The Triple Team: What do Keyonte George’s turnovers say about his future?

Utah Jazz guard Keyonte George (3) drives against Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, top, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Thursday, March 21, 2024. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 113-97 loss to the Dallas Mavericks from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz, Markkanen miss threes

Weirdly enough, it is possible to win a game when you shoot 4-30 from three. In fact, it’s been done three times.

But most of the time, you’re going to lose. That’s been done 24 times in NBA history. Especially in the modern era, with teams quite dependent on the 3-point ball for scoring, missing that many threes also means you’re probably going to have problems scoring overall. And so while the Jazz scored quite well from midrange and the rim, it wasn’t enough to crack 100.

What surprised me was the level of disappointment I found online about Lauri Markkanen’s shooting night. To be sure, it was not a good one: 1-9 from deep. You would hope for better.

But even that performance dropped Markkanen’s percentage this season from being a 39.9% shooter from deep to a 39.2% shooter from deep. Coincidentally, that’s also exactly the same percentage he shot last year.

I wondered if there was any real difference in Markkanen’s 3-point shot profile this year, but the answer is “not really.” He’s had an ever so slight uptick in the number of shots he takes while a defender is within four feet, and a slight uptick in the number of shots he takes late in the shot clock — but neither difference is large enough to be significant. By and large, he’s taking the same shots as last year, and making the same amount of them.

That’s actually true pretty much across the board with Markkanen’s season. There are slight differences from last year, but they’re generally small percentage points. He’s probably been a slightly better passer this year, and a slightly worse 2-point finisher. More likely, defenses are just guarding him differently. But the value he provides is nearly identical either way — when healthy, he’s been one of the NBA’s top 30 players this year.

Unfortunately, that’s not enough to win games, especially when he has an off-night.

2. What Keyonte George’s turnovers say about his future

Keyonte George had six turnovers tonight. Watching the video, he should probably have only had five — I thought one of his should have been credited to Markkanen instead. But still, five turnovers next to five assists for tonight’s game isn’t a great 1:1 A:TO ratio.

In general, George has the 7th-highest turnover rate among point guards this season in the NBA. The top six? Scoot Henderson, Kyle Lowry, Andrew Nembhard, James Harden, Darius Garland, and Trae Young.

Clearly, the player most similar to George is Henderson — both are rookie point guards who have been asked to take on leader-of-the-team type duties for struggling groups. That George has been a rich-man’s version of Scoot this season (one with a more efficient scoring game) wouldn’t have been on most folks’ prediction list for the 2023-24 season, but here we are, and it’s a huge credit to George.

We should note that, while turnovers are bad, this is not necessarily a red flag for George’s future. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton has done the research: “In the long term, there is some evidence that high-turnover players develop more, presumably because they’re trying to make plays and eventually those mistakes will become successes.”

You end up getting an interesting list of players if you sort high-turnover rookie point guards who assisted at rates similar to George. The best place to be in this list seems to be in the middle. On one hand, there are some busts at the tippy-top where the turnovers were too much: Mateen Cleaves, Emmanuel Mudiay, Marcus Banks, Jonny Flynn. All are yikes. At the bottom? Trey Burke, Davion Mitchell, Bones Hyland, Brandon Jennings.

But in that Goldilocks zone? There’s a really solid crew of All-Stars: Steph Curry, De’Aaron Fox, D’Angelo Russell, Damian Lillard, Deron Williams — and that’s where George lies.

To be sure, it’s not a guarantee of success or anything. The turnover middle features Roko Ukic and Beno Udrih and D.J. Augustin, all washouts. But George is in a good spot: trying a lot of new stuff, making some mistakes, but remaining relatively productive despite them.

3. NCAA vs. G-League development

Speaking of player development... on paper, the G-League Ignite system should be a better development factory for 18-year-old basketball talent than the NCAA.

In the pros, players can focus on basketball. They have pro-level coaches, and other professional teammates. They can play NBA-style basketball against former NBA players. It seems great.

And in practice... it’s kind of been a disaster. The NBA announced Thursday that they’re shutting down the G-League Ignite program, which paid out-of-high-school-but-not-yet-eligible-to-be-drafted players to play in the G-League.

It’s where Scoot Henderson, Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Jaden Hardy, and five other NBA players started their careers before being drafted by the NBA. Frankly, if there’s one common thread between the majority of the G-League Ignite prospects, its that they were still exposed pretty quickly when they actually entered the league. The hoped-for development in the G-League simply didn’t come in a lot of cases.

This year, the Ignite are 6-40. Ron Holland and Matas Buzelis, among other top-10 prospects, have simply looked okay at best. Both are probably also going to need much more seasoning before they help whatever NBA team drafts them.

The elimination of the Ignite means that more of these top prospects will play at least one season in college basketball. Since NIL rules have changed, these players will actually be able to make money — which wasn’t the case when the G-League Ignite were founded.

I also wonder if they’ll actually end up developing better, too. I spent my day Thursday at the Delta Center, watching four NCAA Tournament games. (It’s why the Triple Team email was sent in the morning, rather than at night postgame.) While the basketball itself isn’t of the highest quality, the environment was spectacular.

Maybe there’s something about those moments of pressure caused by the greater degree of scrutiny at the college level that leads to better player development. Maybe the year of college attendance does help in some way, even on the court. (It’s also just possible that the Ignite failed for reasons non-systemic and instead particular to its management, which was not super well-regarded.)

But regardless, I am glad that we’ll see more of these top prospects in college basketball moving forward. That means more exposure for us fans, more chances to see them, and more chances for them to play one another. Even if they’re just one-and-dones, that year matters, and I’m looking forward to watching up-and-coming talent experience it, especially at great environments like that we saw on the tournament’s opening day.

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