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Jazz mailbag: Looking at where the team goes from here and what development is necessary for some of the young players

Plus, what development is necessary for some of the young players.

SHARE Jazz mailbag: Looking at where the team goes from here and what development is necessary for some of the young players
Utah Jazz head coach Will Hardy, wearing black, calls out instructions

Utah Jazz head coach Will Hardy calls out instructions to his team as the Utah Jazz and the Denver Nuggets play at Vivint Arena on opening night in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

This week I’d like to say how incredibly thankful I am to all of the readers who continue to follow along here with me at the Deseret News and who come here for all things Utah Jazz.

It’s truly an honor to bring you the information and stories about this team and the NBA. With that in mind, I thought I’d open up the mailbag and see what was on the minds of the Jazz fans. Let’s dig in.

Wow, right off the bat, a big question.

The Utah Jazz are a quarter of the way through this 82-game season, and as of writing this they are still at the top of the Western Conference. So, where does this team go from here? There are so, so, so many variables here that could determine the future.

How much time does Mike Conley miss? Are the Jazz presented with a trade offer before the deadline that they can’t pass up? Do they try to make upgrade deals before the deadline? How does development of the younger players play out this season? Does the team regress?

There’s a lot that can happen and change in an NBA season, but I tend to believe that the Jazz should not make too many waves and that they shouldn’t overreact to anything. This would be a great season to ride things out and just go as far as they can and then assess the situation in the 2023 offseason.

A lot of people have questions about Will Hardy and how he’s been able to get this team to buy in so completely to his system and his philosophies.

The question here is, “What is it about Will Hardy’s outlook and philosophy that makes him different as a human from the other 29 coaches around the league?”

Well, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think he’s so much different. I think that he’s new.

Sure, he’s young and energetic and that can be fun for guys who might have played under some of the more seasoned NBA head coaches, and he’s really open to change and adjusting and not stuck in his ways. And he has a really highly respected background, but that’s usually the case for for most coaches.

So far, Hardy has just struck the right chord with this team. He’s given the players confidence and is allowing them to expand their games and has a lot of freedom to coach the way he wants and to use this roster the way he wants.

There aren’t big egos on this team and everyone, from Hardy to the last guy on the bench, has a lot to prove and that’s a motivating situation to be in. I don’t think that Hardy is that different, I just think he might be in the right place at the right time.

This is one of the things that we still need to watch out for. There are so many new faces and so much newness with this team. There’s no way to know how they’ll react and adapt to adverse situations.

So, as the season wears on and the Jazz deal with injuries and tough losses and possible losing stretches in the schedule, I’ll be paying a lot of attention to how the team responds to everything.

Also, it’s important to look at this from each individual and then also from the collective group. Right now, Conley being sidelined is the first major event for this team, but it’s not a very serious injury and he should be back soon. The Jazz are saying and doing all the right things and they aren’t getting down on themselves after losses. But we really have to wait and see how it all plays out.

First I want to point out that Collin Sexton has played in 19 games in the last year. Add onto that coming back from a major injury and that his role as a basketball player is significantly changing and Sexton has a tougher road than most on this Jazz team.

Sexton has most often been THE guy on the teams that he’s been on up to this point. Now, surrounded by players who are dynamic with and without the ball, he is learning how to be a playmaker and distributer and that’s not an easy switch.

He is so incredibly athletic and competitive and he’s ridiculously hard on himself and he wants everything to be perfect right now. He has the ability to be a very impactful point guard, but he hasn’t been asked to operate in that role before and so there’s a steep learning curve that he is currently navigating.

The Jazz really believe that Sexton, with the pressure that he’s able to put on a defense because of his driving ability, can become a lethal player, but he’s going to have to become a more impactful decision maker and work really hard to learn how to read games, not just as a scorer, but as an NBA conductor.

The early returns from Walker Kessler have been great. That can be a blessing and a curse. Kessler has a lot of the instincts and tools that will allow him to become a starting center in this league, but his early success can place unneeded expectations on the young player.

After just 19 games in his rookie season, it’s hard to say what Kessler can become, but what I can say for certain is that he has flashes and moments where he plays wise beyond his years and that’s an excellent place to start.

He also is a very quick study and learns from his mistakes in a swift fashion and that also bodes well for his development. I think Kessler has all the tools necessary to have a very long and successful career.

The Jazz are very good when they’re playing half court defense but they have been atrocious in transition. They know this and they are trying to find a better balance. If they can find a way to be more effective running the floor on defense, the ceiling is pretty high.

I don’t think that placing hopes on a rookie and a 21-year-old to develop enough in a single season on the defensive end is where all of the hope should be placed. Certainly, if we see some strides made by Kessler and Talen Horton-Tucker, the Jazz will benefit, but I think there’s other things we can look for.

Getting Jarred Vanderbilt to guard second actions with more precision and guard without fouling is going to be important. Also, continuing to develop Lauri Markkanen as a switchable defender who can be effective against stronger, bigger players while also being able to stay with smaller guards is an important consideration.

The Jazz are also going to need continued effort and buy-in on the defensive end from Jordan Clarkson, Sexton, Malik Beasley and Kelly Olynyk. If the Jazz put it all together the ceiling is pretty high, but I think the Jazz are still kind of figuring out who they are on defense.

Basically, the Jazz are often crashing the boards with at least three or four players, sometimes all five. When you have that many guys that are going for rebounds, if the other team gets the ball they can usually pop out in front and beat the defense back down the floor.

The Jazz are going to have to figure out either a more structured way of rebounding or they’re going to have to just work harder than every other team to get back down the court.

The other problem has been the place where turnovers occur. The Jazz have committed a lot of turnovers either high on the court where they don’t have a chance to get in front of a fast break, or deep in the paint with a lot of players in the same spot, which means the spacing in transition is just awful. So they need to work on this. A lot.

I honestly do think that a good number of the Jazz’s turnover problems can be fixed with the players continuing to build chemistry and learn each other on the court. Right now, guys still don’t know what speed everyone cuts at, how they operated around screens, what kind of tendencies they have, and where they prefer to catch the ball. That’s all going to take some time to figure out.

I don’t think that there’s anything within the offensive system that is creating turnovers, but I think that there’s also some players that are being asked to make new decisions (Sexton, Horton-Tucker, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Beasley) and frankly they just need to become better decision makers.

Being a step slow or too quick to make a read can lead to a turnover and so can not having a backup plan. I think there’s a lot of players on the Jazz that are having these problems.

Who should play point guard when Conley is not on the court? Wow, what a loaded question.

When the Jazz beat the Trail Blazers in Portland, Horton-Tucker made a pretty good case for himself. But that was probably the best game that he’s played from a decision standpoint in a Jazz jersey. Sexton has had some incredible moments with the Jazz too. Don’t forget how he took over the game down the stretch on opening night against the Denver Nuggets.

Clarkson, averaging a career-high in assists, with a knack for ball handling and getting out of sticky situations is also no slack on the ball. I think it’s probably too early to say, but at some point, someone is going to emerge as the clear candidate.

Evidenced by the questions submitted for this mailbag, there is no shortage of things to analyze and scrutinize and look forward to. That’s been my favorite part of the season so far. There are so many things to pay attention to and so many different developing situation and so much that’s uncertain. It’s made for a very exciting start to the season and makes me even more excited for what’s to come.

There’s no doubt about it, this team is not boring and they’ve surprised everyone. How could it not be fun?