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Keyonte starting is a great step in addressing Utah’s woes

The Jazz have a serious turnover problem, but took a great step in the right direction last night by starting Keyonte George. Let’s dig into why!

Utah Jazz v Denver Nuggets
Keyonte George handles the ball against the Denver Nuggets, showing his aptitude for the lead guard position.
Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images

The Utah Jazz have a real problem on their hands...turnovers.

It was probably inevitable. Mix in a dash of young players and a host of shoot first guards, you’ve got a recipe for brutal nights. The Jazz are a league-worst 30th in TOV% at 17.8. Even in “live ball” turnovers, the most costly of the lot, the Jazz continue to rank last.

Were it to continue all season (a faulty assumption, though it gives helpful context), it’d be the worst season mark in franchise history.

It’s a tough situation. Turnovers, by nature, terminate an opportunity to score yourself and grant the opposing team a new opportunity. In “live ball” turnover scenarios, these opportunities are often high efficiency plays in transition.

The Jazz, however, took a great step in the right direction last night by starting Keyonte George. Let’s dig into why:

Keyonte isn’t gunning for shots

George’s reputation out of the draft was for his scoring prowess. He put on brilliant showings in college, scoring buckets at all three levels and in a variety of situations. His usage was a big draw, indicating his potential as an elite guard at the next level.

For most players, handling the ball a lot naturally leads to more turnovers. For rookie guards, that phenomenon is often compounded.

Keyonte, however, is generally bucking the trend. He ranks 118 of 176 rookie guards since 2018-19 in FGA/36 minutes (50+ minutes in their first 9 games).

He isn’t forcing things, getting out of his comfort zone, or losing the forest through the trees. In fact, he’s taking the approach of a legitimate point guard. Working the ball around, reading the defense, reacting the the good and bad of the game, etc.

Take last night for example. Despite starting and playing 31 minutes (a career high), he took just eight (8) shots. With players like Clarkson and Markkanen on the floor, his willingness to give up the ball shows a maturity beyond his NBA years.

It may seem like a little thing, but Keyonte NOT shooting a ton (which we know he could do in spades) is instilling more confidence that he’s the man at the helm for the future.

Keyonte is avoiding big mistakes

Mistakes happen for young players. It’s inevitable and even the best of the best felt growing pains, no matter how incredible they were otherwise. Keyonte has committed his fair share but is largely avoid the big ones, especially as a distributor.

Keyonte also ranks 18 of 176 rookie guards since 2018-19 in AST/36 (50+ min in their first 9 games). Restricting that list to guards with 10+ assists, he’s 38 of 97 in AST:TOV ratio.

Take last night, for example. In his 31 minutes, he logged 9 assists and recorded only a single turnover. His comfortability at the position is generating serious momentum for his role on the team.

Mistakes are an instant out for coaches to pull young players and reduce their minutes. Keyonte’s progression to more minutes and an advanced role in the team is an indicator, like Jazz beat writer Tony Jones of the Athletic points out, that Will Hardy has every reason to start Keyonte going forward.

Good team indicators

When the Utah Jazz see George on the court with four other regular rotation members, there are good indicators relative to situations where he is off the court.

With Keyonte, the Jazz see 3 fewer “live ball turnovers” per 100 poss than otherwise. However, when Keyonte is off the floor, the team sees 0.8 assists per 100 poss fewer. Those gaps will only widen as George continues to start and the ball is featured in his hands more often.

It doesn’t stop there. Without George, regular rotation lineups generate 69.2% of their shots at the rim or from the 3P line (aka the most efficient shots). With George on the court, the team gets 74.6% of their shots from smart areas of the court.

Results are mixed (we’re only 9 games in and the team has largely been bad), but good indicators are starting to pop up suggesting Keyonte is part of the answer.

He’ll get another fantastic opportunity to lead the Jazz against the Memphis Grizzlies Friday night, Utah’s first ever In-Season Tournament group-play game.