I entered this offseason excited for what’s ahead and over these last couple weeks I’ve been getting ready to get to work doing the other part of my job as a player in this league, the part fans don’t really see: Doing everything I possibly can to get better.
Initially, I wanted to take about a month off to just rest and relax. I was dealing with plantar fasciitis in my foot for the last two months of the season and that’s an injury that just needs some time to rest and recover. But it’s better now. In the coming days, I’ll get right back to training and go pretty much full-on, probably from June until we get back going again.
It’s going to be a hectic summer. Robyn and I are having our second girl, and I’m really looking forward to that. She’s due in July, so that’s going to make for a busy summer. But I love being a dad. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
It might not seem like it, but when you take that step and become the leader of a family, become a father, it changes you as a person. Getting married and having children has helped me grow a lot as a leader in my life on and off the basketball court. It seems like it has naturally given me some leadership qualities, and I’ve embraced it. I’m really proud of that.
This season, I took more steps forward as a player—and one of the biggest steps I took was that of a leader on the court. I felt like I was better in that regard this year and a little more vocal. It’s just a natural maturation process for me. It’s been a challenge, because it’s not second nature for me to be a vocal guy like that, but I’m proud that I have that role on this team, and I relish it.
Having that responsibility and looking at the progress I’ve made on and off the court with this team makes me excited going into this offseason. Because I know as far as I’ve come, there is still so much that I can improve, and the opportunity to do so awaits.
There’s a lot I want to add to my game, and even more I want to expand upon. We all felt I improved this year in terms of utilizing my size against smaller guys. But that’s still something I’m not great at. I want to be able to take advantage of mismatches, and use my body to generate easy points. So that area is a huge opportunity for growth.
I also want to continue to work on my handle. Just like working on using my size, that will help me create my own opportunities as well as getting better looks for my teammates. I’ll always be working on my shooting because you can never be satisfied there. One particular area I’m honed in on is spot-up jump shots and jump shots where I get open looks. Those have to be automatic.
Those were all things I had in the back of my mind, and when I met with the coaching staff for exit interviews, they reiterated a lot of it to me. We’re all on the same page. I’ve had a lot of talks with Coach Quin throughout the year, which has been great for our relationship and for me as a player. In a way, the exit interview was just a continuation of our talks.
With that said, I was really happy to hear about Coach Quin’s contract extension. I’m so excited to continue to work with him, and having him here for the long haul is really great for this team. I think this is the first time as a pro that I’ve had this type of a player-coach relationship, and it’s something that I have really enjoyed. It has made me a better player.
One of the things that I’ve learned from Quin is persistence. He’s taught me how to continue to play the whole game, and not worry about missed shots or negative plays early on. Instead, he’s counseled me to continue to attack and be aggressive throughout the course of the game. Because at the end of the game, when it’s all on the line, all that stuff before doesn’t necessarily matter. And whether or not you were hitting shots or missing shots, at the end of the game you are 0-for-0, and you have a chance to make a play to help your team win.
Taking that advice to heart and seeing it come to fruition is really great, and just builds the trust between us even more. It’s very important for the coach to have good, trusting relationships with his players. I truly feel we have that.
Since Quin came here to Utah, our relationship has just continually gotten better. I really have a great grasp now of how he sees the game, and what he wants to happen out on the floor. In the locker room talking with our guys, I’m now able to translate some of the things that he can’t necessarily say to the team. Or on the flip side of that, I can translate things to him that maybe guys don’t necessarily want to say in front of the whole group. So I think it works out extremely well, and I think he has done a tremendous job as our coach.
That all goes back to that earlier reference to leadership. It’s something I take pride in, and it’s something that doesn’t stop when the season does. I’m going to make sure my teammates know that this offseason. I plan on getting guys together, and also just sending text messages to everybody, checking in on guys, making sure they’re doing all right.
I want them to know that if they need anything, they can call me or hit me up. I can remember in my earlier years, the veterans telling me that and checking on me in the offseason. That meant a lot to me, and made me want to work hard for them. I knew that they were going to come back and be better, and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t lagging behind. Those little things go a long way—especially on a team as young as ours.
We have a ton of young talent on this team, and through all of our injuries, we saw a lot of guys step up and really show what they can do.
Rodney Hood showed this year that he has the potential to be a really good player in this league for a long time. He can make plays for himself. He can make plays for others. He can make big shots at the end of the games. It’s given us another guy that we can go to late in the game, and that’s been great for me. I truly believe he is going to be a star in this league.
