Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 114-98 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. A triple-double scare
I really thought Kelly Olynyk was going to do it.
With seven minutes left to go in the game, Olynyk was just two assists away from a triple-double. And man, was he ever hunting those assists. When he’d catch the ball, he’d hold onto it a little longer, looking for flare screens, trying to run pick and roll to find lobs and shooters, even taking the ball in transition to try to find the next assist.
But then the turnovers also started to pile up, not the assists. The Thunder were onto what he was trying to do.
And with four minutes, the Jazz replaced Olynyk with Simone Fontecchio, ending the possibility. As a result, the Jazz are just two games away from ending yet another season without a triple-double. As a reminder, the Jazz haven’t gotten a regular season triple-double since Carlos Boozer got one against the Seattle SuperSonics on February 13, 2008. (Sure, Ricky Rubio got a playoff triple-double, but those stats don’t count in the NBA’s traditional statistical records.)
There have now been 1,167 triple-doubles since Boozer’s, since the last Jazz one. As Jazz writer Riley Gisseman noted, it’s also been 5,227 days since the last Jazz one — more than six times longer than any other NBA team’s drought.
The Jazz have had some very good players in those last 15 years, too — but none of them have achieved a triple-double. Meanwhile, some truly awful players in the NBA have seen double-digit tallies in three statistical categories: Ben Uzoh, Terrence Williams, Mario Hezonja, Greivis Vazquez, and even Chuck Hayes. 25 of the league’s 30 NBA teams have had one this season.
Royce O’Neale got one this year, as soon as he left the Jazz.
Look, none of this really matters. Triple-doubles are correlated with good play, but it’s not like every good game is a triple-double, nor is every triple-double a good game. It’s just for fun — long, Ripken-esque outlier streaks of any type are among the joys of watching sport.
2. Luka Samanic’s new deal
Minutes after the Jazz’s game ended, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted about a new contract for one member of the squad.
I’ll be interested to see exactly what the specifics of this deal are. How much guaranteed money will Samanic get this season vs. next? And when exactly does the contract become guaranteed? The devil is always in the details, especially with end-of-bench players.
But Samanic has played well enough in his stint with the Jazz to garner a second look. And critically, he’s been enough of a positive in his work ethic and approach to the game that the Jazz want to have him around for the summer, working with their development coaches as well.
Jazz coach Will Hardy had a long but insightful answer about Samanic:
“His talent is sort of obvious in some ways. Like, he’s 6-9, 6-10, can run, jump, move his feet. He’s got good touch, a good looking shot, and he’s 23 years old.
And so I think, you know, he’s, he’s somebody that I had experience with in San Antonio... But he went to the G-League for a year and a half and his perspective on basketball changed. You think you’re gonna be in the NBA and then all of a sudden you’re not. All of a sudden the phone’s not ringing, and no one wants to call you up, and no one wants to bring you in — and it changes your perspective. I think he came in with a different level of maturity, in terms of what it takes to really stick in the league, and how his approach needs to change: how he can impact the game and the way he needs to be a great teammate and all those things. It’s not that he wasn’t those things the last time I was with him, he was just young and immature and had just moved across the world.
So I think we’re very happy. It’s gonna be great to work with him this summer, because 6-9, 6-10 guys that can run, jump, move their feet and shoot aren’t just walking around everywhere. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Is he a three. Is he a four? Can he be a small five? It’s like yes, and no, and maybe to all those things. The way we play, we kind of like to put guys in a bunch of different spots and I just think he has that skill set — maybe like a Kelly (Olynyk) type where he can do a bunch of different things and be a little bit of a Swiss army knife for us.”
That’s pretty darn positive about a guy who was out of the league three weeks ago. But it’s pretty clear that Will is a Samanic believer, and if he shows skill this summer, he may carve out a role on next year’s team.
3. Playoff elimination
My beat writing partner Eric Walden has the main article on the Jazz’s playoff elimination tonight.
The last time the Jazz missed the playoffs, it was the 2015-16 season. They ended up missing out by one game to the Houston Rockets. Then, they were primarily limited by their lack of point guard: that was the year they traded for Shelvin Mack and immediately started him, so obvious that it was he was better than Trey Burke, Raul Neto, or Dante Exum.
It was also Gordon Hayward’s second-to-last year in a Jazz uniform, along with Rudy Gobert’s third season — the only time in his career he’s had an injury that kept him out more than 15 games. It was Trey Lyles’ promising rookie year, and the Jazz were still trying to make the Derrick Favors/Gobert frontcourt work, despite the lack of spacing. Another narrative was the Jazz’s respect with the referees: the Jazz finished last in NBA Last Two Minute report call discrepancy numbers in the report’s first year.
It’s funny to think all that’s happened since then: Hayward’s departure, Donovan Mitchell saving the franchise then leaving, Gobert’s trade, Snyder’s departure, and all of that. For the first two years of their playoff run, the Jazz surprised in the playoffs; in the ensuing years; the Jazz largely disappointed in those playoff campaigns.
Is playoff disappointment better or worse than regular season impressive performances, but falling short? Does it matter that, essentially, the Jazz tanked out of this playoff race? It depends on your perspective.
Regardless, I think it is a natural cycle — certainly for small-market teams. There are natural ups and downs in this new NBA, where stars come and go. It’s not like the 80s and 90s, where you could keep a John Stockton and Karl Malone for two decades and go to the playoffs every season. Now, you have bull times and bear times, and each sets up the other.
The hope is that this playoff drought is shorter than the last one, which lasted four seasons. Should Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler consolidate their performances from this year, the Jazz should be in good position to make that happen.