Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 118-102 win over the San Antonio Spurs from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Kris Dunn’s gamebreaking performance
You know, the replacement-level NBA player is still pretty darn good.
Kris Dunn’s simply been playing with the Capital City Go-Go G-League team for the season, and has been very good, albeit not dominant, averaging about 15 points, six rebounds, and six assists per game. He’s also getting three steals per 36 minutes, a terrific number, and his shooting efficiency has been very solid — he’s even shooting 41% from three this season. He’s been a borderline top-10, top-20 guy in that league.
Then the Jazz call him up, and he’s been asked to play a pretty substantial role immediately, essentially as the Jazz’s 7th man. And he’s shone immediately. Tonight, he scored 15 points, dished eight assists, and added seven rebounds in his 23 minutes.
Offensively, the thing that sticks out to me about Dunn is how in control he’s been. I’m not sure I’ve seen him sprint yet on the offensive end — he’s just in third gear the whole time, but manipulating his space well. Like here, he’s just pushed to his left hand, he drives to the free throw line, which is all he needs for the defender to sink in — leaving Ochai Agbaji open.
This is almost like Donovan Mitchell at his best: gets the matchup he wants, little quick crossover to get him off balance, that one super-high dribble to eat up space, then uses his body to prevent the shot block.
And my goodness, he makes this block look easy. You never see this:
Just as I wrote Thursday, it is exceptionally frustrating to see him do this for this year’s Jazz team when the Jazz team of two years ago desperately needed it more. But, oh well, the past is the past.
Tonight, Dunn was probably the Jazz’s second-best player — and he’s on a 10-day the Jazz signed him to four days ago. Very impressive.
2. Walker Kessler on the rookie block list
Walker Kessler now has 129 blocks this season. He added five blocks tonight, including four blocks in the fourth quarter as the Jazz ran away with the win.
That means he currently ranks 46th in NBA history among rookies with blocks — Kessler passed Darius Miles and Emeka Okafor tonight, which is a fun exercise in “let’s remember some guys.”
So let’s say he keeps going on that pace. He’d end up with 171 blocks. Where would that mean he ranks all time among rookies?
|17||Hot Rod Williams||167||1986-87||24||CLE||80||80||2714|
(Normally, I’d just include 20 names there... but love that Andrei Kirilenko ranks 21st, so I left him in.)
So Kessler has a really good shot at ranking 16th, which is pretty good on its own — but it’s also worth noting that it would be the best blocking performance by a rookie in the last 20 years.
But wait — Walker has only started 25 games so far. Among half-time starters, only Mark Eaton, Benoit Benjamin, and Michael Stewart would have more blocks. And in starts, Walker averages 2.5 blocks per game, compared to his normal 2.0 average. So really, you might reasonably expect him to get 180 blocks in total, moving him another spot higher on the list.
Anyway, it’s pretty rarified air for Kessler, who continues to massively exceed expectations in his rookie year.
3. Will Hardy’s imposter syndrome
Will Hardy said something incredibly relatable today pregame. He was asked about the impending Hall of Fame nods for several people he has worked with in his career — Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker, Becky Hammon — and what that means to him to have crossed paths with them.
“I do think of myself as same guy that I was when I was 18. Like, I’m from Richmond, Virginia and played Division III basketball. If you had told me then that I would be able to call Gregg Popovich or Becky Hammon or Manu Ginobili or Tim Duncan or Tony Parker on the phone, and that they would pick up and like know who I am is... it’s really kind of mind bending. Those those people deserve those honors, like they’re going in the Hall of Fame for a reason. And it’s just fun to have been like a blip on the radar in their journey, like to have been in the room with them, on the court with them for some of those moments is really cool.
“I really can’t quite put into words like how that feels. Because I, you know, like anybody, I suffer from impostor syndrome at times. Like, I still sit up here in front of you guys (media) and have my moments where I’m like, I’ve no clue why any of you want to know what I think about anything. But that’s just the world we’re in now. So you know, it’s another pinch me moment, in what continues to be for me kind of a pinch me basketball life.”
About 10 minutes later, we asked Gregg Popovich about what he thinks about Hardy.
“He’s ridiculously intelligent. And he’s a hard worker. He started out at the bottom in the film room, and it was pretty apparent very quickly that he understood everything that we coaches wanted. It was almost like, in some ways, we were wasting his time, because he already was doing what we needed. So he was a pretty impressive individual from the get go. So I put him out on the court, quickly with the guys and found that he commanded respect very quickly, just by being himself and teaching. He’s got a good wry sense of humor that he uses.
Then I, you know, slowly fell in love with the guy and he matriculated to the bench, and showed that, you know, he understood the game and made suggestions that were meaningful. He’s got a great temperament. Much better than mine. And actually learn from him in a lot of those situations, as much or more than he learned from me.
So he was kind of a no brainer from the beginning, to be honest with you.”
This is kind of Hardy’s superpower: an ability to impress everyone he comes in contact with, including potentially the best coach of all time in Popovich, but not change despite it. He’s just kind of a normal guy — despite getting plaudits like the above from Pop, he has imposter syndrome like the rest of us.
I’ve interviewed probably a hundred basketball coaches from around the league in my 10 years of doing this. Most coaches, frankly, are not normal people. They’re too fanatical about success, too competitive, too driven, too controlling to ever be really relatable.
Hardy’s different. He’s extremely easy to get along with, right away, because he just kind of acts like a normal person. Imposter syndrome is incredibly relatable because we all feel it (there was a great article in the New Yorker about this subject about three weeks ago) — but it’s not a roadblock to success. See, for example, these Utah Jazz.
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