Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 129-115 loss to the Phoenix Suns from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. A new rotation
The Jazz lost three rotation players over the last two days. That’s necessarily going to mean a lot of adjustments, and not all of them were going to be positive. So what were the early returns?
The team’s new starting lineup of Kris Dunn, Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, John Collins, and Walker Kessler ended up playing only 10 minutes together ... and was outscored by 13 points during that time. Obviously, that’s abysmal. But that’s not a huge surprise, as that frontcourt has been poor all season. In 247 possessions coming into this game, lineups featuring Markkanen, Collins, and Kessler were outscored by 15 points per 100.
Now, the good news was that those lineups with Dunn and Sexton playing were actually a +14, but in a minuscule 27-possession sample size. That flipped tonight.
In particular: I worry that those lineups just aren’t a good use of those players’ skillsets. John Collins continues to have very good box score nights that look iffy on the +/- column — he had 21 points and 14 rebounds tonight while having a team low -20 +/-. I suspect that head coach Will Hardy’s experimentation earlier this season that showed Collins is best as a center is correct, but that’s hard to do with Kessler in the starting five.
The Jazz’s most commonly-played lineup Thursday was actually their primary bench look: Keyonte George, Talen Horton Tucker, Jordan Clarkson, Taylor Hendricks, and Collins. That lineup played just over 12 minutes and was outscored by six. It was interesting to see THT back in the rotation, but this time as a mostly off-ball player. He didn’t play very well, though, shooting just 1-6 in his 14 minutes.
Which lineups did work? The ones that Markkanen and Kessler played together without Collins. Dunn/George/Clarkson/Markkanen/Kessler was a +5, as was Dunn/George/Sexton/Markkanen/Kessler. Frankly, we have a lot of evidence at this point that Markkanen and Kessler playing together is an extremely potent combo... so long as Collins isn’t playing alongside them.
There’s an answer here: bench Collins. The Jazz are reluctant to do that for chemistry reasons, because they hope to keep his value high enough to trade him eventually, and because he is a legitimately talented player who fills out the box score with points and rebounds. But he just doesn’t play well with both of the Jazz’s primary building blocks at the same time.
2. Taylor Hendricks
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