Highlights from SLC Summer League
BY: ALMA BEAN
Going into Vivint arena on Tuesday afternoon had the crowd filled with a lot of burning questions. Some of the questions I had and heard while I entered the arena were the following:
Who (NBA Players) will attend these games in Salt Lake?
Will Chet (Holmgren) play? If he does, will he put on a show?
Will Josh Giddey be able to share the court with Chet Holmgren?
Do the Jazz have any good players besides Jared Butler?
Will these games be worth the $13 I paid?
Didn’t hear many questions regarding the Memphis Grizzlies or Philadelphia 76ers going into the first day of Salt Lake City Summer League, but as fans began to take their seats, their first question gained an answer. Ja Morant, star player for the Memphis Grizzlies was sitting courtside alongside the Memphis Summer League team and the crowd couldn’t hold their excitement. Children throughout the arena are screaming Morant’s name in the hopes that he may look in their direction and acknowledge that they were heard. These cheers stretched into the game with each stoppage of play. The standout players from the Grizzlies/76ers matchup had to be in the paint between Paul Reed and Xavier Tillman.
Both Reed and Tillman lead their teams in points with 16 for Tillman and 20 for Reed. Reed also led the Grizzlies in rebounds with 15. Both players were consistently showing their dominance in the paint making it hard for others to drive given their intimidation. Many of the points scored for both Reed and Tillman, were being defending by other players on the roster. Though both played relentlessly, Tillman and the Grizzlies came out victorious, 103-99.
Shortly after the Memphis vs. Philadelphia match ended, Utah had to take on a very talented Oklahoma City team. Between having current players from their NBA roster like Josh Giddey, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Aleksej Pokusevski, along with all four of their drafted players being on the roster. All four draft picks, Chet Holmgren, Ousmane Dieng, Jalen Williams and Jaylin Williams, all have high expectations to shine in not only the Salt Lake City Summer League, but also in the NBA 2K23 Summer League in Las Vegas.
The Thunder were able to live up to the expectations set by the public with holding Utah to only nine points in the first quarter while it looked like Holmgren couldn’t miss. The Thunder shot almost 50% from the field making 36 of 73 shot. The Chet-Mate duo (nickname posted by Twitter user slagle747 on a SLAMonline Twitter post) did not disappoint combining for 37 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists.
Utah had a disappointing first outing that not even the emphatic chants for Tacko Fall could fix. Xavier Sneed, Jazz two-way player, led the team in scoring with 15 points, with nine of those points coming from the free throw line. Players with higher expectations like Jared Butler, shot 3 of 10 from the field as the Jazz fell to the Thunder 98-77.
Murmurs from fans in the stands saying things like, “This is a preview for the upcoming season” and other things related to that, filled the arena. It is hard to block out the noise of the disappointed fans, even tried to reassure a few that out of the 10 players who were on the court, one has a guaranteed contract and another has a two-way contract. The team we saw on the court is no indication of how Utah’s NBA roster will performer given the different personnel. Since the crowd had just watched their home team lose by 21 points, this was a concept that may have been mentioned at the wrong time.
The second day had a different feel to it. More fans lined up outside the door, the outdoor pop-up shop had more fans looking for a great deal and fans were talking about performances from the previous day. One conversation that stood out was a group of kids who had caught Ja Morant’s attention during the Memphis Grizzlies warmup. These children kept telling everyone that was willing to listen about how Ja waved to them. Little gestures like this may have created a basketball fan for life all over a simple wave back to the crowd. Their goal was to show the new friend they brought with them, that Ja is in Salt Lake City and that they are friends, so he will wave back at them. They were sitting three rows behind me, so I was a little hopefully that Morant would make this kid feel like a superstar.
Walking into the arena, Memphis and Oklahoma City are doing their usual warmups, but now the question lingers, was Holmgren’s performance a fluke or should we expect dominance each time he’s on the court? Little did the crowd know that they were about to witness a battle on the court between Chet Holmgren and Grizzlies Kenny Lofton Jr.
