Grading the Jazz: Two-way players Johnny Juzang, Micah Potter, Jason Preston showed promise

Utah Jazz center Micah Potter celebrates a 3-point shot as the Jazz and Celtics play at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Celtics won 123-107.

Editor’s note: Second in a series of stories grading all the Utah Jazz players from the 2023-24 roster.

Every NBA team is allowed to carry three two-way contracts in addition to their regular 15-man roster. Players on two-way deals can be active on the NBA roster for up to 50 games during the regular season. When they are not on the active list, they are assigned to the team’s G League affiliate.

The purpose of these two-way deals is to find players who may have been overlooked previously — whether they were undrafted, are late bloomers or just had a few question marks surrounding them — and give them an opportunity to prove that they deserve a full NBA contract. Teams hope that they can find diamonds in the rough this way.

A perfect example of this working successfully is Lu Dort, who was undrafted out of Arizona State, signed a two-way deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder and is now a starter on that Thunder squad that is the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and recently swept the New Orleans Pelicans in the opening round of the playoffs.

The Utah Jazz had three two-way players on the roster at the end of the 2023-24 season — Micah Potter, Johnny Juzang and Jason Preston. Although these three did not play a ton of NBA minutes, it’s worth evaluating how they did while keeping in mind that the purpose of these positions is to find someone that can translate to legit NBA minutes.

Micah Potter — A

It’s worth noting that Potter has been praised by both G League players and coaches and NBA players and coaches for being a great locker room guy and teammate. He’s the ultimate positivity guy and that’s a really hard thing to do when you have played in just 26 NBA games across three years.

I asked Potter if it was difficult always being that person on the roster despite the lack of call-ups from the G League and his answer really shows what I’m talking about here.

“Yes, but also it’s my role, right? Like, I’m a two-way guy and we’ve been healthy, which is a good thing. I would never want anyone to get hurt so I can play. To me, that’s not right,” he said. “So thankfully, we’ve been healthy. But you know, when I’m down with the G League guys, I try to be a leader and try to be level headed ... try to be consistent every single day and be that positive guy because no one wants to be around someone who’s negative all the time.”

There are plenty of people on two-way deals who would not be happy with their lot in life and would not be able to show that kind of positivity, so that counts for something.

On the court, Potter was exactly consistent and reliable with the SLC Stars, averaging 15.5 points, nine rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in the regular season. But what is probably most impressive for Potter, who is a center/forward who can easily play the stretch-five, is that he consistently shoots the ball with incredible efficiency.

In his 16 games with the Jazz this season, he went 9 of 21 (42.9%) from beyond the arc. That’s not an anomaly. Across three seasons, Potter has played in 78 regular-season G League games (in addition to G League showcase and playoff games) and is a career 40.5% 3-point shooter.

At 26, and with three years of NBA service to his name, Potter can not sign another two-way deal. So if he doesn’t get an NBA deal for next season, his options are limited to a standard G League contract or playing internationally. So the question is, is Potter deserving of an NBA deal?

There has never been something that Potter has been asked to do and he hasn’t been able to do. He’s a good screener, he’s smart passing the ball and, as stated above, he’s a great shooter. That being said, what has been asked of him at the NBA level has been incredibly limited, so it’s hard to say how he would fare on a day-to-day basis against NBA talent because we haven’t seen it. But there are certainly worse players who have been signed as a backup or even third center on an NBA roster.

If the Jazz end up not keeping Ömer Yurtseven around, I don’t see a reason why you wouldn’t just give Potter a minimum and let him be the third center on the Jazz roster. But if it’s not with the Jazz, I still think there is a place for Potter in the NBA.

Johnny Juzang — B+

Utah Jazz guard Johnny Juzang shoots the ball over Houston Rockets forward Jeff Green and Houston Rockets guard Fred VanVleet (5) during a game at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Mar 29, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News
Utah Jazz guard Johnny Juzang shoots the ball over Houston Rockets forward Jeff Green and Houston Rockets guard Fred VanVleet (5) during a game at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Mar 29, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

While Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone has said that Johnny Juzang is the best name in the NBA, that actually doesn’t count for anything when evaluating him as an NBA player.

What does count is growth, improvement and proof that Juzang can rise to the occasion.

Again, we don’t have a ton of stats to base things on — Juzang has played in 40 G League regular-season games across two seasons and 38 NBA games, and in the 2023-24 season with the Stars, Juzang averaged 19.3 points and 2.8 assists per game. But there are three things that stand out as important to me when evaluating Juzang.

First is the fact that in the G League, Juzang’s turnovers went down this year compared to last year. Now, he was handling the ball less and was being asked to be more of a shooting wing rather than a facilitator, but that’s where it seems he should be. Figuring out what his NBA role should be is a part of this process and he’s benefitting from that clarity.

Second, last season when Juzang was called up to the Jazz, he struggled to shoot the ball, hitting 23.8% of his 3-pointers. So it seemed that maybe he wouldn’t be able to perform on the perimeter at the NBA level, against NBA talent. But this year, he shut that narrative up by shooting 41.6% from deep when he was with the Jazz.

Finally, there was a stretch of games at the end of the season where Juzang was given legitimate, consistent NBA minutes. Instead of playing in a couple games, then watching from the bench, then playing garbage time, then playing in a couple games for real, then watching from the bench, Juzang played for real.

In the final six games of the season, Juzang started four games and in the games he didn’t start, he played upwards of 30 minutes a night. In those games, Juzang shot 59.3% from 3-point range.

Juzang is eligible to sign another one-year, two-way deal. I don’t know if the Jazz are going to bring him back, but what Juzang showed at the end of the season might be enough to pique the Jazz’s interest.

Jason Preston — A+

After getting drafted 33rd overall in 2021, Preston was plagued by injuries that derailed his early NBA days. He missed his entire rookie season after surgery on his right foot and then played just 14 games for the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2022-23 season. He was waived just before the 2023-24 season started and ended up on the Memphis Grizzlies’ G League team. He played five games for them and then signed a two-way deal with the Jazz in January.

I’m not going to grade Preston based on his seven games played with the Jazz. But, Preston gets the best grade possible for his performance in the G League. He averaged a near triple-double with 16.5 points, 9.7 assists and 9.4 rebounds and was named to the All-G League first team.

The Stars team actually had a lot of mouths to feed this year. There were the other two-way players, who got a lot of playing time and attention, but then there were rookies Taylor Hendricks and Brice Sensabaugh, who the Jazz needed to have on the floor a lot so they could get them developing. Then there was Kenneth Lofton Jr., who also made the All-G League first team and at one point Isaiah Thomas was on the Stars’ roster, trying to make an NBA comeback.

So the fact that Preston managed to average a near triple-double, while shooting 44.8% from deep while with the Stars, is really impressive.

Matthew Dellavedova, Jason Preston
Sacramento Kings guard Matthew Dellavedova, right, drives by Los Angeles Clippers guard Jason Preston during game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Los Angeles. Preston has been putting up big numbers for the G League Salt Lake Stars. | Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press