Lauri Markkanen stands at the elbow of the key on one of the practice courts at Zions Bank Basketball Campus. Flanked by Utah Jazz coach Will Hardy and assistant coaches Chad Forcier, Sean Sheldon and Matt Temple, Markkanen takes deep, exhaustive breaths and wipes the sweat off his brow with the collar of his shirt.

“I love working with the guys one-on-one. “It’s probably the part that’s most comfortable for me. It’s been my identity as a coach up until becoming a head coach.” — Utah Jazz coach Will Hardy

Practice wrapped up about 20 minutes ago and many of the players have gone home. Some stay behind to get in some shooting reps, to lift or to go through recovery treatment. Few remain on the court.

Though the team practice is over, this is when the individual work is intensified.

The detail Hardy is digging into with Markkanen on this day is punishing mismatches at the elbow. Even more specifically, they’re working on how Markkanen should position himself and use his body to create space for a fadeaway jumper against a mismatch at the elbow.

Hardy is animated as he works with Markkanen. He exaggerates his movement to drive home the reason behind pivoting to a certain point, he explains where Markkanen’s elbows should be in relation to the defender’s head, and he describes the need to use force against the defender to create space rather than just bouncing off their body.

All of this, for one type of shot that will happen in one specific spot on the court.

“We do that a lot,” Markkanen said. “Sometimes Will comes up with some new stuff to work on and how to get better and it’s the little details.”

Over and over again, Markkanen gets the ball from Sheldon, is defended by Temple and tries to mimic what Hardy is demonstrating in a way that feels natural and repeatable.

When we talk about player development, this is often what it looks like. You can’t just say something like, “you need to work on defense,” or “find ways to be more efficient.” In order to help players improve, the game is broken down into fine details.

It can all be very demanding and uncomfortable for players. But this is a happy place for Hardy.

“I love working with the guys one-on-one,” he said. “It’s probably the part that’s most comfortable for me. It’s been my identity as a coach up until becoming a head coach.”

It’s not something that happens every day and it’s not something that every coach does. Some coaches don’t come from a player development background, so their approach is different.

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, for example, comes to coaching as a former player, whose most honed skill was his shooting. As a head coach, he relies on his assistants to bring in other expertise to help develop the players. Sometimes when there’s a shooting tip or something he feels he can provide, Kerr will step in, but he rarely is working on the court the way Hardy does.

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That doesn’t mean one way is better than the other. Each coach plays to their strengths and surrounds themselves with people who can make up for their weaknesses. It makes trust within a coaching staff particularly important, no matter the head coach’s approach.

“Lauri does such good work with Sean Sheldon and I also have the utmost trust in Sean,” Hardy said. “And just like with all of our other assistants, I’m not trying to step on their toes either. They know what the mission is with each guy. They know what the goals are for each guy.”

Hardy does hope that in making time for the players, it reminds them of his investment in them. Sometimes with so many players — assistants and executives and time constraints and scouting reports and game days and travel and injuries and outside distractions — players can feel their work is overlooked or that the head coach isn’t seeing the incremental improvements that are happening.

For Hardy, finding time to check in with players and work through things one-on-one, even if it’s stuff that the players are already working on with the assistants, gives him a chance to show commitment and build trust.

It’s also an opportunity to reinforce the philosophy that tackling one small and nuanced area of need is smarter than trying to improve too many things.

“Like the golfer that’s gonna go to the range and work on every shot with every club, well, it may be better to take the next two weeks and just work on my chipping,” Hardy said. “Improving 10 things at once is really hard to do. I like, in those moments, when I can strip it down as tight as can be and say, ‘Hey, let’s really just focus on this one thing.’ And that one thing may mean two more points a game — not 10 more points, but two more points.”

And it’s certainly not just Markkanen that is having things broken down to a nuclear level. The next day, it was Walker Kessler’s turn to have a post-practice session in which Hardy focused in on catching the ball right above the charge circle against a switching defense.

Often the term “player development” is largely associated with time and game reps. But the truth is that player development is about the non-game time that is invested by coaches and players when all the other work is done.

It’s about the gritty, small details that can be refined and polished — one at a time.

Utah Jazz head coach Will Hardy speaks with guard Keyonte George during game against the Golden State Warriors, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Salt Lake City. | Rick Bowmer, Associated Press