DALLAS — The Utah Jazz went from having the 12th-best lottery odds at the beginning of the night, to having the eighth-best lottery odds by the end of the night. That’s how you look at a 120-116 loss to the Dallas Mavericks as a glass-half full situation.
Sure, the loss stings, but the results are pretty good for a team that is heading toward a draft that is top-heavy with some real talent.
In addition to that, the Jazz showed a crazy amount of grit and fight against the Mavericks. In every game the Jazz play that is legitimately competitive, there are lessons to be learned and we get a better understanding of the players on this roster and the potential they have.
So tonight, I want to focus on two of the Jazz’s players.
Damian Jones is good
With Walker Kessler nursing a cold, Damian Jones was able to play 23 minutes off the bench on Tuesday night. The more that I see of Jones, the more that I think the Jazz are lucky to have him.
Jones is 27, which isn’t super young in the NBA, but it’s also not like he’s ancient and Jones plays like a guy who is 24 in the sense that he is bouncy and active and is just all over the place without seemingly breaking a sweat. But it’s not even his age that is appealing. I think that Jones is actually a good player, on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, he’s an insane lob-threat with a ton of athleticism and he’s got great touch and footwork when he’s down low. But then on Tuesday he was spacing the floor and flashed out to the corner before knocking down a 3. It was only the 14th made 3-pointer of Jones’ career and just his 47th attempt. But Jazz head coach Will Hardy said that he’s given Jones permission to take those shots, even though Jones has only been with the team since the trade deadline less than a month ago.
“He knows he has license in certain sets that we run that when he’s spaced, if he’s open, to catch it and shoot it,” Jazz head coach Will Hardy said. “I watch him shoot all the time at practice and he makes a bunch of them so he’s got confidence and it’s something that he’s worked on.”
You might think that kind of thing would make a player want to do it a ton. But Jones knows that he is a huge, physical, athletic threat who poses more of a threat closer to the rim and when asked about it he said that he’s confident in those shooting situations, but wants to make sure he doesn’t ignore the places that he can be most effective. That’s great self-awareness!
Defensively, I have just been so impressed with Jones. He is great on switches and showed that he could defend in space against the likes of Doncic and that he is also a really smart help defender who is super effective in close-out situations.
“Damian is very active and he gives us some switchability on defense, which I think is is great for us it gives us a different look,” Hardy said. “Especially when you frame that against when Walker (Kessler) plays and Walker plays mostly in drop and now Damian comes in the game and it just changes the tempo.”
Maybe my view is clouded because I’ve spent the last three years watching backup centers like Hassan Whiteside, Udoka Azubuike, aged Derrick Favors and Tony Bradley and have forgotten what it’s like to see a legitimate replacement-level center on a regular basis. Maybe Jones just looks good compared to what I’m used to at this point.
But, maybe he’s actually good. He’s got a $2.5 million player option for next season and if he decides to stay with the Jazz rather than test the open market, I think that would be really good for the Jazz’s future.
Talen Horton-Tucker as a point guard
I have two competing thoughts when it comes to Talen Horton-Tucker as a point guard. My first thought is that I understand the appeal with Horton-Tucker’s wingspan and his potential on defense as well as his ability to pressure the rim and beat his man off the dribble. But, it just doesn’t seem like he is a quick enough decision maker or that he reads the defense in the way that a point guard needs to. In short, I don’t think that he should be playing point, despite the appeal.
The competing thought though, is that Horton-Tucker is in a tough spot positionally in the NBA. Where does he play if not at point guard? He’s not a shooting guard or enough of a threat from deep to play out on the wing with regularity, and he’s not big enough (6-foot-4) to play deeper into the frontcourt. His chance of having staying power in the NBA is at the point.
All of that said, I think it’s good that the Jazz have a chance to try and develop some of that in Horton-Tucker. This is the perfect place and perfect opportunity for him to work on getting better situationally and to see different coverages and make different reads.
Horton-Tucker had a couple of rough games in Oklahoma City, especially when it comes to decision making and taking care of the ball. Against Dallas on Tuesday, he had five turnovers in the first half, but then he settled into the game a little bit and didn’t have any turnovers for the rest of the night. He finished with 21 points, four assists, four rebounds, and two steals.
“He has a hard job. I ask a lot of Talen,” Hardy said. “When you’re a very good driver like Talen is, you have to push the limits sometimes …S o there’s those split-second moments of decision like, should I get off it early? Or, should I really turn the corner? ... I think Talen is still trying to find that balance.”
Hardy went on to say that he believes Horton-Tucker has made huge strides this season in exactly that area, but that he expects Horton-Tucker to continue to learn and grow even more.
This all feels like a huge point in Horton-Tucker’s career. If he can get a feel for the game in that area, and really make some more progress, then there’s probably a good chance that he’ll at least stay in the NBA. He’s got a player option for next season for $11 million, which he’ll almost certainly pick up. I don’t know though if he gets the same chance and same amount of opportunity next season to really grow. That remains to be seen. If he doesn’t get the same chance and if he doesn’t really grow into being a backup level point guard, I’m not sure where that leaves him.