The Triple Team: Jazz take first loss of the season against young Rockets — though Simone Fontecchio impressed

Plus: Does Eric Gordon provide a lesson for Mike Conley and the Jazz?

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 114-108 loss to the Houston Rockets from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Yakety Sax basketball

That’s more of what we expected coming into the season, right?

On the second night of a back-to-back, with the Jazz having played two consecutive overtime games, they looked extremely sloppy, losing their first game of the 2022-23 season in a game they were actually favored to win.

Obviously, the first mark of this was their turnovers, 20 in the game in total. Kelly Olynyk was the team leader with five, and you can see that it’s a fine line between the former Gonzaga man stumbling and bumbling his way into a game-winner against a smaller player, and stumbling and bumbling his way into a turnover.

Mike Conley threw a pass that missed his target more than any other pass I’ve ever seen in his career.

And it wasn’t just the veterans. Talen Horton-Tucker played 17 minutes tonight, and made some pretty incredibly athletic plays. He also made some incredibly ill-advised plays.

Rookie Walker Kessler picked up two quick offensive fouls on moving screens, too.

It wasn’t just the turnovers: both teams struggled on the defensive glass, allowing multiple tips on the boards and not closing out possessions at all. Both teams failed to surpass 1 point per possession on even transition plays, according to CleaningTheGlass.

In general, the Jazz have thrived on that chaos this season, but that’s always going to be a fine line. Tonight, it was too much chaos, the Rockets had slightly less of it, and the Jazz lost their first game of the season.

Now, they’re only the Western Conference’s #2 seed. Only on pace for two rounds of playoff home-court advantage, then.

2. Simone Fontecchio!

First of all, what a great name Simone Fontecchio is. Would even rank highly on the Jazz’s 2022 summer league roster, a veritable 1927 Yankees of great names.

Prior to tonight’s game, he had played an accumulated one minute and four seconds for the Jazz, 55 seconds of which came in garbage time for the Jazz. Tonight, though, he got a chance in the fourth quarter, thanks to some foul trouble by other Jazz players and the small lineups the Rockets were putting out there.

And he immediately succeeded. Coach Will Hardy drew up the first play of the final period for him, getting him open for this three on the wing.

He actually shows a lot here! There aren’t a ton of NBA rookies at that height who are confident in getting on the move, hopping into a gather, and shooting the ball like that. Fontecchio is, though, and it’s a weapon.

Later in the quarter, he took just a tiny advantage on a screen, and turned it into two points with great use of his body.

However, he did have four fouls in his limited time on the court. These were pretty ticky-tack fouls, but he has to learn not to put both hands on a guy, like he does here: that’s an auto-whistle.

Still, it was an encouraging first real NBA stint for Fontecchio, having finished with 13 points in such a short stint. He’s just the 10th player this season to score 13 points in a fourth quarter. It’s also worth noting that he’s apparently above Ochai Agbaji in the rotation, a lottery pick who was the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player last year — a good sign for the Italian, a bad sign for the 22-year-old.

3. Two 15+ year veterans

First, I thought it was interesting that the Jazz had Mike Conley play tonight. Conley, you’ll remember, has frequently sat one game in back-to-backs in the last two seasons. Furthermore, when asked a question about Collin Sexton starting earlier in preseason, Hardy had indicated that Conley may sit in some games, giving Sexton the chance to start. The second night of a back-to-back after two overtime games, playing against one of the worst teams in the NBA, would seem to be a logical point in the season for him to sit.

Conley, though, has indicated his preference in this matter: he’d really prefer to play.

This season’s been interesting for Conley so far: rather than upping his scoring in the wake of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert’s departure, he’s lowered his usage. He’s now a low-scoring presence this season, but he has reliably racked up assists in this offense, averaging just under nine per game. He reliably makes the right play, but the 3-point shot just hasn’t been there so far.

Still, playing him is a choice, one that perhaps indicates a non-tanking direction. On the other hand, playing him may also increase his trade value some?

On the other side of the court was another 15-year veteran. Eric Gordon scored 13 points tonight, including some really timely baskets, but I bring him up for another reason — he’s the best example of a team holding on to a veteran player because they repeatedly just haven’t been able to find a buyer for him in the trade market.

It’s been two seasons now since the Rockets traded James Harden away, and they’ve had four great trade windows to move Gordon to meet the direction of the franchise: the 2021 trade deadline, the 2021 offseason, the 2022 deadline, and 2022 offseason. Read Eric Gordon’s HoopsHype rumors page for a compendium of Gordon rumors — there are many. And yet, he’s still there. They’re widely reported to be willing to trade him for a first-round pick the whole time, but haven’t found that deal yet, even as he shot 41% from three last year.

In the end, I think it’s just hard to trade one-directional veterans on big contracts, even if they are terrific shooters. That’s a lesson that the Jazz have learned with Bojan Bogdanovic. We’ve also seen that they’ve found deals hard to find for Conley and Clarkson.

It’s not just the Jazz, though: Gordon’s been available for forever, and they still haven’t found the team willing to give up enough value.