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Rudy Gay sidelined with hand sprain, clearing the way for Simone Fontecchio

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Utah Jazz forward Simone Fontecchio (wearing black) shoots

Utah Jazz forward Simone Fontecchio (16) shoots against the New York Knicks in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

For a few games Rudy Gay had been favoring his left hand, shaking it out after plays and holding it in some sort of clear pain. He then missed Tuesday’s game against the New York Knicks and later the Utah Jazz announced that he would miss at least two weeks.

“Gay was examined Wednesday by the Utah Jazz medical staff and underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) testing,” a statement from the team read. “The MRI revealed a third finger MCP joint sprain in his left hand. He will be reevaluated in two weeks.”

Rookie Simone Fontecchio played just over 16 minutes on Tuesday in Gay’s absence and on Friday night, Jazz head coach Will Hardy said that Fontecchio would likely be getting the lion’s share of Gay’s minutes while the 17-year veteran continues treatment on his hand.

“It’s always going to be a game by game thing, but I think Simone has shown in that role that he can really help us,” Hardy said. “Obviously, he’s played a lot of basketball in his career and so he’s easy to plug in. He knows what he’s doing. He can really shoot the ball, his teammates, trust him, he’s shown a great understanding of our spacing and Ochai (Agbaji) has been spending some time in the G league, so Simone will get a lot of those minutes. But as we do every night, as the game goes on, we are willing to adjust.”

While new to the NBA, Fontecchio has played for years internationally and with the Italy’s national team in Olympic competition.

Though Fontecchio is a 26-year-old rookie, he’s confident that he has a lot of room to improve and that he’s not a finished product, noting that even when he isn’t getting an opportunity on the court, he’s learning by being so close to the NBA game, which is a lot different than FIBA.

During training camp, the Jazz players quickly learned that Fontecchio is a natural scorer with a pure 3-point shot and they trust him anytime they can get the ball to him, but the Jazz and the rest of the league are also starting to see that he’s a little more athletic than they might have originally thought.

“Maybe they don’t expect it because I’m European,” Fontecchio said with a laugh. “Maybe they see me as just a shooter. There are some crazy athletes in this league. I’m not at that level, absolutely. But when I step on the court I can be athletic too.”

Fontecchio played in just 9 minutes, 32 seconds in a tight game on Friday against the Suns and although his time was short, he made a huge 4-point play and later blocked a shot that showed off his strength and athleticism. He finished the night with five points.