Jazz Show Room For Growth In Preseason Opener

Oct 2, 2022, 7:13 PM | Updated: 7:15 pm
Utah Jazz guard Collin Sexton (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz showed plenty of room for growth in their preseason opener, falling to the Toronto Raptors 114-82.

Lauri Markkanen led all scorers with 20 points, but the Jazz crumbled on both sides of the floor in a difficult second half.

Here are the key takeaways from the Jazz preseason-opening loss to the Raptors.

Markkanen’s Skill Level Is Through The Roof

He’s only had one preseason game, 23 minutes to be exact, but Lauri Markkanen’s skill level is the best of any 7-footer in Jazz history.

Markkanen got the Jazz on the board to open the game with a fadeaway mid-range jumper, then showed off an impressive display of three-point shooting, finishes in transition, cuts to the basket, and conatstency as the free-throw line.

The Finnish forward scored 20 points on 7-12 shooting including 2-6 from the three-point line and 4-4 from the free throw line. He also added five rebounds in his debut.

Markkanen put the ball on the floor against bigger Toronto defenders, backed down smaller defenders, and rarely looked sped up in his first game with the Jazz on the offensive side of the ball.

Defensively, Markkenen wasn’t much of a deterrent to the Raptors’ defense and didn’t receive much help from fellow starter Kelly Olynyk. However, his offense and fast chemistry with guard Mike Conley was apparent from the get-go and should be a reliable tool for the Jazz this season.

Walker Kessler Was Jazz Best Rookie

Walker Kessler was the only Jazz rookie to get real rotational minutes in the preseason opener against the Raptors and was impressive when he was on the floor.

The 22nd overall selection in June’s NBA Draft scored 11 points in his debut on 5-7 shooting to go with four rebounds in 13 minutes on the floor.

Kessler may be getting minutes only because Udoka Azubuike is still rehabbing from an ankle injury last season, but he made the most of his opportunity.

The Auburn product showed off his impressive hands on his first NBA basket slipping a screen in the pick and roll and finishing over two Raptors defenders while drawing a foul.

He also spaced the floor well from the dunker spot and flashed his basketball smarts back cutting against the Raptors’ inexperienced defense.

Ochaci Agbaji and Simone Fontecchio should also get opportunities to play as rookies for the Jazz, but for now, Kessler looks the most NBA-ready of the three.

Sexton Comes Off Bench

In a surpri,sing move Will Hardy brought CollioffSexton of the bench in his Jazz debut. With veteran Mike Conley starting at point guard perhaps Hardy preferred to go with the bigger Malik Beasley at shooting guard, but it didn’t pay off.

Beasley shot just 2-12 in the preseason opener while Sexton scored 11 points on 4-7 shooting.

Sexton brings a defensive intensity that the Jazz have lacked on the perimeter over the last several years and his 3-4 shooting from the three-point line was promising in 18 minutes on the floor.

After signing a four-year, $71 million contract with the Jazz in the Donovan Mitchell trade, there’s very little likelihood that Sexton continues to come off the bench. But the dilemma of how to play him in the preseason is a direct result of the presence of both Conley and Jordan Clarkson on the roster.

Conley and Sexton would make one of the smallest starting backcourts in the NBA, while Sexton and Clarkson share overlapping offensive skillsets. Hardy opted to go with size to open the game, allowing Sexton and Clarkson to spearhead a bench unit that also featured Kessler, Rudy Gay, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, but neither unit looked particularly strong.

Expect the Jazz rotation to fluctuate considerably throughout the preseason, including Harden creating opportunities for Sexton to start.

As Is, Jazz Will Lose Plenty Of Games

There was growing concern through the offseason that the Jazz might be too talented to truly tank this season. After all, the Jazz have eight players on the roster with at least four years of NBA experience, each of whom have proven they belong in the league.

If winning too many games was a concern, however, there are likely some fans breathing a sigh of relief after watching the team’s second-half implosion.

Yes, the Jazz have obvious talent on the roster, but the lack of chemistry, defensive rebounding, and offensive threats are going to make wins hard to come by.

Mix in the number of young players Hardy could put on the floor throughout the year for development, and the Jazz should easily fall short of 30 victories this season.

The Jazz are back at it in preseason action on Tuesday against the Portland Trail Blazers. The game tips off at 8 pm MT and can be heard on The KSL Sports Zone.

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