The Triple Team: Jazz look woeful after big trade. What does this deal mean for Collin Sexton?

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) is guarded by Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jaden McDaniels (3), in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Minnesota Timberwolves at Vivint Arena, on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2023.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 143-118 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Well, that was bleak

As I was walking down to court level to Will Hardy’s postgame press-conference on Wednesday night, I walked past a fan who had expensive seats to the game. And, well, he wasn’t happy. “That was the worst money I’ve ever spent! That was horrible.”

Hardy, however, spun it as the opposite, that the Jazz played relatively well — after all, they won the offensive-rebounding and turnover wars. The Wolves won due to historically hot shooting: 23-43 from the 3-point line, or 53.5%.

Obviously, the truth is in the middle. I’m sure that fan has spent worse money somehow. I’m not sure that a team that gave up a 27-2 advantage in fast-break points can say that they played well.

And frankly, there were just a lot of mistakes that weren’t in the “understandable errors” category. I include them here, because, to be honest, they’re very funny to watch if you have a dark sense of basketball humor.

Here’s Rudy Gay with a brilliant lob pass to Collin Sexton!

Here’s nearly every member of the Jazz watching a rebound fall to the floor, assuming some other guy will get it!

Here’s Udoka Azubuike just, uh, forgetting which side of his man to stand on.

To be sure, mistakes are made in every game. But there was some silly stuff in this game that allowed the Wolves to get some really easy chances at baskets — the ones that might lead to comfortable play.

2. Will Hardy on Collin Sexton’s big chance

This stretch of games, 26 left to go in all, is going to be absolutely vital for Collin Sexton’s career.

For a significant part of an NBA season, it looks like he’s going to get the chance to be the starting point guard on a team, for really the first time since the Cavaliers drafted Darius Garland. And he’s going to have to swim, because Danny Ainge is going to be pretty darn ruthless when it comes to finding another long-term solution if he’s not good enough.

What’s Will Hardy telling Sexton about what he needs to do to take advantage of this chance?

“No. 1 is taking care of his body. It seems like because of where we are in the season, we forget that Collin missed a year after having a knee surgery, and our No. 1 focus with Colin signing the extension is his health.”

I’m not exactly sure what that means. He’s famously a kind of fanatical worker — is Hardy saying he’s working too hard? Or is he just trying to limit expectations? Regardless, the quote continues:

“And when he’s on the court playing, it’s about the balancing act of attacking to score and attacking to create shots for his teammates. And that’s what he’s going to continue to have to work on balancing. It’s easy for me to sit here and talk about that, but the speed with which Collin is attacking the basket and the force with which he plays, those decisions have to be made in very quick timeframes.”

Sexton had an efficient night tonight, but had the 3-ball working with 4-5 shooting from deep. Inside the arc, he went 1-5. However, he did have zero turnovers and five assists.

“It’s always going to be a balancing act. I remember coaching Tony Parker, and there’s a lot of those moments where the guy is going so fast to the basket, it’s tough, those bang-bang moments of, should I attack the rim to score or should I kick it out? Like it’s easy when you can pause the film but that’s going to be something that’s that’s a huge point of emphasis for Collin on the offensive end.”

It’s interesting that he compares Sexton to Parker — obviously a very good player. But remember, Gregg Popovich was famously hard on Parker, and really had to develop to become the ultimately reliable player he became. Anyway, on defense:

“Defensively, it’s guarding the ball. He’s fully capable from a physical standpoint of having a great impact defensively. He can get really low, he’s very explosive, super strong. He can get through screens and it’s going to just be, every day continuing to work on that technique — and the mindset of you can impact the game in a lot of other ways besides just scoring.”

This is the one thing that makes me higher on Sexton than other scorers of his ilk: the kid really, really tries to play defense. He very obviously wants to be good. You just need to completely change the vector of that effort of the defense towards stuff that matters most, like screen navigation, help defense, and rebounding.

Anyway, we shall see if Sexton can take advantage. If he slows down in half court, moves the ball, dribbles in space, and makes good reads, he’ll be great.

3. In the halls of Vivint Arena

Well, that was certainly an experience.

I’ve been around the Jazz for many a trade deadline deal. Enes Kanter famously waving to media from across the Jazz’s practice facility court as he declined to speak with us was one good time. The Jazz trading Alec Burks for Kyle Korver was another pregame trade, where players found out in the hour or two before they played the Nets. Other moves probably happened more behind the scenes, when media was away from the team.

But the scenes at Vivint Arena as a deal unfolded between two teams playing each other... well, that’s going to be a pretty rare one.

Some dudes were pretty ecstatic. D’Angelo Russell didn’t skip out of there, but came pretty darn close. He was happy, and out very quickly after the deal. Jarred Vanderbilt left relatively quickly too, but also had some extra time to talk to old Wolves friends near their locker room about how the deal went down. Malik Beasley spent some time on the court saying goodbye. I never did see Mike Conley at the arena — I don’t know if he left quickly, or was back in the family rooms spending time with his wife and kids.

Obviously the energy in the building never was there; a ton of fans were glued to their phones, waiting for more news on the deal. At one point, Danny Ainge went to his usual seat behind the Jazz’s scorers’ table, then retreated to a back room. Ryan Smith paced around. Will Hardy did a pretty good job keeping positivity about as well as can possibly be expected, I thought, given the circumstances.

The interviews with the players were interesting, too. Eric Walden has more about some of those in his article.

But Rudy Gay’s frankness about wanting to be traded stood out: “I mean, I think at this point in my career, I do want to win and be a part of, you know, a team that’s trying to get to the promised land. But no matter what, I’ll be a professional.”

So too did Walker Kessler’s emotional reaction to the Conley deal when asked about it postgame — he said all the right words about the NBA being a business, but looked to be on the verge of tears. “I’m a pretty empathetic guy,” he said.

This is a night which further signaled the team’s direction of the future — though with some significant costs. More on that in an analysis piece coming tomorrow.

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