The Triple Team: Talen Horton-Tucker goes for career-high 41 points in win vs. Spurs — can he learn to shoot consistently?

Utah Jazz guard Talen Horton-Tucker (0) shoots against the San Antonio Spurs during the second half of an NBA basketball game in San Antonio, Wednesday, March 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 128-117 win over the San Antonio Spurs from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Talen Horton-Maker

This hasn’t been a good 3-point shooting year for Talen Horton-Tucker, shooting just 27.5% from deep coming into tonight’s contest. That’s not a huge surprise, given that he was a 27.6% career 3-point shooter in his first three seasons in the league.

Tonight, though, he shot 6-11 from deep. Some of those were just catch and shoot, but a couple notable ones:

First, here, the Spurs just go way under the screen on him, so he rises and fires. Teams are going to do this a lot, given the relative value of his driving danger vs. his shooting danger, so whether or not he’s able to provide a counter to that is going to be key.

Second, I was really impressed with this one. THT drives the paint, recognizes that he doesn’t have anything, and passes it out. But instead of just lingering, he immediately recognizes the opportunity with the space in the corner — and sprints there for the shot.

That ability to bend a defense and then take advantage in multiple ways, beyond the drive, I think is an important skill for any guard.

The most important skill for any guard, though, is just 3-point shooting. The list of starting guards (over half a season) who shot under 30% for a season in the last three years is:

It’s not a long list. I think essentially all of those teams were or are looking for upgrades at that spot in their starting lineup, save for De’Aaron Fox in Sacramento. Fox simply improved, though, and is now leading a top-4 Western Conference team.

If THT can shoot better, I think he has a chance to really be something — talking to him, he’s confident that he can figure that aspect of his game out. He is only 22 years old, after all. But it will be required to be a starting guard in today’s NBA, and tonight’s game was a good showing in that direction.

2. Walker Kessler’s minutes shortage

With Lauri Markkanen and Jordan Clarkson out, I think it’s fair to consider Kessler the Jazz’s best healthy player for this game. But he only played 21 minutes tonight — the biggest surprise was how he played just 9:32 in the first half, less than backup center Udoka Azubuike. Kessler wasn’t in foul trouble, either.

At first, I thought it was because of Will Hardy’s “No Free Minutes” edict. For those who missed my article last week, “No Free Minutes” is something that Hardy’s said a lot this season. As he explained then:

“A big thing for me from a development standpoint is, and it’s never really talked about: you’re not just helping them develop skills. I can dribble, I can pass, I can shoot, I can make that pass to the corner. That’s part of it, but you’re also helping them develop self-awareness. Like, ‘I don’t really have it going tonight. Maybe I gotta get him involved, he’s having a good night.’ You’re still a part of the team and you have to have some self awareness of how you’re fitting into the group that night. It can’t just be, ‘Oh, well, for my development, I’m just gonna run 19 more pick and rolls and just shoot it every time because that’s what I’m working on.’ Like, dude, it’s not working for you right now.

“When you give people free minutes, where there’s no repercussions for anything, a lot of bad habits form and a lot of lack of self-awareness forms. And that’s dangerous, because once that happens, it’s hard to undo that.”

We’ve seen Hardy bench Kessler because of this, especially earlier in the season, so I figured that it was happening again. And the substitution came immediately after Kessler chucked up a midrange shot early in the first quarter.

Hardy, though, says he just saw Kessler’s effort in the first half, and thought he looked tired.

That’s interesting, if we buy that explanation. I think that there are many coaches who would want their young players to play through fatigue. After all, it might boost their stamina, or otherwise teach them how to perform when they don’t have their best. But on the other hand, it really may lead to exactly what Hardy’s worried about above: if you get into the habit of not giving your all... maybe that’s something that will happen again when you’re not in game 76, and nobody really wants that. (Plus, risk of injury goes up when playing through fatigue — worst case scenario.)

Kessler did rebound in the second half: his +20 performance overall was highest on the Jazz by far. He made enough of an impact in his limited time on the floor, and Hardy said he was glad to limit him to just the 21 minutes they needed.

3. Luka Samanic’s debut

New 10-day signing Luka Samanic is an interesting case. He was picked No. 19 by the Spurs in the 2019 NBA Draft. At the time, pretty much everyone thought it was an overdraft, but also pretty much everyone knows the Spurs’ track record of developing international guys into good players, so gave them the benefit of the doubt.

And... he pretty much immediately scuffled. I remember being pretty darn disappointed with his summer league games in Salt Lake City that year. He also disappointed in the G-League and in the few minutes he got with the Spurs.

They really, really quickly waived him in 2021 after only two years of play and only 21 years of age. That’s obviously a red flag: the Spurs haven’t really been going anywhere then or now, and so that they gave up on a guy so soon indicates that they really thought he was hopeless, either for reasons of skill or character or both.

He’s gotten better since then. As detailed by Mark Deeks — one of my favorite NBA writers — Samanic bounced back playing for the Maine Celtics this season. He’s averaged nearly 22 points and 10 rebounds per game on relatively good shooting numbers, while also decreasing his turnovers. He’s still not a great mover defensively, but looks more like one of those stretch fours who at least may be able to stick in the NBA.

Tonight, he went 2-8 from the field, but added nine rebounds and a surprising four assists.

Finally, I want to note: Samanic has an extremely metal tattoo.

It’s a crying angel with a rose and incredibly detailed wing feathers stabbing a skull with a dagger? But also, wow, just look at the shading on that thing. That looks like a pencil drawing on drawing paper, not tattoo ink on skin.

As reported by News4SanAntonio.com, Samanic explained the tattoo by saying just “Every tattoo has some meaning. The latest one was mostly about good always wins against bad.” So there you go.