Again, everybody expected Dante Exum and Trey Burke to show up big for the Utah Jazz at their NBA Summer League finale in Las Vegas on Friday, July 18. Exum sort of did, scoring nine points and amassing a solid stat line (5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals)--but Burke sat out Friday's finale, a 75-73 win over Portland.
Let's be fair here: the shimmering and smoldering desert landscape has played host to some unexpected surprises in Sin City. Among those who surprised a few people? Malcolm Thomas, a second-year Jazz man out of San Diego State who came to Vegas in a contract year.
Thomas has two things going on. One is he's probably trying to avoid being traded, because his two-year, $1.65 million deal is back-filled with non-guaranteed money ($948,000) in this, his second year on that two-year deal. The second, and probably personal goal is that he arrived hoping to impress either Jazz brass or some other NBA team.
Thomas, a product of San Diego State, just might have done so in Vegas after leading the Jazz in scoring in Friday's win over Portland.
In short, nobody knows if Thomas will remain a Jazz man. The depth chart is more crowded than ever at the three and four spots--the two forward positions where Thomas best fits in the Jazz system.
Utah just signed Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $63 million deal and 1st round draft pick Rodney Hood inked his rookie contract. Then the Jazz brought over 6-9 sharpshooter Steve Novak in a trade, further complicating an already jumbled roster of forwards.
But if anyone deserves a chance to make this team based on his body of work in Las Vegas, it's Thomas. He's played for four different NBA teams (San Antonio twice) before the Jazz claimed him off of waivers from the Spurs last season.
In seven games last year, Thomas averaged about two points and two rebounds--not solid numbers, mind you--but the Jazz have always had a hankering for him.
Perhaps Thomas showed that he can play at the NBA summer league. Overall, Thomas was the team's third leading scorer at the five-day tournament and the Jazz' second-best rebounder.
From game to game, Thomas' stat lines were also impressive. He opened the tournament with 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting and had eight rebounds. Like other Jazz vets, Thomas' point production waffled in games two and four.
Even so, Thomas' numbers were still solid in game two against Milwaukee, as he scored seven points and grabbed five boards in just 19 minutes of action.
Game three saw Thomas get back to what he was all about in game one. In a 25-minute performance against the Denver Nuggets in game three, Thomas was effective, scoring 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting to go with 10 rebounds, his first double-double in Vegas.
Predictably, Thomas' output dwindled the next game against San Antonio, yet he still had nine points on 4-of-11 from the field--his worst shooting display at this tournament. He also snagged just three boards--also his worst rebounding effort in Vegas.
But in his last game, Thomas certainly saved his best in terms of scoring, going for 16 points in Friday's win over Portland. He shot 7-for-12 from the field yet only had three rebounds.
Overall, Thomas' body of work was solid throughout the Las Vegas tournament. He contributed scoring punch in the Jazz' relatively new transition-based offense and he showed enough moxie on the boards that it should impress Jazz brass who watched him.
If you're a Jazz fan, you have to like what you saw from Thomas. You also hope Utah gives him a chance and doesn't include him in a trade, which would be easy to do given the $948,000 he stands to make this year is not guaranteed.