By Aaron Falk
When Martin Schiller took over as head coach of the Salt Lake City Stars, he outlined three key goals for the Utah Jazz’s G League affiliate:
1) Develop players
2) Create a culture
3) Win games
Schiller watched this summer as big man Taylor Braun received a Team USA training camp invite, and as forward Georges Niang earned a contract with the Jazz and guard Naz Mitrou-Long signed a two-way deal with the team.
Goal No. 1? Check.
Schiller, the 36-year-old Austrian, also feels good about the culture being built within the Stars organization.
“We worked very hard and built a real connectivity with the Jazz,” he said. “Coach Quin Snyder has really wrapped his arms around us.”
That leaves one thing left unchecked for Schiller and Co.
“The last thing is winning. That’s what we want to do this year,” he said at the Stars media day on Thursday. “I understand we won two games more than the year before. But that’s definitely not enough, as a competitor.”
As Schiller and the Stars prepare for the start of the G League season (the team’s lone preseason game is Saturday night on the road) the coach feels good about the roster that has been assembled in Salt Lake City. The Stars have a number of key returning players (including Mitrou-Long), the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s G League draft, and a handful of affiliate players who join the squad after spending training camp with the Utah Jazz.
“I’m excited about it,” Mitrou-Long said. “Coach Martin, the whole staff, I think they put together a really solid group. We were able to get back some really solid pieces from last year. It’s a good blend of new and old.”
Here are a few of the key players to watch as the Stars’ season begins:
The guard averaged 18.0 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game last season in the G League, and he’ll look to build on that as he tries to earn his way back onto an NBA roster.
“I need to be efficient, lower my turnovers, make the right decisions, play defense,” he said. “I just ultimately want to play the right way. … If you listen and you trust the process, you’re going to get better. If you come in with a stereotypical G League mindset that you just want to score, score, score, it’s not going to help you. I know myself, it took some time to completely buy in with Coach Martin. When I accepted the process, it worked.”
Two-way player Tyler Cavanaugh is also looking for an NBA opportunity. Last season, Cavanaugh played 39 games with the Atlanta Hawks. But he chose to come to Salt Lake City because of how close and connected the Jazz and Stars are with each other.
“It’s great,” the forward said. “It’s completely different than my experience last year. Going from Atlanta to Eerie, Pennsylvania was tough. It’s definitely very fluid with both coaching staffs in Salt Lake. Being able to sleep in the same bed every night is nice.”
The center was the Stars’ No. 1 pick in this month’s G League draft for a reason: he has NBA talent. Reed has played more than 100 games in the NBA over three seasons. Now he’s working to get back there.
“I bring a lot of energy. My nickname is Showtime. I think that speaks for itself,” he said. “Obviously I know that I can play at the next level. The fact that they think I’m the No. 1 pick and I’m an NBA player coming into this organization gives me a lot of confidence. I know there were a lot of things going on personally last time I was in the NBA. It was just a chance for me to grow as a person, to learn more about myself, and to learn more about the game. The next time I get back, I’ll be a better person for it.”
The former standout Louisville guard was frustrated when an injury prevented him from getting a shot at preseason game time with the Jazz. But Lewis said he’s on the road to recovery.
“I’m in a much better place about it,” he said. “I’ve been talking to the staff and they have a plan for me to get back to getting healthy and 100 percent. I’ve just been taking it day by day.”
The guard helped lead UMBC to the NCAA men’s tournament’s first-ever 1-16 upset. But Lyles is more interested in looking forward than back.
“I need to focus on this next chapter,” he said.
Lyles showed in summer league that he’s capable of playing at the pro level, averaging 6.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists for the Jazz.