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Observations from Utah’s first outing

Utah struggled in their first outing and while one game doesn’t a season spell, we dig into observations of what went wrong and what went right

Sacramento Kings v Utah Jazz
Jordan Clarkson faces two defenders en route to the cup
Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Boy, it was good to have Utah Jazz basketball back in our lives.

Though the 116-130 loss to the Sacramento Kings was a rough way to kick things off, it’s great to have the sights, sounds, discussions, and emotions flowing through Jazz nation once again.

Knee-jerk reactions come with the territory, but one game doesn’t not a season indicate. Let’s dig into some observations from the Jazz first night of their 50th season and muse over the signs and patterns we can look for in the upcoming games.

Dreadful defense

During the first half of play, Utah allowed Sacramento to score 138.5 points per possession, good for the 100%tile per Cleaning The Glass. The Kings eventually cooled off to a plenty hot shooting 121.9 (91%tile).

The Kings had a fine efficiency night, but the Jazz shot themselves in the foot by allowing a volume advantage to become a feature of the night.

Sacramento took 11 more shots and ended with just 1 fewer offensive board and committed 3 fewer turnovers. That’s a recipe for a blowout and that’s exactly how it turned out.

The Jazz were undisciplined on the guard line in rotations and allowed mistakes to pile up, turning into easy attempts for the Kings. At one point, with Harrison Barnes sizzling with 24 points in the first half, the guards rotated away from him facilitating a wide open 3 from the left corner. He cashed it.

Lots of work to button up habits and get more focused.

Jazz flunked their math test

A staple of the Quin Snyder era with Gobert and Mitchell was gaining a math advantage. They regularly took the best shots and forced opponents into the worst shots. Their flaw was not having a backstop of volume when efficiency was down.

Last night, Utah couldn’t even hang their hat on smart shots. 60% of the Jazz’s shots came from 3 or at the rim. Now compare that to Sacramento’s 71%. A perfect example was a 3rd quarter, contested floater by Clarkson amid three defenders which missed and was immediately followed by a wide-open, swished transition 3 from De’Aaron Fox.

In their defense, the Jazz attempted more free throws and got more points in transition, though likely those results are a function of poor process initially (aka not able to score in the half-court and allowing too many 3’s).

This was equally problematic on defense as offense and a more difficult area to address (since it’s a natural function of one’s system and philosophy).

Kessler looked out of sorts

Walker Kessler averaged 27.6 minutes per game as a starter last season but finished with just 22 minutes last night. And while he averaged 14.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game in 4 games against the Kings, he ended the night with a paltry 8, 8, and 0 respectively.

The inflection point appears to have been an early entanglement with Domantas Samonis wherein Kessler’s left arm was hyperextended. Following the event, he visibly grimaced and shoot his arm. It remains to be seen to what extent the ailment will continue.

Regardless, Kessler was a huge part of what the team did on both ends last year. In lineups featuring Walker and games where Conley did not play, the Jazz were a +1.8 in 853 minutes. Tonight, a Utah was outscored by 14 with Kessler on the floor. His impact cannot be understated.

Keyonte looked GOOD

In his rookie debut, Keyonte played really well in nearly 19 minutes of play. A modest stat line of 8 pts, 2 reb, 2 ast, and 1 tov on 5 shots (74% true shooting). He rarely forced situations and maintained a good balance of getting the team involved and capitalizing on advantages that present themselves.

His play were without areas of improvement, but you likely couldn’t have asked for a better debut and should inspire Hardy to continue with bench level minutes. Even beat reporters like Tony Jones of The Athletic were encouraged by his play.

The Kings are really good

You might be thinking this is a bad thing, but in reality, that loss says a lot more about Sacramento than Utah...and it’s that the Kings are really good.

Utah famously overturned a lot of their roster at the trade deadline and the upended much of it again by trading for John Collins over the summer and drafting 3 first-round rookies. Sacramento, meanwhile, made relatively few moves on the fringes to bolster an already cohesive group that pushed the previous defending champ Golden State Warriors to 7 games.

They look even better this year. Sabonis’ healing hand, Murray’s sharp shooting, the guard’s activity on the perimeter, and the collective swagger of the team is a tier above what we saw last year.

The Jazz, on the other hand, played from behind and struggled to sustain runs, symptoms of a group still figuring things out and, honestly, requiring some talent upgrades. We’ll see how those initiatives shake out but for now, the Kings are really good and the Jazz kept it respectable for the most part.