Diante Garrett – Welcome to Utah

Photo: Melissa Majchrzak NBAE/Getty ImagesPhoto: Melissa Majchrzak NBAE/Getty Images

Diante Garrett subbed in for the Jazz on Wednesday night at the start of the second quarter. Just a day before he was shopping at a Wal-Mart in Iowa, when his cell phone rang – he was headed back to the NBA.

Undrafted out of Iowa State, Garrett had played 19 NBA games, all for the Phoenix Suns last season, before the Jazz offered him a roster spot eight games into the regular season. Playing for the Iowa Energy of the Development league, he was in middle of the two-a-days portion of training camp when he got his plane ticket to head West.

Just two weeks before that, he had been on the Oklahoma City Thunder where he played 10.2 minutes a game during the preseason. He was waived on October 25, but being relegated to the D-league wasn’t new for Garrett. Last season he was sent to the D-league and then recalled to the NBA several times. It’s that experience that helps Garrett make sure he does his best boy scout impression – stay prepared.

“It’s all about whenever your name or number is called, you gotta be ready,” Garrett said. “When they called me, I was already ready. When I got out here my coach and teammates had confidence in me.”

If he keeps putting up performances like he did in game one for the Utah Jazz, not only will his teammates and coaches have confidence in him, he won’t have to worry about visiting the D-league for quite some time. Despite the butterflies in his stomach before subbing in, Garrett started his Jazz stint right – with a three-pointer.

“Once I got the ball in my hands (the butterflies) kind of went away,” Garrett said. “Hitting that first shot just felt like you know, ‘oh okay, I’m comfortable.’ I knew I could make the shot 100,000 times so I hit that first shot and I was just like, ‘I’m good now.’”

He was indeed good. His first assist in EnergySolutions Arena was a drive and dish to Marvin Williams in the right corner. Just a minute later he found Enes Kanter in transition for an easy lay-up. His young legs didn’t get tired, the training camp he came from had him in shape and ready to keep the Jazz running at a fast pace.

“Diante did a great job for us pushing the tempo,” Tyrone Corbin said.

Then Corbin was asked if that was the best point guard play the Jazz have had this season.

“I don’t want to say anything against the other guys, but I thought Diante did a great job for us,” Corbin said. “He did point guard things… He’s bigger so he can see more things.”

At 6-4, 190 pounds, Garrett has an inch on recently released Jamaal Tinsley and a whopping five inches on current starter John Lucas III. Corbin didn’t comment on future starting lineups, but Lucas didn’t play in the second half and Garrett played the entire fourth quarter. After just 20 minutes of practice with the team, being able to execute during crunch time was something his new teammates noticed.

“I don’t even know if he’s been in Utah for a whole 24 hours yet – to play the way he did making plays down the stretch for us, that’s tough, really tough,” Gordon Hayward said. “I thought he did a great job for us.”

The numbers don’t quite do Garrett justice. In 22 minutes he made 3-5 from the field and didn’t attempt a free throw. He dished out just five assists compared to four turnovers but the Jazz out-scored the Pelicans by five while Garrett was on the court. Lucas, on the other hand, was minus-nine during his time on the court. Alec Burks also played a solid chunk of time at point guard and struggled, shooting 3-10 on the night and dishing only one dime.

Defensively Garrett spent much of the night on Eric Gordon and did an admirable job. He still has to learn the Jazz’s system on both sides of the ball, but what Corbin kept reiterating rings true.

“Well, he’s a point guard,” Corbin said. “We simplified some things for him and he was able to turn the corner. He was able to attack and find guys in the pick and roll situation. He did a great job doing what we needed to to get a win.”

For being undrafted and having played less than 150 total minutes of NBA basketball, Garrett maybe should have started off a little slower.

“He set the bar pretty high for himself, so I mean I thought he did a great job,” Hayward said. “Hopefully we can see more of that play.”

With Hayward’s help and Richard Jefferson’s leadership, Garrett just might be able to serve as a saving grace in Utah until Trey Burke returns. Coming down the stretch Jefferson did a lot to keep the new-comer focused.

“Richard Jefferson, he did a lot,” Garrett said. “He came to me after every timeout in the fourth quarter and said, ‘Be aggressive, we need you to be aggressive and make the right plays,’ so I’m like, ‘okay.’”

He was aggressive, with just 1:55 on the clock Garrett got sucked-in a little too deep with the ball and an errant pass ended up a turnover. He was able to keep his composure and on the next possession went baseline, had an open pull-up jumper from 12 feet but instead, dished up top to a wide open Marvin Williams who drained a three extending the Jazz lead to 104-100.

In his time in the NBA, Garrett has never been a great shooter, just 32.7 percent from the field and a dreadful 20 percent from three-point range. In reality though, the verdict on his shooting should still be out given that he hasn’t even taken 100 shots yet. For the coming weeks, expect Garrett to be a mainstay in Utah’s backcourt.

Who knows?  Maybe by Friday he’ll be starting against Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs.

Skyler Hardman, a Utah native and life long Jazz fan, dreamed of covering the team at an age when most of his peers were still hoping to play in the NBA.  Follow him on Twitter @Skydiz.
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