The Triple Team: Jazz lose big against Bucks, who show themselves to be true championship contenders

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 144-116 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. The distance between the Jazz and championship contenders

The Jazz’s front office is aligned on this point: the Jazz are pretty darn far way from being championship contenders.

I mean sure, this team has been extremely cute. They have won many, many games they shouldn’t have won. They have competed all 48 minutes, much above the rate of many of their NBA counterparts. They have gotten more out of the likes of Lauri Markkanen, Talen Horton-Tucker, Walker Kessler, and so on, than anyone expected.

And yes, ignoring this game, they have beaten some top-of-conference competitors, like the Sacramento Kings or Boston Celtics.

Furthermore, to be sure, this run has gotten additional value out of the Jazz’s players, much more than they were worth six months ago. The trade demand for someone like a Markkanen, a Horton-Tucker, a Kessler when compared to before is stratospheric

But I thought this game was pretty darn evocative of the front office’s point: the Milwaukee Bucks came into Utah and showed how basketball is meant to be played.

Yes, I understand that Lauri Markkanen was out, as was Jordan Clarkson, as was Collin Sexton. Those players could have helped the Jazz score more than the 116 points they did. But I’m not sure they could have helped defended against 144 Milwaukee points — they frequently just went through the Jazz like a hot knife through butter.

Something like this: Ochai Agbaji is one of the Jazz’s best defenders at this point. Grayson Allen, a former Jazzman and the Bucks’ fifth starter, makes him look young and naive, almost foolish here:

The Jazz don’t have anyone that can make Craig Bolerjack evoke the name of this column and still score through it:

Nor do they have a 7-footer who can make a shot like this:

And that’s extremely understandable! The hope is that, when Walker Kessler grows up, he can become someone like a Brook Lopez, and that when Ochai Agbaji grows up, he can be better than a Grayson Allen, and so on. But no matter how you slice it, talent-wise, the Jazz are just extremely far behind the likes of the Bucks — and it’s important to remember that as you decide how to build the team moving forward.

2. Simone Fontecchio exploration

I sort of love the purity of Simone Fontecchio figuring out his NBA game on the court in late March. I mean, sure, it’s not super ideal for a team conceptually trying to make the playoffs, but it is entertaining.

In particular, he’s really stretching the edges of what he can do. Truthfully, I don’t like this shot even if he were able to get it off, and even if he were, say, Kobe Bryant... it’s still a fadeaway mid-range two early in the shot clock.

But on the other hand, this shot went down, and it’s pretty darn similar... a stepback, fadeaway, mid-range two early in the shot clock.

Essentially, your hope with Fontecchio is that he can use the confidence gained from these kinds of shots for the ones that can really help the Jazz in a world where they’re a competitive team. In that scenario they have multiple other players who are more likely to come off of screens and get the ball over Fontecchio, so you probably don’t see him take those kinds of shots. But you might see him take the kind of kick-out shots when the defense collapses on The Better Players To Be Named Later.

Shots like this? Quick threes late in the shot clock after chaos? That’s something even the best teams can use. We saw Grayson Allen do it tonight, and the hope is that Fontecchio could do the same.

Regardless: a career-high 26 points on 9-16 FG for Fontecchio tonight, a good sign for him sticking in the NBA.

3. Talen Horton-Tucker, when he loses control

Talen Horton-Tucker has shown himself to be a relatively valuable basketball player. I fully expect him to end up in the league somewhere after this current contract ends.

However, if there’s one thing I wish I could change about his game, it’s this: when he’s in a difficult situation at the basket, I want him to pass out of it instead of trying to flail up a bad shot.

This is so hard. You’re not going to have a good percentage on weird hip-high layup attempts, you’re just not. So when you see that help, try to look around and find an open — in this case, Fontecchio!

Or here: he’s attacking Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim. First of all, terrible idea. Second of all, when you’re out of balance, out of control, and on the move in wild angles, you’re going to have zero chance throwing up stuff like this around him.

As Will Hardy accurately points out, its about him making better decisions at the rim. These kind of floppy, likely-to-be-rejected-for-a-fast-break do the Jazz no favors.