Rodney has a natural feel for the game that you can’t really teach, and that’s what separates him from a lot of guys. He kind of knows when to take his moments, when to take his shots. He’s got a great post-game for a wing player and uses his body really well, and he can usually get his shot off at any time. Those are things that will help him as he continues to get stronger, and his body gets more mature. He’s going to become even better as a player.
Another guy who had a great year for us was Trey Lyles. He’s surprised me this year, especially early on. I didn’t know what to expect from him, and he stepped up in a huge way, filling in for Fave. He got thrown into the starting lineup at 20 years old, and did a lot of things. He is extremely talented on the offensive end, and I think he is going to be one of our playmakers in the future. He’s somebody that can play the four, stretch the court and knock down a three. He can also get in the lane and make plays for others. He’s going to be a key piece for this franchise.
Trey and I had some talks this year about staying engaged on the defensive end. I know if I’m engaged defensively and active on that end, my offensive game just kind of comes along with it. So that’s something I’ve tried to help him understand. He’s so talented on the offensive end that he’s going to make plays and make shots. What would really push his game to the next level is if he continues to get better defensively, and becomes somebody we can switch with.
He can guard one through four, and even five, because he’s got the ability to move his feet. He is 6’10” with length, and if he can evolve his game on the defensive end, that will really separate him and take him to the next level. That is something I think he will get better at, as younger guys usually do, and we’ll see what happens next year.
We had a lot of players come in and step up for us, and not just the young guys. I thought Shelvin Mack was great for us. It’s got to be a difficult position to come into a team more than halfway through the season and then become the starting point guard, but he really took control.
There were a bunch of games at the end of the year where there was no apprehension on his part. He was aggressive, made plays, and made shots—big time shots—for us. When I saw him out there doing his thing, it reminded me of being back at Butler. It was a lot of fun to see that and play with him again, and I’m happy that we have him on the team.
With all we went through this season, there wasn’t just one guy we went to. It was a collective effort, and we embraced that, which really allowed us to stay in a lot of games and stay in the playoff hunt. We had Raul Neto step up. He hit some big shots and had games where he played really well. Chris Johnson showed throughout the year that he was an important piece for us, with his energy. The same is true of Trevor Booker. Trevor was one of the key players for our team, even if it didn’t necessarily show up in the stat sheet at the end of every game. Joe Ingles gave us a huge lift at the end of the year, really stepped up his game, and hit some big shots. He played with the competitiveness that we needed. Those guys were all really good for us.
Just about everyone on the roster was impacted by injury at some point this year, but one guy I was really proud of was Alec Burks. My heart went out to Alec. After going down last year with an injury to then having another injury this year—and then being forced to take a long time just to get back—that’s tough. I know he worked extremely hard to get back, and made it back to play and play well the last couple of games. He’s a great guy and a great person. Nobody really saw the work that he did behind the scenes, but he was doing rehab and treatments every day. He was flying across the country to see specialists. I’m happy that he got a chance to get out on the court a couple of times before the offseason.
Even through his injury, Rudy took a big step for us this year as well, especially on the offensive end. His defense was huge for us when he was out on the court. I think guys shot the lowest percentage around the rim when he was protecting it. Offensively, he got a lot better with his passing, his ability to hit the back door and over-the-top passes. I think he hit the first jump shots of his career this year, and that’s going to bring him some confidence, which will only make him better. People forget this was only his third year in the NBA, and that first year, he didn’t really play. He only is going to get better, and people should be excited about that.
It’s definitely thrilling to watch this young core grow. We had a bunch of games this season where we were in control for most of the game against some of the best teams in the league. We played the Warriors at home really tough two times, and felt like we probably should have won both of those games. They lost nine games all year, and we played them super tough. That is something to build on for us, as young as we are, and with all the injuries we dealt with. And that definitely adds excitement for me for the years to come.
The more we experience together, the more we’ll grow together. The continuity we’ve started to get with our core is really important for our individual improvement, as well as the team moving forward. It’s great to have some of that stability and familiarity, and it will help us pick up the ball a little bit quicker from where we left off last year. With each year, we know the system more, and we know how we want to play the game, and it makes things easier for sure.
For these next few months, we need to continue to get better individually so we will be better collectively. The harder we work now, the better we’ll be as a team next season.