He's buried on the depth chart as the team's fourth point guard but is out to prove his worth.
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Fourth on the depth chart, first in points.
That was Utah Jazz reserve point guard Sundiata Gaines' predicament following an intrasquad scrimmage Saturday at EnergySolutions Arena.
Gaines scored a game-high 11 points and knocked down two 3-pointers in the three-quarter contest. Add in two three-point plays, several aggressive drives to the basket and adequate ballhandling, and it was a strong performance from the 6-foot-1, 185-pound former Georgia standout.
"It felt pretty good," Gaines said. "I got a little winded in the third period. But I think as a team we struggled, but at the same time we accomplished a lot. It's a lot of new guys. But overall, from the standpoint of playing against each other, we did OK."
While OK is tolerable for a Jazz team that is just one week into a monthlong preseason, Gaines knows that anything less than outstanding will not make the cut as he searches for a spot on a guard-heavy Utah roster.
Deron Williams, Earl Watson and Ronnie Price all stand in front of Gaines. Thus, every moment that Gaines takes the court is a major opportunity for the sleek, muscular guard to prove his worth either to the Jazz or another team in need. "Anytime that you can compete go against your teammates or anybody it's always good to go out," Gaines said. "It's a game that I love. So, I'm happy to be here, and hopefully I can stay."
It took Utah coach Jerry Sloan less than a week to call out a Jazz player.
Sloan made several vague hints last week than a few Utah athletes arrived for camp out of shape and not properly conditioned. But Saturday, the Jazz coach unexpectedly became specific.
After discussing the context of a sprained left wrist that guard C.J. Miles suffered during the scrimmage, Sloan offered a not-so-subtle reminder that the fifth-year Jazz member and No. 34 overall selection in the 2005 NBA Draft must take his game more seriously.
Miles played in and started 72 contests for Utah in 2008-09. But a ruptured left thumb ligament limited him to 63 games and only 28 starts for the Jazz last season.
Now, the 23-year-old who is still viewed by many as a project rather than a certainty must beat out veteran guard Raja Bell to reclaim a spot in the starting lineup. However, Miles' initial efforts during the preseason have not impressed his coach, who said that Miles has yet to find a rhythm.
"He's got to compete and get better," Sloan said.
Sloan and Williams stressed numerous times last week that training camp would be more methodical and repetitive this season, due to the fact that a number of new faces equaled more teaching time.
Gaines confirmed the theory Saturday. The guard said that Utah has only installed 20 percent to 25 percent of its offensive plays thus far. And since the Jazz's unique sets rely upon on-the-fly options that have more in common with the NFL than the NBA, there is a long way to go before Utah is game-ready.
Bell's reintroduction to Utah's offensive and defensive systems is a work in progress.
Despite playing with the Jazz from 2003-05, the 10-year veteran acknowledged that picking up Utah's intricate screen-based sets is never easy even if a player already understands the basic framework.
Bell scored six points in the scrimmage and found a groove as the game wore on. But he initially showed signs of frustration, and committed a couple of unforced turnovers.
"This is one of those offenses where, if you haven't played in it, it doesn't look pretty for the first couple times out. Just because everyone's trying to learn where they're supposed to be, and when they're going to get their opportunities," Bell said. "It can be tough the first few times out with a new group."
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