Will Hardy sounds off on Jazz after loss to Wolves — “I don’t care about your individual stats”

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 119-100 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Will Hardy went off on the Jazz’s effort tonight

Will Hardy wasn’t happy with the Jazz tonight. Not only did they lose, but they played the wrong way.

“There’s 30 possessions you could point out where there’s multiple people open and we’re just forcing it. We’ve got to get back to the understanding of who we’re playing, understanding how they want to guard, applying what happens in the film room and on the practice court and applying it to the game,” Hardy said — but he wasn’t done.

“Stats don’t mean shit. I don’t care about your individual stats. I don’t care how many points you score. I don’t care what you post on Instagram. It doesn’t matter. It’s a team sport, play to win. And we have to nip this in the bud now because — I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again — there will not be free minutes in this program. So you’re either gonna start learning and you’re going to start playing the right way and you’re gonna start participating with your teammates, or you’re not gonna play.”

Listen, I wholeheartedly agree with Hardy’s assessment here. Collin Sexton had 10 assists. Jason Preston had five. Everyone else, I thought, looked for their own scoring over their teammates’. Keyonte George, Brice Sensabaugh, Taylor Hendricks, Johnny Juzang, even Kris Dunn (!) I felt looked for their points first.

Hardy’s frustration wasn’t just the passing, though. It was the Jazz’s poor focus, and their seeming unwillingness to apply the scouting report. In this arena, he’s most worried about the rookies, and understandably so: they’re the future of the program. When he was asked why he pulled George at the end of the game, Hardy said this:

“It was a lack of execution coming out of a timeout. I hold Keyonte to a high standard. If he’s going to be the future of this program, which is something that I think he’s capable of being, he has to hold himself to that standard as well.”

The truth is that Hardy’s in a nearly impossible position here. Full stop, the team’s front office isn’t trying to win: that’s why Lauri Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson, and John Collins didn’t play today. With Collins, they didn’t even make up an excuse, they just called it “rest.” In the environment where you’re resting guys, I completely understand why players would turn off their focus on the gameplan.

But there are also 15 games left, and it’s Hardy’s job to get the most development out of them — which doesn’t happen much in an environment where they don’t care about winning.

So he’s left to demand more from his team. We’ll see if they bring it.

2. Making the early pass

I do want to zoom in on the passing issue, though, because it is a big one. It’s an ecosystem thing. Watch the best teams in the NBA and how frequently they move the ball. A defender takes one step towards helping, and the ballhandler will find the open man. When the Jazz are at their worst, they can sometimes wait two full seconds too long to pass while they fully explore their own scoring options before making the pass, and then it’s too late.

This sequence is the perfect example. Kris Dunn, who is considered one of the leaders and mentors on this team, honestly just sort of ignores Brice Sensabaugh here who is wide open here so he can take this very contested midrange.

One minute later, there’s payback. Dunn’s open in the corner while Sensabaugh drives, then gets swatted.

Did Sensabaugh have a path to the rim? For sure. In college basketball, Sensabaugh gets a dunk here, or is at least fouled. But in the NBA, you have to make the early pass — as soon as a help defender takes a step towards you, there’s open space elsewhere.

Now, in general, I think the Jazz actually have been pretty good at sharing the ball this year — it’s why their statistical shot quality is so good. But when they’re bad (think of the early Talen days, for example), it gets really rough to watch, and we saw slippage towards that in this game.

3. Why Collin Sexton didn’t start

Collin Sexton didn’t start tonight, and the Collin Sexton fans were very mad. (For the uninitiated, Sexton has a pretty loud online fanbase of fans who support him from his time in either Alabama or Cleveland. Frankly, I get it: Sexton’s one of the easiest players to root for in the league.)

They asked me to ask Hardy about the choice to start Dunn instead, and I actually do take reader requests of questions. Feel free to email me or hit me up on Twitter if you have something you’d like to ask. No guarantees I’ll ask your question, but I do think it’s generally my job to get Jazz information to Jazz fans, and sometimes you guys can give me a good angle.

Here’s what he said:

“I thought we wanted to have Kris as the primary defender on Anthony Edwards to start the game,” Hardy said.

That makes a lot of sense!

Hardy continued. “I also felt like you know, with Jordan out with a bunch of guys out it was a good opportunity to mix up the rotation and get Collin in that bench role. We knew we were still aiming to get him a ton of minutes, similar to how we use Jordan, but I felt like it was an opportunity to give us some balance. And to have Collin on the court is kind of somebody we could play through a little bit with the second unit. I thought Collin responded well, he understood the reasoning, and ultimately, he played pretty well.”

It’s true that you can still play players a lot of minutes coming off the bench; Sexton played 30. But it is also true that you can start a player and still play them with the second unit — most teams with two star guards do exactly that. The key is just subbing one out early to run the show.

That being said, I also don’t think there’s a whole lot of difference to me or the Jazz whether Sexton plays 26 minutes or 34 minutes right now. He’s a really good player, probably the Jazz’s second-best this year, but it’s not a situation where you feel like he needs to gain reps with the Jazz’s starting lineup or anything.

In other words, this is fine.

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