Let’s slow down for the kid. He’s played one game. Obviously, we’re pleased with how he played. I think people are excited about the fact that he defended and he played with some passion. —Jazz head coach Quin Snyder
HONOLULU — Officially, Raul Neto was credited with four steals in the Utah Jazz’s 90-71 preseason win Sunday night against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Not that it really matters, but they should consider increasing that number.
Neto also stole the show and quite a few Jazz fans’ hearts.
The rookie point guard only scored two points — and didn't seem comfortable or all that interested in pushing the matter for his own scoring total. But if he continues to steal and pass the ball the way he did in his NBA exhibition debut, some people might start daydreaming while comparing him to Utah’s Hall of Fame point guard of whom his father is a huge fan.
Don’t expect Jazz coach Quin Snyder to be among those who even half-jokingly refer to him as the Brazilian John Stockton.
Snyder tapped the brakes on the Neto lovefest a little bit before Tuesday’s preseason game against the Lakers in the Stan Sheriff Center, teasing media for using the first question to ask about the 23-year-old backup point guard.
“Let’s slow down for the kid. He’s played one game,” Snyder said. “Obviously, we’re pleased with how he played. I think people are excited about the fact that he defended and he played with some passion.”
The second-year coach dealt with high expectations placed on a rookie point guard last year with Australian playmaker Dante Exum, the fifth pick of the 2014 draft. He doesn’t want Neto, the 47th pick of the 2013 draft, to have to try to live up to over-inflated hopes as he learns a new culture, league, system and language.
“It’s a long year,” Snyder said, “and I don’t want us to get ahead of ourselves — for his sake.”
It’s easy to see why fans are enamored with Neto, though. The Jazz are without their starter as Exum will be sidelined all season to rehab from his knee surgery, so the team needs somebody to step up at that important position.
Combine Neto’s impressive opener, including some dazzling passes and a terrific defensive performance, with Trey Burke’s rough sophomore season and, well, let the hype begin.
Snyder joked with media that they could “get excited” and he’d play devil’s advocate to protect Neto.
“He did all right,” Snyder said. “I’ll tell you it’s not important. It’s just a preseason game.”
Neto came to the U.S. with a reputation of being a good passer, something that his teammates remarked about in the first few days of practice. Gordon Hayward even called him a “special passer.”
Neto didn’t disappoint in his first game, dishing out six assists while making passes that were deliberate, precise and dazzling.
The Brazilian said he worked on his passing in Spain, including practicing left-handed passes to be able to deliver the ball to teammates in a variety of ways.
“I think that’s helped me have some nice passes,” Neto said. “I’ve still got to improve a lot of things — shooting the ball, get more physical.”
While that’s true, this NBA newcomer showed that he’s also adept at being pesky on the defensive end despite his limited 6-foot-1 stature.
Neto said defense was another thing he focused on during his Spanish basketball career.
“I think it’s going to help me during my (rookie) season,” he said.
There were plenty of areas in which Neto immediately recognized improvement is needed. He’s still getting used to the NBA’s defensive three-second rule. He isn’t used to so much contact and so little space on pick-and-rolls. He isn’t used to playing against such huge athletes. He needs to be more confident shooting and running the Jazz offense.
“I still have got to improve everything,” he said while carrying the shoes of two veteran Jazz players and sporting a pink Hello Kitty backpack as part of his rookie duties at practice.
“I still have to be more confident on the offensive end and be used to play against big guys that we have here, physical guys. I think have to improve a lot yet.”
Snyder politely disagreed with a reporter’s assessment that Neto looked uncomfortable trying to get his own shot in the opener.
“I wouldn’t say he wasn’t comfortable as much as he was focused on getting people involved,” Snyder said of Neto, who missed all three field goal attempts in Sunday’s game.
“I think the things that we have asked of him he really tried to do,” the coach added. “The reason we’re asking those things of him is because they’re good for our team and our team needs them, and that’s playing defense, picking up the ball, getting the ball up the court quickly and making good decisions.”
With capable scorers like Hayward, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Rodney Hood on the court, the Jazz aren’t expecting Neto to be a prolific scorer anyway.
“There are some players out there — if you’re a young guy — you want to please,” Snyder said. “So if he’s not looking at the basket as much because he’s trying to find Gordon or Rudy on a roll, that makes sense to me. More than anything, you just like to see how he’s competing.”
Neto’s assessment of his first game?
“I felt great. I felt I did everything Coach say. I think I made the team play. I run on defense,” Neto said. “I think that’s how I’m going to get confidence in the game, so I’m going to try to do that every game and let the things come naturally.”
One thing that doesn’t come naturally to Americans when it comes to Neto?
Pronouncing his first name.
The R in Raul is pronounced with an H: Hah-OOL.
That led to Neto getting his first NBA nickname — from Snyder of all people.
Early in camp, Snyder called Neto “Wolfie."
"Because of how you pronounce my name is Hah-OOL sounds like a wolf, Coach said it," Neto explained.
Hayward has continued to call him “Wolf” ever since.
Neto smiled when asked about that name.
“I don’t care,” the good-natured young player said. “It’s good. It’s a good nickname. It’s better than other ones.”
EMAIL: [email protected]