The Triple Team: Utah Jazz lose a close one in Dallas, but Jordan Clarkson’s assists are turning heads

A look at the guard’s impressive transition into a playmaker for the upstart Jazz.

Utah Jazz point guard Jordan Clarkson, left, looks to shoot against Dallas Mavericks forward Tim Hardaway Jr. (11) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 103-100 loss to the Dallas Mavericks from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Final shot for three misses

After getting a stop on the final defensive possession, Collin Sexton got the defensive rebound and pushed the pace to see if he could get something quick, taking advantage of the Mavericks in transition. This did not go well, but Will Hardy called a timeout once it was clear that things were getting out of control.

Then, he drew up this play.

I don’t love it. In a situation with more than three seconds left, I think there’s time to catch the ball and get a few dribbles off, if need be — or even a pass. But when you throw the ball to the corner, those options are eliminated. The only real possibility is a turnaround catch-and-shoot three, and it’s just really hard to get that off with a longer defender in your face.

My preference would have been two-fold:

1. Have Kelly Olynyk as your inbounder. He’s tall and can pass like Markkanen, but having him inbound means Markkanen can catch the ball and get a good look with his size and ultra-high release point.

2. Have the play involve popping someone to the above-the-break area, rather than the corners.

Mike Conley was coming around up top, and he felt he was open — he probably was. But I also understand why the inbounder there would choose to pass to Clarkson there over waiting, given that the Jazz didn’t have a timeout. If Conley doesn’t get free, the Jazz are probably screwed.

We’re talking about fine margins here. These are completely made up numbers, but there might be a 10% chance a Clarkson turnaround 3 from the corner goes in, and a 20-25% chance an above-the-arc contested three from Markkanen goes in. I just think that it’s probably a little bit better to make a tall shooter at the top of the arc the first look.

2. Jordan Clarkson — playmaker!

Avid Triple Team readers will note that we have already titled a Triple Team section “Jordan Clarkson — playmaker?” this season. Well, we’re getting increasing evidence that this is a reliable thing.

He’s just making some really remarkable passes right now. One great thing about covering games at American Airlines Center in Dallas is that we get to watch from the second row, and get an even better idea of what the players see in real time.

Clarkson’s passes used to be of the fairly rote version. Drive, draw defenders, dump off pass. This is what I expect from my Clarkson assists.

He is, right now, not just doing that. He is doing way more, making the kind of passes elite ballhandlers make. He’s reading pick and roll defenses:

He’s using his eyes to keep defenders in bad spots:

He’s improvising brilliantly when need be:

And he’s passing people open, even when they’re guarded, by just putting the ball in the perfect place. (I understand if you didn’t watch the first four passing videos, but this fifth one is the best of the bunch.)

That’s just brilliant — almost Stockton-to-Malone-esque. He fires the ball to exactly where Markkanen and only Markkanen can get it, even with his defender draped all over him, watching the ball, pointing.

By the way, Markkanen’s reaction afterwards was great in real time. I’m not sure he said a word, just looked back at Clarkson in utter shock and amazement that that guy had delivered that pass.

Still, we’re at the point where Clarkson’s averaging nearly six assists per game. That would have led the Jazz last year. It feels like this may really be real improvement, not just short-season sample-size theater.

3. Jazz’s flexibility with rotations

The difficulty of tonight’s game came at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters — the Jazz couldn’t score at the beginning of the second, and couldn’t defend at the beginning of the fourth.

Those are the bench lineups, which have generally been good for the Jazz this year. But in tonight’s game, the Jazz had three players who just didn’t do very much: Rudy Gay was a non-factor on both ends. Talen Horton-Tucker was one basket away from a 14 trillion — when a player plays minutes, but gets zero box score stats. Walker Kessler was one foul away from a 4 trillion. (Kessler, who has been out with illness told us he was feeling fantastic before the game, but he didn’t play like it.)

Still, it’s been interesting to see how much Hardy has changed his rotations over the course of the season. To wit:

• Tonight, Clarkson played the entire 4th quarter for the first time this season.

• Olynyk’s been on the floor at the end of the game four times, but sat the bench five times (including tonight, when he checked out at the 4:28 mark). Malik Beasley has also finished four games.

• Sexton’s finished the game three times (including tonight). The same is true for Jarred Vanderbilt (though he’s been in foul trouble very consistently).

Generally, coaches don’t like playing around with playing time this much. I think Jazz fans got frustrated at Quin Snyder for staying so rigid with his rotations, but he’s definitely not alone in NBA circles. Coaches generally think they’ll get the best out of players when they know what to expect.

Hardy’s taking a different approach, being more flexible with who plays. It seems to be mostly based on matchups and hot-handedness, and so far, the players are on board with it. It’s also obviously working: the Jazz are overperforming, even including the loss tonight.