SALT LAKE CITY — He entered Friday night averaging just five points in 13.2 minutes over the course of 34 games this season, but point guard Raul Neto’s return to the Utah Jazz’s rotation for the first time since before the All-Star break because of a sprained right ankle was a welcomed sight for head coach Quin Snyder.
Although the Jazz have a number of players who can initiate the offense, from starting guards Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell to wings Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale, the third-year guard from Brazil has brought a unique value to the team this season.
On the year, Utah is 9-18 when he doesn’t play. While most of those games were due to a variety of injuries he’s dealt with, he was healthy for six of them and Snyder opted not to play him. That only begins to define the irregular role Neto has had both this season and in his career as a whole.
“I’ve used him for two minutes, I’ve used him for 10 minutes, we’ve finished games with him. I obviously have a lot of confidence in him, and no matter how much he plays, having him there I think is important to our team,” Snyder said before Friday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Snyder said Neto’s improved ability to get to the rim has been the most important development in his game this year.
“He’s had the confidence to attack and to find other people when he does that,” Snyder said. “When he’s out there with some of the guys on our second unit, I think he’s stabilizing. Where maybe there’s not one guy that’s creating on their own, but collectively, those guys are able to play off of each other, and I think his presence really helps with that.”
On Friday night, Neto first entered the game with just under two minutes remaining in the opening quarter and then didn’t play again until the fourth. He struggled in his first action in more than two weeks, finishing with a point, an assist and three turnovers in six minutes.
While Neto had rust, he understands his role and the importance to the Jazz as they continue their push toward a playoff berth.
“This year I think I have more experience, and I understand more that some games I’m going to play more, some games I’m not going to play, some games I’m going to play a little bit, but I think just being able to step on the court and give everything, that’s what makes NBA teams great,” he said before the injury. “Every team needs players that are going to be ready every time their name is called, and I think I’m one of them.”