Butler, Kessler Impress In Jazz Loss To Spurs

Oct 11, 2022, 10:44 PM
Utah Jazz guard Jared Butler (Credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)
(Credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz fell to the San Antonio Spurs 111-104, dropping their preseason home opener, but got promising play from Jared Butler and Walker Kessler in the fourth quarter.

Lauri Markkanen scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while six Jazz players in total finished in double-figures scoring.

Devin Vassell led all scorers with 24 points as the Jazz fell to 1-2 in preseason play.

Fourth Quarter Positives From Butler, Kessler

While the first three quarters of the basketball were largely unwatchable, spoiled by a lack of passing on offense and clear lanes to the hoop on defense, the fourth quarter offered plenty of excitement for Jazz fans.

First, Jared Butler’s ability to run the show as a point guard is rapidly evolving as the second-year guard finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, and six assists in 26 minutes.

Butler’s first two preseason games were a struggle, and coming off a rough performance in summer league, there was at least some wonder if the Baylor product was fighting for a roster spot.

However, after a strong performance at Saturday’s open scrimmage, followed up with Tuesday’s showing and he looks like one of the more promising young pieces on the roster.

Coming out of college, Butler looked like a borderline lottery pick, but concerns about his long-term physical health dropped him out of the first round. Then, under Quin Snyder, Butler rarely saw the floor for sustained minutes as a rookie.

“I didn’t get a lot of opportunity to play long stints,” Butler said, “so it’s kind of hard to say what exactly they needed from me at different times.”

Against San Antonio Butler clearly found a groove, and will need to continue to build off that as the team prepares for the regular season.

The second positive is the sustained promise of rookie Walker Kessler.

Though he struggled through the first three quarters recording just three points, three rebounds, and five fouls, the Auburn product was impressive in the fourth quarter.

Kessler finished with 12 points and seven rebounds and avoided fouling out while playing all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter and helping the Jazz to cut the Spurs lead to just six in the final minutes.

The rookie big man knocked down 5-6 shots from the field and added three blocks as the Jazz outscored San Antonio by 11 in his 24 minutes on the floor.

Had the Jazz traded Rudy Gobert before the draft and owned the 22nd pick heading into the draft, I don’t know if they would have selected Kessler on their own. But, he’s already proven he’s going to have a future in the NBA, and that’s no guarantee for every rookie.

Finally, Talen Horton-Tucker had his best outing with the Jazz and showed why the Los Angeles Lakers were willing to give him an eight-figure yearly salary.

The big-bodied wing didn’t have the most impressive stat line of the night, finishing with 10 points, one rebound, and two assists, but his presence was felt on the floor.

“Talen has an elite level of physicality,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said. “Just his frame alone — he has really long arms, he’s very strong, has a low center of gravity — and he dug in in the fourth quarter on defense and I actually ended up sparking him on the offensive end.”

Horton-Tucker can get lost in the shuffle of the Jazz shoot-first guards, but as Hardy mentioned, his length and strength are unique even at the NBA level. There’s plenty of room for growth in the fourth-year veteran’s game, but at just 21 years old, he has time to develop.

Popovich Praises Will Hardy

Gregg Hardy was not shy in his praise for new Jazz head coach Will Hardy during pregame. The usually stone-faced coach raved about facing Hardy for the first time after giving the Jazz coach his first start in the NBA.

Popovich has the most prestigious coaching tree in the NBA currently, with five active head coaches having served on the Spurs bench before getting lead jobs of their own.

“It’s probably the biggest thrill I have if I’m telling the truth to see these guys and their families move on and progress,” Popovich admitted.

Hardy, 34, began his coaching career with the Spurs as a video assistant under the tutelage of then-soon-to-be Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown.

After several seasons in the Spurs video room, Hardy was promoted up Popovich’s bench as Brown, Mike Budenholzer, Ettore Messina, James Borrego, Jacque Vaughn, and Ime Udoka earned head coaching jobs elsewhere, a testament to the regard in which San Antonio assists are held.

“Very quickly he became the top guy in the film room and then I had him on the court in development,” Popovich recalled. “Then I had him on the bench because he knows how to teach and he has a knack for creating respect quickly with players.”

Beyond his coach acumen, Popovich praised Hardy as a person.

“Top of it all he’s got a really good sense of humor,” Popovich said. “He likes to smile and joke and he would drink wine with me.”

Zach Lowe Might Be Right

ESPN NBA analyst Zach Lowe released his annual league pass rankings on Tuesday, ranking all 30 teams from most watchable to least watchable.

Unfortunately for the Jazz, Lowe ranked the new-look Utah roster as the worst team to tune into this season.

The Jazz aren’t really a basketball team after detonating the Donovan MitchellRudy Gobert-Quin Snyder-Making-Amazing-Faces era,” Lowe wrote. “They are an airport waiting area for players.”

Perhaps more unfortunate, he may be right.

Through three preseason games, the Jazz have played three halves of solid basketball (first half against Toronto, and the entirety of the Trail Blazers win) and three halves of mostly me-first offense and disconnected defense.

The Jazz aren’t designed to be good. The goal for the team this season is to find which of the 15 players on the final roster are worth investing in long term, while also losing games to better their odds of landing a top pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

Even if they are losing games, ideally the team can produce enough excitement to move them up Lowe’s league pass rankings by year’s end. The loss to the Spurs wasn’t a great start, though the fourth quarter offered a glimmer of hope.

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Butler, Kessler Impress In Jazz Loss To Spurs