Analysis: In loss to Thunder, it was clear that the Jazz need a point guard. That could be what they look for in the draft
The question is, who will be the point guard for the Jazz in the future? The Jazz are going to eventually have to answer that question either in free agency, through a trade or through the draft.
If you weren’t able to catch the Utah Jazz game on Friday night, that’s probably OK. It was not very good. If you did happen to watch the game, I’m sorry.
The Jazz were thoroughly trounced by the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 130-103 bout that never really felt like the Jazz were going to have a chance.
When the Jazz weren’t turning the ball over on Friday, they were missing shots or taking the ball out of bounds after a Thunder made basket and facing a set defense.
The Jazz were just constantly battling uphill and it made a few things really clear.
Who is playing point?
The Jazz were once again playing without Jordan Clarkson (right thumb sprain) and Collin Sexton (left hamstring strain), leaving the lion’s share of ball-handling duty to Talen Horton-Tucker with 10-dayer Kris Dunn filling in as backup. Horton-Tucker ended up with six of the Jazz’s 26 turnovers against the Thunder and when he was bringing the ball up it was clear that the Jazz were hurting for a true point guard.
Though Horton-Tucker has made some strides this season in his ability to run the point, he’s absolutely not a long-term solution, and to be perfectly honest, neither are Sexton or Clarkson.
Clarkson has excelled in his leadership and his playmaking this season, but he’s at his best when he is running and gunning and we all know that. Sexton, while uniquely gifted in his ability to put pressure on the rim, is not a natural facilitator.
Things might settle this season if the Jazz are able to get Sexton or Clarkson back into the rotation, but what happens this season is not really the issue here because this season doesn’t matter. The question is, who will be the point guard for the Jazz in the future?
The Jazz are going to eventually have to answer that question either in free agency, through a trade or through the draft. The list of point guards who are going to be free agents isn’t super appealing, especially if we’re thinking long term. So, the Jazz are likely to be ultra interested in the point-guard pool in the upcoming draft.
It’s probably going to be a little rough watching the Jazz from that perspective for the rest of this season (the Mike Conley void is vast and empty), but at least the Jazz have an obvious need. There’s no guesswork to be done here. They need a point guard.
Lauri Markkanen vs. Luguentz Dort
At this point, Dort has made a name for himself as a defender who can make the best players in the league have to work really hard. He’s physical, he stays attached and he refuses to bite on switches. That’s what he did on Friday against Markkanen.
After the first half it was clear that keeping Markkanen close to the main action of the offense was causing some problems, so the Jazz tried to space with Markkanen a little more in the second half and use him more off-ball. That helped, but Dort was still a pest because he wasn’t helping away from Markkanen at all.
“He’s a good defender,” Markkanen said. “We were just trying to find ways to do something different because obviously, I tried to set a lot of ball screens because he was not helping, so I tried to get my guys open and get them downhill. Then we tried to start playing off-ball more and I think that was better for us.”
Markkanen is going to have to think a lot more about things like this as the season progresses and as his career progresses. He is not the player that he was in Chicago and Cleveland. He is currently this team’s No. 1 option and he is likely to be the No. 1 or at worst No. 2 option for the Jazz moving forward, depending on how the roster changes. That means that defenses are going to be scheming against him and putting a lot of energy into denying him the ball and slowing him down.
“Lauri knows that he’s going to face physical defenses,” Jazz head coach Will Hardy said. “He’s a tough cover because of the mixture of skill and size. But it’s something that he watches film on almost every day — understanding how to get open and how to create those looks for himself.”
Will Hardy uses his words wisely
Hardy does a really good job of saying the right thing when the camera is turned on, but still being a tough coach who is not afraid to tell his players when they screw up.
For example, when the Jazz commit 26 turnovers like they did against the Thunder, and Hardy is getting more and more frustrated by their sloppy play, he calls a timeout and yells at the players, takes some frustration out on the officials and yells at them, and then collects himself before he goes to a huddle.
When Hardy comes into the interview room after a game and is asked about turnovers or missed free throws, he always makes sure to say that he knows the players aren’t doing anything malicious or on purpose.
“I don’t think the intent of the team is bad,” Hardy said after Friday’s game. “I don’t think that anybody’s trying to do things on their own. I just think there’s some sloppy play, some bad spacing.”
It’s a really smart thing Hardy does. The players then get to see that he isn’t saying bad things about them to the reporters, but he will absolutely hound them during a game or behind closed doors. That’s part of how Hardy has built so much trust with this team in such a short amount of time.
It’s not necessarily a thing that is specific to Friday, but it’s something that has been noticeable this season. Turns out this Hardy guy is pretty good at his job.