On Monday night, Trent Forrest found himself in a situation that he’s become familiar with at this point. The Utah Jazz were down a player, which meant that Joe Ingles would be inserted into the starting lineup, but Forrest would be the bench player whose minutes would increase dramatically.
The next evolution for Forrest, as he continues on as the Jazz’s de facto “your number could be called at any time” player, is becoming more confident in himself as a scorer. It’s not that Forrest is afraid or doesn’t think that he’s able, it’s that he’s surrounded by so many other players that are built to score and he wants to do what’s best for the team. And he’s right to think that sometimes the best thing is to swing the ball to Bojan Bogdanovic for an open 3-pointer, or to hit Rudy Gobert or Hassan Whiteside on a lob, or pass it to Jordan Clarkson and let him do what he does best. But sometimes the right thing for Forrest to do is to take the rock all the way to the rim.
“He does have the ability, even if people are closing out short, to get by and to get in the lane, and he’s so poised in the lane,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “For him to continue to do that, particularly if people are going to go under on him in pick-and-roll. At times he can get a rescreen and still get to the paint and find people.”
Forrest got used to filling in when Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley were nursing injuries for the final month of the 2020-21 regular season. The Jazz were grateful for Forrest’s service and were impressed by what they saw out of him in his rookie season, so they signed him to a second two-way contract ahead of this season.
Forrest has become the go-to man to fill in the gaps when either Mitchell or Conley are not playing. This season, opportunities have been limited, with Forrest mostly playing in garbage time or on one side of a back-to-back set when Conley sits out to rest. But it was only a matter of time before one thing or another would lead to Forrest having to step up again, and that thing happened when Mitchell tweaked his back against the Dallas Mavericks on Christmas Day.
Mitchell stayed behind in Salt Lake City for treatment while the team headed out on a two-game road trip to face the San Antonio Spurs and the Portland Trail Blazers.
Against the Spurs on Monday, Forrest saddled up for playing well past his average of 7.4 minutes per game. But after 20 minutes of time on the court, Forrest finished the night scoreless and having only taken two shots. Forrest admitted that sometimes he can be too passive.
“Definitely,” he said. “It’s hard … because when I go in it’s usually J.C., Joe (Ingles), Rudy (Gobert), Rudy Gay or Bojan. So it’s like, I could get my own but at the same time, I know I have these guys around me and they’re good at what they do. They get paid to do that.”
Making the right pass is what his teammates want him to do and Forrest has developed a good playmaking game that his teammates are happy about, but they also don’t want him passing up opportunities to score. Mitchell, Ingles and Clarkson have all been in Forrest’s ear, making sure that he knows they want him to be aggressive.
“We do trust to make the right plays and finish at the rim,” Clarkson said. “He does a lot for us on defense. He does a lot for us offensively, running the team. But yeah, sometimes he’s got to keep the defense honest, shoot those floaters and keep continuing to play hard.”
Snyder is pleased with how Forrest is coming along defensively and is impressed with his natural instincts as well as how he’s developed in such a short time and with limited playing opportunities. It’s no secret that Forrest needs to work on his jump shot and develop some range, but in his role with the Jazz, because he is surrounded by capable shooters, it might be more important for him to refine his interior game.
“Like any young player, there’s certain things that you want to work on that are going to impact your performance in the role that you have currently,” Snyder said. “And then there’s other things that you continue to work on, to continue to develop that are things that maybe you’re not asked to do in the moment but are also going to be important.”
So behind the scenes there are a lot of shooting reps and a lot of work happening late at night and on off days because Forrest is not going to be asked to do certain things with the Jazz. What he will be asked to do though is to punish defenders who don’t play him close enough, no matter who is on the court with him, and be an efficient playmaker who makes the right pass.
“I guess try to find a happy medium between both of them,” he said. “Don and them are always kind of on me about just being more aggressive, trying to get to the basket, things like that.”
What’s most important is that Forrest evolves into a player who trusts himself as much as he trusts his teammates.