 3 point guards on the roster. Hanlon’s one of the two odd men out. Played 4 years at Boston College so he’s been around, seen a lot and scored a lot (ACC’s leading scorer in 2014-’15 season). He’d have to really standout to be considered for the NBA roster and so far he’s missed 14 of the 17 shots taken for the Jazz (missed 6 of 8 3 pointers he’s taken). Bryce Cotton would be the 2nd odd man out but also an intriguing possibility. He played 15 games for the Jazz at the end of last season, averaged close to 11 minutes a game. Shot 42% overall, 36% behind the 3pt line. So far in the Summer Leagues, Cotton’s not shooting it too well (39.5%, just 4-12 33% from 3pt line but has been great at the foul line, making 25-27, 92%) and his assist to turnovers is a decent 14-7. Course there’s no questioning his ability to flat out score. 28 in the Jazz first game in the Las Vegas summer league. Clearly Jazz coaches have been encouraging Cotton to let it fly here in the summer league games. When he asked if the somewhat surprising Summer arrival of Neto, then signing him to a deal that features 2 guaranteed years, Cotton just smiled.”
“Being in the NBA, there’s always a sense of urgency,” Cotton said. “There are thousands of people that want this job and you could lose it at any minute, so you never take it for granted.”
Should make for an interesting training camp. I wouldn’t be surprised if they packaged Burke in a deal, hopefully for the Jazz involving a big name coming in, thereby lessening the focus on the drafting of Burke. Either way I do think Quin Snyder might like Cotton more because he’s like a poor man’s Tony Parker with quickness and the ability to score and stay in front of just about any point guard on the defensive end. If they decide to let Cotton go, it will be very painful and Trey Burke best give them a reason as soon as training camp begins. Burke’s conspicuous in his absence from a gathering of Jazzman here in Salt Lake City this summer.