The Triple Team: Keyonte George has been the Jazz’s No. 1 option — with good results

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder alongside his coaching staff with the Atlanta Hawks during an NBA basketball game Friday, March 15, 2024, in Salt Lake City.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 124-122 win over the Atlanta Hawks from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. It’s Keyonte George’s show right now

In the absence of Lauri Markkanen and Jordan Clarkson, there’s no question: Keyonte George has been the Jazz’s No. 1 option over the last few games.

And honestly? He’s done really, really well at it, turning around his previous inefficiency in a big way. Over the last three games, he’s shot 51% from the field, 44% from three, and even headed to the line six times per night. The scoring is great, but he’s gotten teammates involved at least at a capable level, averaging 5.7 assists per night alongside three turnovers.

In Friday’s game, Jazz coach Will Hardy complemented George’s ability to score within the arc — he scored 25 while only making one three. From my view, he’s figured something out: an ability to play with different speeds as the situation suits it on a single drive. Like here, he identifies a switch he wants (Vit Krejci), gets it, then plays half-speed pick and roll to get Krejci on his back. He feels the contact, throws up the floater, gets the and-one.

Or this play: Sloooowwww... fast two big steps! Hesitation... fast!

That’s high-level NBA guard play. To be sure, Atlanta’s a tire fire defensively with “rim protectors” who are washed (Clint Capela) or were never good to begin with (Bruno Fernando). It will be harder against better defenses. But the process here is still quite good.

Hardy offhandedly gave George a compliment I hadn’t heard from him before: “Keyonte (has) the opportunity to become a real star in this league.” I asked him about how nights like tonight help him with that goal.

“There’s a lot of pressure when you’re the No. 1 guy. Like, you’re driving to the gym and you’re thinking ‘If I don’t play well, we won’t win.’ Role players don’t always necessarily have that burden in their brain before a game and so these opportunities for Keyonte to be the quote-unquote No. 1 guy for us are imperative for his development.” Imperative!

These end-of-season games can be goofy, with players putting up big box score lines that don’t necessarily carry over to the following season. Talen Horton-Tucker had a 40-point near-triple double near the end of last season, for example. George, though, is a rookie with more development oomph behind his progress.

2. Johnny Juzang and Micah Potter

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Micah Potter (25) celebrates a three-point shot agains the Atlanta Hawks during an NBA basketball game Friday, March 15, 2024, in Salt Lake City.

The first man off the bench for the Jazz in the first half was Micah Potter. The first man off the bench in the second half was Johnny Juzang. That is probably not what Jazz fans expected at any point this season.

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