Houston • When a reporter asked Will Hardy on Monday evening about 26-year-old rookie Simone Fontecchio playing five seconds on Sunday night against the Pelicans, the Utah Jazz head coach quickly interjected.
“He played nine,” Hardy corrected, a bit sardonically. “Well, two stints — nine seconds total.”
After Monday’s loss to the Rockets, the coach once again addressed the Italian sharpshooter’s appearance from the day before.
“I know, last game, playing nine seconds was probably not his dream first game in the NBA,” Hardy conceded.
Probably not. Then again, it probably wasn’t his dream second game in the NBA either, after the forward actually logged all of 55 seconds of mop-up time in the season opener against the Nuggets.
Semantics — and Monday’s loss — aside, Fontecchio’s third appearance in an NBA regular-season game no doubt fit the bill of what he was hoping for.
His first playing time of more than a minute, his first basket(s), his first substantive opportunity to make an impact. And he certainly did.
Fontecchio played 15 minutes and 44 seconds, took nine shots and made five of them, went 3 of 5 from deep, and racked up 13 points, while playing the entire fourth quarter of a close game.
Yeah, that’s more the dream scenario-type situation.
“Definitely, definitely felt good. I’m really happy I could help the team tonight,” Fontecchio said afterward. “Get on the floor, get some real minutes, get comfortable on the floor — I’m just happy to help the team. It felt good.”
Indeed, after the Jazz spent much of the game in Houston seemingly going at three-quarters speed, the insertion of Fontecchio into the rotation seemed to give them some needed juice.
He got off to a bit of a rough start. After checking in at the 3:44 mark of the third quarter, he committed a turnover about 15 seconds later. And another one less than a minute after that.
But in the fourth, he found his groove — burying a 3-pointer for his first NBA bucket just 14 seconds into the period. Then he hit another two minutes later. And a third one 24 seconds after that.
“He did a great job — spaced the floor for us, knocked down shots,” said Jordan Clarkson. “Especially [against] a team like that — switching and doing all that — he does a great job.”
Soon enough, as the Rockets began reacting to his shooting with aggressive closeouts at the 3-point line, Fontecchio showed the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, as he added another pair of baskets at the rim.
“It just became apparent as you were watching him play that he kinda had it going,” said Hardy. “He made a few shots, he made a couple nice reads on dribble-drives, and so we rolled with it. He practices really hard, he’s been competing in all of our scrimmages, and all the guys on the team know what he can do — that’s why they kept passing him the ball. He got an opportunity and he seized it and played well, so we just kept going.”
Afterward, Fontecchio expressed his disappointment at the team’s loss, mentioning it twice, but there was no hiding his beaming inside at finally getting a chance to show what he could do.
His postgame media session was packed with charming moments.
Asked if Hardy had given him any indication he might play, he said no, but added that he had the notion that the coach might expand his rotation a bit against the Rockets, and so he made it a point to go beyond staying ready as always, “to stay even more ready.”
When an inquiry was made about the mechanics of his shot, with the accompanying compliment of his form being called “beautiful,” he very nearly blushed and thanked the questioner multiple times.
Asked if anyone back home in Italy had watched his performance, Fontecchio smiled and demurred, replying, “It’s pretty late now, so I don’t think so. Hopefully they will get to watch it tomorrow and somebody will send some messages.”
Yeah, he might get a text or two.
His game wasn’t perfect, by any means — which he recognized: “I know I’ve got a lot of things to work on — today I played 15 minutes, I made four fouls. So that’s one thing for sure I’ve got to get better at and get used to.”
Mostly, though, he was pleased to simply not get too caught up in the moment to simply go out there and do the job asked of him.
“I just try to focus on what I have to do, what my team needs me to do, and I’m not really thinking about, ‘This is the NBA — I’m playing! It’s amazing,’” he said. “Even if it is amazing.”