The Triple Team: Jazz players named in trade rumors didn’t come with much energy in loss to Hawks

Utah Jazz forward Jarred Vanderbilt (8) holds his head as he walks up court during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 115-108 loss to the Atlanta Hawks from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz trade targets didn’t have much defensive energy today

The Jazz played some really bad defense tonight, I thought, allowing the Hawks to get 117 points per 100 possessions while not shooting very well from deep. Having the chance to watch the baskets, I thought it was a pretty blasé performance from the guys who have been most in trade deadline rumors most.

A couple of possessions of note: usually, you see Jarred Vanderbilt hustling his buns off everywhere. Here, he’s kind of jogging back in the play, then doesn’t really get back. Then, Malik Beasley doesn’t make contact on the glass, allowing his man to get the offensive rebound.

Here, Vanderbilt chucks a push shot over the rim, then Beasley doesn’t really defend this transition possession with more than an olé.

Vanderbilt is usually flying around on the boards, and here... he just kind of watches as Beasley gets beaten.

Now, the pro-Beasley, pro-Vanderbilt read on this situation is that these guys are not playing at their best right now due to all of the distractions going on. The anti-Beasley, anti-Vanderbilt take is that these guys haven’t always been making the right play for much of his season — and that’s why the Jazz are interested in trading them.

I’ll take a stance in between: Beasley and Vanderbilt are below-average defenders generally, but probably played even worse tonight than usual. Both of those guys can be good contributors on teams, but I also think both have limitations where you don’t feel great about starting them — or necessarily as pieces that the Jazz want to build around.

We should also note that Kelly Olynyk and Rudy Gay had rough games tonight, too — though that’s been more par for the course recently.

2. Walker Kessler’s bad game

Walker Kessler has been so fantastic for the Jazz this season, legitimately being a game-changing player. This, though, was probably his worst game of the season. In just 18 minutes on the court, he had two points, five rebounds, zero assists, two steals, one block, and was a team-low -15.

Before the game, I was curious to see how he’d perform against this offense. You have Trae Young, a shooting point guard, along with great rolling bigs in Clint Capela and John Collins. Could Kessler show out to Young and then recover to the rolling big?

He struggled a little bit: I almost think he was a little bit too eager. Look how jumpy he is on this play, for example.

When you jump, you lose the ability to use your physicality. Part of me wonders if last game’s seven-block success led to this approach, but he was frequently beaten tonight.

This is just an old-fashioned rookie mistake, though:

Here’s the good news: Kessler was much, much more positive on this night about his poor play than he has been on other nights — even in those when he played better. The Jazz have been emphasizing his need to get to the next game rather than lingering on his mistakes; at one point, Will Hardy even asked him to stop apologizing all of the time. I thought he should a good mindset with that.

“You’re gonna have bad days, but for me, I’m trying to not let it compound,” Kessler said. “You know, this game is over. You learn from it, move on, and don’t let it just keep snowballing.”

3. Lauri Markkanen’s forced lane violations

“Tonight wasn’t his best game” was a phrase uttered by Hardy about Lauri Markkanen tonight — and there was pretty wide agreement on that. And, yet, he still scored 25 points on 8-19 shooting, added 10 rebounds, and had a positive plus-minus. That’s pretty darn impressive on just an average night for the guy.

I did want to zoom in on one goofy aspect, though: Markkanen has now forced lane violations in consecutive games. We don’t have video of the lane violations, because the NBA considers the play dead, but here’s another one he took later in the game.

You can see how he takes a little pause, and it throws Bogdan Bogdanovic off. Had Markkanen missed this free-throw, it could have been a lane violation.

“I’ve been shooting that way since college,” Markkanen said. “I would think the guys know that I take my extra breath before I shoot but... I mean, I’m not doing it to get the lane violation, but sometimes it’s good to get one.”

I love that Markkanen just assumes opponents are scouting his free throw technique.

Lane violations are so rarely called, but sometimes Markkanen makes them so obvious that he gives the refs no choice. And really, it’s kind of a clever way to artificially raise your free-throw percentage a couple of points, if you can find a form that triggers lane violations without hurting your own ability to shoot.

Viva la lane violations!

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