Juwan Morgan knows the importance of staying ready.
The 23-year-old forward was as surprised as anyone when Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder told the team that Morgan would start for the team while point guard Mike Conley missed the start of the NBA playoffs last season.
“It was crazy,” Morgan recalled.
He was nervous at first, but his teammates quickly rallied around him.
“He wouldn’t do it if he didn’t trust you,” they told him. “You know what you need to do.”
As the Jazz prepare to begin a new season — one filled with a truncated schedule, myriad back-to-backs, and the uncertainty of playing amid a global pandemic — second-year players Morgan, Miye Oni, Jarrell Brantley and the other role players on the team’s bench want to be ready for whatever comes their way.
“I got the first-year nerves out,” Morgan said. “Being able to be put in that position and to have the confidence of the guys — anytime I had the ball they told me to shoot, any time I was guarding someone they had my back — it gave me a lot of confidence coming into year two.”
Oni, a second-year wing out of Yale, said he is coming into his sophomore campaign full of confidence, too, after getting the opportunity to practice and play with the Jazz extensively during the team’s time in the Orlando Bubble.
“The game has definitely slowed down a little bit,” Oni said. “I understand the system a lot more and feel more comfortable with the guys.
“I think I’ve definitely become a much better defender. Just practicing against guys like Donovan, JC and Joe every day has definitely helped me improve. Now I feel like I can make an impact on the defensive end.”
Snyder emphasized the importance of bench depth this season.
“Their roles are going to be important,” the coach said. “You want to keep guys fresh. The biggest thing is your health.”
To do that, Snyder said, the team may find games to give players nights off entirely.
“I would almost prefer to rest someone entirely where they don’t even have to dress, rather than limit minutes,” Snyder said. “ I think there’s a psychological benefit to have a game off like that, too. And I think that really helps whoever the player is that you’re relying on when you’re resting someone. If they go into a game they know they can make a mistake and not overthink it. They’re just in a better mindset if you know you’re going to play.”
Morgan, Oni and Brantley have each embraced his role so far, Snyder said.
“I feel like all three of those guys, if they can continue to embrace the defensive end and be efficient offensively, will see a formula for success,” he said. “It’s finding a role where they can be successful. There’s nothing wrong with having a more limited role. Not everyone is going to be a primary scorer. They have accepted the role, now it’s a question of perfecting it.”