After a game or in the evening on an off day, whether on the road or at home, Utah Jazz coach Will Hardy will text his rookie point guard, Keyonte George.

“Hey, you watching the game?” Hardy will ask.

“Yeah, I’m watching,” George will respond.

It doesn’t really matter who is playing, Hardy just wants to make sure that George is always watching. It could be Western Conference powers like the Denver Nuggets vs. the Phoenix Suns or it could be the teams with the worst records in the league, like the San Antonio Spurs vs. the Detroit Pistons.

This isn’t a habit that is being forced on George. It’s a passion that George brought with him to the Jazz, and one that Hardy intends to foster as much as possible because he sees the benefit.

Related
Keyonte George continuing to find his voice

“First and foremost, Keyonte loves basketball,” Hardy said. “What that leads to is he watches a lot of basketball. So he’s been able to learn relatively quickly. Keyonte is like any young player, he makes mistakes, he has moments that aren’t his best and he’s had games that haven’t been great. But he’s shown the ability to learn from those things and not compound those mistakes and not let bad trends stick around for long periods of time. I think that quality is going to serve him really, really well moving forward.”

George knows he watches more basketball than some of the other players. In college, he was watching college games and NBA games and now that he’s in the NBA he’s watching even more. He’ll play in a game, go home, rewatch the game he just played in and then watch other NBA games that were on the same night.

Obsessive? Maybe. But it’s an obsession that has served him well so far. Not all of George’s ability to learn quickly and to understand the game on a deep level can be attributed to how much basketball he consumes, but it’s certainly a part of the equation.

“How many people watch basketball that’s in the NBA? That are not getting caught up in the lifestyle? You know, that really love it?” George asks rhetorically. “It’s just about getting better each and every day ... and you can tell in people’s play. I definitely wasn’t surprised how many people show up and go to the gym, go back home don’t really tune into the games.”

Hardy has been around NBA players as a part of coaching staffs for more than a decade and said that in his experience more players don’t watch basketball regularly than those that do. That’s of course, a generalization. There hasn’t been a poll conducted or a study, but anecdotally, in asking other coaches and executives, I’ve found the same to be true.

“I’ve got to find a way to get better and I’ve got to find a way to speed up the process. So I can be able to lead the team to a winning season. So, my mindset these last (few) games and moving forward, is how can I play the game within the game.”

—  Jazz rookie Keyonte George

Especially in an era where games can be condensed to highlights and information can be quickly gleaned from a quick reel, a scouting report or a box score, there seem to be fewer players that are sitting down to watch multiple full games.

“We obviously encourage our players to watch but you can’t go to their houses and make them,” Hardy said. “But there’s no substitute for watching. And you’ll find the difference between the people that watch and the people that don’t when you start to really have a conversation with them, when you start to get to the second and third layer of it. You can look at a boxscore and tell a story about a basketball game. You can see rebounding, turnovers, assists, points. ... But then if somebody asks you why — why did they lose the rebounding battle so badly? That’s when you’re going to find out who actually watched.”

For George, the obsessive nature of how he watches the game comes from a place of love and enjoyment. But now, more than ever, there is purpose behind how he spends his time. He feels the need to learn tendencies of the players around the league, pace of one team compared to another, the differences during postseason basketball, the way that the best players are able to make impactful plays.

Why does he need all of this and feel like he needs it urgently? He wants to prove to the Jazz brass and coaching staff that he is prepared and ready to lead the Jazz when the time is right.

“I’ve got to find a way to get better and I’ve got to find a way to speed up the process,” George said. “So I can be able to lead the team to a winning season. So, my mindset these last (few) games and moving forward, is how can I play the game within the game.”

Utah Jazz coach Will Hardy slaps hands with Jazz guard Keyonte George, left, during game Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Salt Lake City. | Isaac Hale, Associated Press