The Triple Team: Jazz get big contributions from Talen Horton-Tucker and Simone Fontecchio to defeat Magic

Utah Jazz's Simone Fontecchio, right, makes a move to get around Orlando Magic's Franz Wagner, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 9, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 131-124 win over the Orlando Magic from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Talen Horton-Tucker and Simone Fontecchio

Since being instituted as the starting point guard after the All-Star break, Talen Horton-Tucker has really struggled. He’s averaged five turnovers per game compared to only four assists, averaging 12.5 points per game.

Tonight against the Magic, he was a lot better. He scored 23 points — still on 18 shots, but you’ll take it. Most importantly, he had eight assists next to only two turnovers for the night, and ended up as a +9.

Moments like at 1:30 in this highlight video created by the Jazz... you love to see them.

Look at what he did there: he came off the pick and roll not at 100 miles per hour, but just going at a solid 7 out of 10 speed. Meanwhile, Kessler waited for the perfect time to dive to the hoop for his roll, until THT could complete the pass. Horton-Tucker made the right read and completed the play. Beautiful.

Meanwhile, Simone Fontecchio scored 17 points tonight while only hitting one three.

That’s something most shooting specialists don’t do. For example: Georges Niang, the last sweet-shooting Jazz backup four, has scored 17 points in a game 15 times in his career. But in each of those 15 games, he made at least two threes, and usually hit four or five in those contests.

Fontecchio got his tonight from inside the arc: some in transition, some by attacking closeouts, and some by just being difficult to guard coming off of screens, drawing fouls from over-eager Orlando defenders. Obviously, the 3-point shot will be the basis of his game, but it’s good for him to show off some interior skills, too.

I’ve written this before, but I’m glad that the Jazz have another year on both Fontecchio’s and Horton-Tucker’s contract. Obviously, I wish THT’s deal was for less money (he’ll be paid $11 million next year), but I am just curious if you could get more consistent play with a second year in a Jazz uniform. Fontecchio should generally shoot and play better, and THT may grow in his age-23 season next year.

2. Why NBA teams don’t press

Assistant coach Alex Jensen talked about it at halftime: the Orlando Magic’s early pressure defense presented an opportunity that the Jazz could take advantage of.

Essentially, the Magic were keeping a number of players in the backcourt after they missed shots — partially to get offensive rebounds, and partially to press the Jazz as they brought the ball up the court. The latter would ideally prevent most transition opportunities, and maybe get a turnover or two as well.

Jensen, then, preached that the Jazz needed to push the ball up quickly with long passes, and then attack the resulting odd-man rush. And that’s exactly what the Jazz did.

The 1:49 mark of the video above has the best example.

The Jazz are as dead to rights as you’re ever going to see. It’s their center, Kessler, stuck in the very opposite backcourt corner with 17 seconds left on the shot clock. Orlando’s done a terrific job trapping him there, he’s even facing the wrong way. If the Jazz can’t get the ball over the halfcourt line in two seconds, they will turn it over.

And then Kessler just jumps, spins, and finds Kelly Olynyk. Problem solved. And indeed, it’s now Orlando who has the problem, as the Jazz now have a 2-on-1.

In lieu of an individual video clip, a meme:

NBA teams are so athletic and so skilled that most of the time, they can either break the press with sheer quickness, or sheer court recognition and passing ability. You’ll frequently see one guard play full-court defense — think Jose Alvarado — in order to force perhaps a couple more seconds off the shot clock, but anything more than that ends up speeding up possessions, not slowing them down.

3. Court viewing angles

You may have noticed tonight’s Triple Team doesn’t have any individual play videos.

Typically, I rely on the NBA.com box score page to upload those videos relatively quickly after the game, usually it’s within an hour. Then, I can sort through them, and match them to the plays in my notes, the ones I want to show you. I download those videos and upload them to YouTube for easy embedding in these articles. Honestly, it’s really slick, and really cool that the NBA allows people to see any play of any game like that.

Tonight, though, the video on NBA.com isn’t working. Usually, that happens when there’s a stat malfunction of some kind. And sure enough, there was a problem early in the game.

So in those cases, I’ll usually go to YouTube and the Jazz’s social media accounts for my clips. Again, very cool that they do that! But tonight, they usually chose videos with weird angles: it’s hard to break this play down in any other way than “Thanks, Walker.”

The irony of it is that the cameraman here has one of the best seats in the house, if not the best seat. But I think it’s kind of hard to tell about a player’s decision making, a coach’s playcalling, a team’s strategy, and so on, from so close to the court.

At first, I thought this was a product of my usual seats. I grew up watching Jazz games from the upper bowl corner, or on TV. I am very used to an angle that gives, basically, a top-down angle of proceedings. You, unless you are a courtside season ticket holder, probably are like me. So when presented from a new angle, I felt like I knew the game less well.

But then one day I was talking to Will Hardy about this feeling of mine — and he indicated that he felt that way too! And he, of course, played collegiate basketball and has been watching games from the sidelines for the last decade.

That frequently, he says, he’ll have to watch a play on film, from the usual TV angle, before he really knows what he’s seeing and how to instruct his players. Sometimes, he wants to hear from his assistants who have iPads in the background before confirming a strategic choice. He’s considered having assistants perched even further up, like football offensive coordinators.

Obviously, Hardy definitely notices stuff I don’t, all the time. But I will admit that Hardy gave me a little confidence that day, to think that it wasn’t just me — that basketball is sometimes best seen from a birds-eye view.

Thanks, Will, for that lesson. And also the free Triple Team point when NBA.com couldn’t come through for me.