The Triple Team: Jazz’s defense causes Blazers havoc in preseason win; notes on Walker Kessler and Talen Horton-Tucker

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 108-93 win over the Portland Trail Blazers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Causing havoc defensively

Look at how aggressive the Jazz were defensively tonight:

Damian Lillard comes off a screen and Jarred Vanderbilt outright leaves his man (Josh Hart) to go try to prevent the shot. But watch how Malik Beasley scrambles to defend Hart, and how quickly Vanderbilt scrambles back to the paint to get Beasley’s man. Even Jordan Clarkson sort of stints in the direction of the paint, adding to the confusion.

I think we’re going to see a lot of that this season. The Jazz of the last three seasons have been pretty passive defensively. That makes sense, when you have old men Joe Ingles and Bojan Bogdanovic as key cogs, with up-and-down effort from Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gay, Clarkson, and so on. Even the team’s supposed best perimeter defender, Royce O’Neale, is just 6-4.

The guy who you could pretty consistently count on defensively was Rudy Gobert, so the Jazz just tried to filter everything to him, and have everyone else not make a mistake before then. In the playoffs, it turned out this wasn’t a brilliant strategy.

These Jazz, though, tried to jump passing lanes, aggressively tried to rotate and recover, and generally embraced havoc. The Jazz haven’t had a defender like Vanderbilt in years; they haven’t tried to play a center like Olynyk in years, and they haven’t been this young in years.

Yes, there are going to be times when it looks awful, as it did on Sunday against Toronto. Heck, even against the Blazers on Tuesday, there were times when they were able to make the likes of Olynyk, Lauri Markkanen, Clarkson, and Conley just too slow or slight to make an impact.

But over the aggregate, tonight, it worked, against a pretty confused-looking Portland team. Will it work over the course of 82 games? We’ll see.

2. Walker Kessler’s development

You know, in the past few seasons, I’d do one of these sections on one of the Jazz’s best players of a given night. But this season isn’t really about winning, it’s about development. And so it is definitely possible, in that context, that a 3-point night from Walker Kessler is much more interesting than a 19-point night from Mike Conley.

Kessler has a pretty good shot of being on the next good Jazz team, and I thought he showed a good deal of promise tonight. Again, they mostly have him in that Gobert-esque drop-big defense, and you can see why: look at how he uses his length to block this floater!

Of course, he got the welcome to the NBA moment later, when Damian Lillard hit the stepback three on him.

I won’t criticize too much for that: the Lillard stepback beats essentially everyone. But it’s the kind of thing that shows all of the different tasks bigs are asked to do in this league, and Kessler will have to do them too.

My favorite Kessler play, though, was this. He gets the ball high in the pick and roll, and delivers a quality pass to the open corner shooter.

I love Derrick Favors — and I’m not even saying Kessler will be as good as Favors one day — but Favors didn’t have the ability to make this short roll pass consistently until about year 3 or 4. That Kessler’s doing it in preseason game 2 is a great sign for his feel and his chances to be a part of a quality offense built around ball movement.

3. Talen Horton-Tucker’s ball stickiness

What does Will Hardy want to establish in Jazz culture? Remember this quote from Media Day:

“(There should be) structure in how we play, and helping them understand that this is a team, and that not one of them can try to shoulder the load and save us. They’re going to have to rely on each other, and that’s going to start at training camp.”

And here were Talen Horton-Tucker’s first shots after being moved into the rotation on Tuesday night.

Not my favorite. I’ll excuse the first one because attacking in transition is usually a good idea, though he obviously needs to be more in control and balanced than that. But I still think on all of those shots, the better option was to find an open teammate than put up a shot.

I understand his urgency: he obviously doesn’t want to be on the fringes of an NBA rotation! He got his chance, and wants to show what he can bring to the table. But this isn’t helping matters.

After THT subbed out, the broadcast showed him having a conversation with Hardy on the sidelines. You have to imagine it was about this, and, to his credit, he played more in control for the rest of the game. He still didn’t look tremendous, but his play was more in the flow of the offense, and he was, in the end, rewarded with a couple of baskets.