After four practices in training camp this past week, but very few specifics coming from new coach Will Hardy, Sunday’s first Utah Jazz preseason game in Edmonton, Alberta, against the Raptors provided a few concrete answers.
Obviously, we shouldn’t overreact to one game. But here are a few early impressions of the new-look team based on what we learned from their 114-82 loss.
Some size in the lineup
There was some speculation among team observers about what the starting lineup would look like. Everyone figured Mike Conley would start at point guard and Kelly Olynyk at center, but there was debate about the other spots. Go small, with shooting? (Conley, Collin Sexton, Malik Beasley at the 3, either Jarred Vanderbilt or Lauri Markkanen at the 4, and Olynyk.) Go big, sacrifice some playmaking? (Conley, Sexton, Markkanen, Vanderbilt, Olynyk.)
Hardy actually went even a little bigger than that second lineup, using that frontcourt, but starting the 6-foot-4 Beasley alongside Conley in the backcourt, while bringing Sexton off the bench.
A 10-man rotation
With 18 guaranteed contracts on the roster right now, it’ll be interesting to see who stays and goes, as the team gets down to its maximum 15 deals by the start of the season.
Against the Raptors, Hardy mostly went with a 10-man rotation: Conley, Beasley, Markkanen, Vanderbilt, Olynyk as the starters, and Sexton, Jordan Clarkson, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Rudy Gay, and Walker Kessler off the bench.
It wasn’t until Utah was down more than 20 points with 8ish minutes left in the game that we saw the likes of Talen Horton-Tucker, Ochai Agbaji, Simone Fontecchio, and Jared Butler.
Udoka Azubuike hasn’t been cleared to play yet as he recovers from ankle surgery, but Leandro Bolmaro, Stanley Johnson, Saben Lee, and two-way signee Johnny Juzang were healthy scratches.
• Markkanen looks like his EuroBasket play will translate over to the regular season. He was one of the team’s few consistent scorers, dropping in 11 of his 20 points in the second quarter. He also added five rebounds and two steals.
• Vanderbilt was, as expected, a ball of energy, flying around the court, doing a bit of everything. One unexpected development: A team-high six assists, and not all of the dribble-handoff variety, either, as he consistently located teammates.
• Walker Kessler had some nice moments, especially in rolling hard to the rim and displaying some good body control to score the ball. He totaled 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting.
• Malik Beasley said on media day he intends to be an All-Star. On Sunday, he was perhaps the embodiment of the Jazz’s struggles to find any cohesion this early, totaling six points (on 2-of-12 shooting, including 1 for 8 from 3), one assist, one steal, and zero rebounds.
• Some have posited that the Jazz simply have too many talented players to be among the true bottom-feeders of the league, but this team has plenty of flaws: The poor shooting and turnovers you can attribute to the getting-to-know-you phase, but they’re iffy defensively (specifically, they have zero rim protection), they’re bad at rebounding, and it’s a pretty finesse team with not much physicality (this was a double-edged sword for Kessler, for sure).
• There’s been some speculation that this team might lose a lot of high-scoring games, but there wasn’t enough offensive cohesion on display yet to come to that conclusion. We’ll see if they’re more organized Tuesday in Portland, but for now, it’s looking like there simply aren’t many guys capable of going to get a tough bucket when needed. Markkanen and Sexton (plus Clarkson) might be the best equipped to try among the regulars, while Fontecchio seemed to dominate the action among the late group.