The Grizzlies sat their other Center options from the previous day (Ziaire Williams, Santi Aldama and Xavier Tillman) leaving only Lofton Jr. and EJ Onu to play the position. Though Lofton Jr. looked undersized compared to 7’1 Holmgren but came out ready to play scoring 7 points in the first quarter. With the game being close during the first half, with a score 48-43, Josh Giddey and the Thunder pulled away in the second half. Memphis began to make numerous turnovers and fouls began to pile up.
With Oklahoma City getting their second win of the week, beating Memphis 87-71, the Grizzlies were the ones turning heads. Lofton Jr. with 19 points and 6 rebounds and Shaq Buchanan with 16 points and 7 rebounds.
The following game was between the Utah Jazz and the Philadelphia 76ers. After both teams suffering a loss the day before, both teams were looking to prove that their losses were a fluke.
This game felt like there was more on the line for the players given the scores throughout the first half. The 76ers having a 22-21 lead at the end of the first quarter then the Jazz gaining the lead going into halftime 43-39. Turnovers then became the name of the game for Utah with a total of 22 turnovers for the game compared to Philadelphia’s 13. Though there were some great performances from James Palmer Jr. (14 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists) and Bruno Caboclo (16 points and 6 rebounds), the Jazz still fell short 86-82.
Though the score was much closer than the night before, the fans left the arena disappointed of not only another loss, but the “We Want Tacko” chants being all for none as Tacko Fall did not play due to rest.
Going into the final set of games in Salt Lake City, seemed as if the local fans were ready to see these games come to an end. After two straight days of Jazz losses, some fans came in with the expectation that Memphis was going to put the nail in the coffin by giving Utah their third loss.
With the first game of the day between the Thunder and the 76ers, the expectation is Holmgren will sit after playing two straight days and having a slight injury scare top his ankle on day one. I expected Josh Giddey to also get the day off, but once the teams were sending their starters out for the opening tipoff, Giddey was shaking hands at center court. Giddey’s performance may not jump out to most, but his stat line kept the Thunder in the game against the 76ers (10 points/5 rebounds/7 assists). Though Giddey was getting his teammates more involved, Isaiah Joe from Philadelphia made the shot to win the game for the 76ers 80-79.
Jazz fans were hopeful that undrafted rookie Johnny Juzang would be able to make an appearance during Salt Lake City Summer League, but due to a minor car accident Juzang was involved in, he was in concussion protocol for the entire three-day event. Fans even joked with Juzang in the stands saying, “Drop 50 (points) tonight for us!”
Though Juzang didn’t play, Jared Butler showed the crowd why he is on an NBA roster with an incredible stat line (22 points/7 rebounds/7 assists). Utah looked like they were going to run away against Memphis after starting the first quarter 29-17. The Jazz even took their 12-point lead into the half, but Memphis came in the second half ready to fight back. Memphis finished the third quarter outscoring Utah 30-18 and eventually beating Utah 95-84.
Though Utah had yet another disappointing outing, I believe there was promise shown on their roster. Bruno Caboclo showing his experience on the court by making multiple difficult shots in the paint. Jordan Usher showing tenacity doesn’t show up on a stat sheet but can radiate amongst your teammates. Justin Robinson though turnovers were consistent on his stat line, he was willing to make difficult passes to create offense when it was hard to come by. Tacko Fall not only utilizing his size, but the crowd noise as fans went wild each time he checked in.
A 0-3 record when you’re hosting an event is not a great way to start any season, but there’s a lot of potential on the Jazz Summer League roster. Once the Jazz reach Vegas, I believe NBA fans will take notice of the roster that was built by Danny Ainge and Utah’s front office.
*Since this article was finalized, Utah has won two games in the NBA 2K23 Summer League in Las Vegas. First against the Atlanta Hawks 72-66, second against the Dallas Mavericks 83-82. Utah’s next game will be on 7/13 against the Toronto Raptors at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN2.