The Triple Team: With 82 games in the books, what do the stats say about the Utah Jazz’s players?

The season ends with a loss at Golden State.

Utah Jazz forward Brice Sensabaugh (8) shoots against Golden State Warriors forward Gui Santos (15) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in San Francisco, Sunday, April 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 123-116 loss to the Golden State Warriors from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Weird final day incentives

The NBA can seemingly never be straightforward.

You would hope that the final day of the season would include teams really trying to win games — especially those fighting for playoff positioning. And instead, of the 15 games today, 10 were blowouts. And of the five close games, four of them involved one or both teams who didn’t really care if they won. Around the league, all sorts of teams were trying to lose for one reason or another.

That included the Golden State Warriors, who chose to rest Steph Curry and Draymond Green this afternoon. That was a bit of a surprise: there was a small chance at moving up to the eight seed for the Warriors, which would bring them a much higher degree of safety in the Play-In Tournament. And there were pretty good odds that they could have moved into ninth, had the Lakers or Kings lost.

But, Steve Kerr and staff decided “nah, it doesn’t really matter if we’re the ninth or 10th seed,” despite that distinction deciding home court in a single win-or-go-home game this week. They decided rest for Curry and Green was more important than home-court advantage for that game, and they’re probably right.

Meanwhile, the Jazz are clearly playing out the string, but with one caveat: had they won this game, they would no longer have sole control over the eighth draft slot going into the lottery, but would share that “honor” with the Brooklyn Nets. Then, a coin flip would decide who was eighth and ninth; the Jazz would also lose a couple of percentage points of lottery chances as a result.

That meant Will Hardy had to stop playing Keyonte George, who scored 21 points in his 20 minutes in this game. The Jazz were a +13 when George played — his first positive plus-minus since February — so instead they went to Kira Lewis Jr. down the stretch.

It’s all just goofy, and difficult for fans. Sports are built on the premise that teams are trying to win: it’s why leagues are so harsh on players who bet. But when coaches and front offices are doing the same, putting losing ahead of winning, it’s allowed. I truly don’t know what to do about it, but it is just a huge bummer.

2. Rookies getting in better shape

So ends 82 games of NBA basketball. For rookies, it’s a huge adjustment from the 30-40 games they might have played in college, and this leads to the “rookie wall” you hear so much about.

But Will Hardy brought up a great point in the postgame press conference: “If we’re where we want to be, however you feel right now physically, mentally, and emotionally, we would like to be preparing to go play our best basketball of the season right now. We’d be taking a few days off, do our playoff prep, and then it’s go time. So you have to prepare your body in a way where you can endure not only an 82-game season, but endure those games and then be ready to play in the playoffs.”

George has been transparent in his desire to get in better shape. The key experience that pushed him here: chasing around Steph Curry defensively in an earlier game this season, and realizing that he couldn’t do that and play offense to the standard he wanted. He also felt that his inconsistency at times this season came down the fatigue he felt.

For Hendricks, I’m not sure he’s looked tired on the court — but he just simply doesn’t do enough on the court. Getting in better shape for him might allow him to be more involved, especially defensively: making more efforts on rotations, more risks taken for loose balls, more efforts in crashing the glass. As of now, he only makes those plays some of the time, simply not good enough.

And for Brice Sensabaugh... well, he’s a bit pudgy right now in a way that limits his ability to change direction, especially defensively. I actually like his size, but I think turning some of the body fat into functional muscle would really help the control in his game, while making him just a bit more athletic when it matters most.

How they come back to play in the summer league and in next year’s training camp will reveal a lot about their NBA work ethic, I think. If they look different in a few months or half a year, it could be very indicative that they’re willing to put the work in to be good NBA players.

3. Statistical season in review

Now that we have 82 games in the books, we know exactly how the Jazz’s players finished statistically. What can we learn, and what might have surprised us?

• The biggest disappointment was Walker Kessler’s second year, in which he simply took a huge step back in major statistical categories. He was less efficient than last year, rebounded less, and turned the ball over more. The free throw percentage improved, at least? But overall, it was a fairly disastrous campaign that turned him from a big building block of the Jazz moving forward to a nice-to-have role player with an upside shot if he can put the year behind him.

• I worry about the inefficiency of Jordan Clarkson and Keyonte George — the former more than the latter due to age. But Clarkson and George had the second and third lowest eFG% in the entire NBA among players playing qualified minutes; only Scoot Henderson was lower. Hardy said Clarkson needed to focus on his playmaking this summer, and I think George needs to do the same.

• On the plus side, Collin Sexton’s playmaking did improve significantly this season, and it turned him from a iffy piece to the Jazz’s second-best player. I don’t see any reason why that playmaking jump shouldn’t persist. The Jazz weren’t playing him much at outright point guard this year, and there was a noticeable and frequently-discussed change in approach from Sexton himself that led to it.

• John Collins officially re-established himself as a capable 3-point shooter this season, which is great.

• The Jazz had a whopping 15 players who contributed less than one win this season, according to the Estimated Wins metric. This is just by-and-large a very replaceable roster. The Jazz shouldn’t feel bad about making wholesale changes as a result.

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