UTAH JAZZ

Fontecchio Shines, George Struggles In Jazz Loss To Timberwolves

Nov 30, 2023, 9:38 PM | Updated: Dec 4, 2023, 10:09 am

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz fell to 1-9 on the road after a 101-90 loss to the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Timberwolves.

Simone Fontecchio led the Jazz with 16 points while Karl-Anthony Towns was the game’s leading scorer with 32 points for Minnesota.

Both teams were shorthanded as the Jazz were without Lauri Markkanen and Jordan Clarkson, and the Timberwolves were playing without Anthony Edwards.

Simone Fontecchio Is An NBA Rotation Player

After a bumpy first season in Utah, Fontecchio has developed into a steady option for the Jazz, and looks like a quality rotation player at the NBA level.

At times last season Fontecchio appeared to struggle playing off the ball, rather than in a featured role like the one he got while representing the Italian National Team in FIBA play.

Since finding himself in the starting lineup over the last week, the second-year wing has performed at a high level on both ends of the floor.

In his last four games, Fontecchio is averaging 13 points, four rebounds, and 2.7 assists, and has displayed a willingness to compete on the defensive side of the ball.

 

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The Italian sharpshooter signed a two-year deal with the Jazz in the summer of 2022, and after his rookie year, it appeared unclear if he’d get a second chance in the NBA after his first contract expired.

But having connected on 40 percent of his threes this season while showing an improved understanding of what is expected from him each night, not only does Fontecchio seem like a good option for the Jazz beyond this season, they may have to fight off other suitors this offseason to keep in him Utah.

There haven’t been a lot of positives so far this season for the Jazz, but Fontecchio is making a case as one of the better surprises.

Keyonte George’s Tough Night

Keyonte George had arguably the toughest night of his young NBA career, and not just because of the ugly box score at the end of the game.

The Jazz rookie shot 4-19 from the floor against the Timberwolves, marking a new career-high in field goals attempted, and field goals missed.

And, after averaging 7.6 assists during his first seven starts of the season, that number has dipped to 3.5 per game over his last four games with Lauri Markkanen out of the lineup, including his four assist performance against Minnesota.

Beyond his less-than-flattering stat line, the game just isn’t coming easily to George, and some of that is due to his own mistakes, while some of the blame belongs to his teammates.

George’s biggest issue at the moment is his inability to score in the short midrange where he was shooting just 35 percent entering the night, despite nearly a quarter of his shots coming from that distance.

Whether it’s inexperience, size, or strength, George struggles to generate easy looks in the midrange, often attempting off-balanced runners over significantly larger defenders that rarely go in.

He completed a few difficult finishes in the first half over Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota, but had almost no success in the third and fourth quarter.

Until he figures out exactly which shots he’s comfortable taking, and which shots he can make a higher rate, his percentages will continue to struggle.

But that isn’t the only problem.

While George has struggled to generate easy looks for himself, his teammates seem to be doing little to make his life easier on the offensive end, especially at the three-point line.

So far this season only 63 percent of George’s three-point makes come off assists from teammates. That is second-lowest on the team, ahead of only Jordan Clarkson who is assisted on 58 percent of his three-point makes.

By comparison, every made three from Ochai Agbaji, John Collins, Simone Fontecchio, Kelly Olynyk, and Kris Dunn this season have been assisted. Over 90 percent of threes made by Lauri Markkanen and Collin Sexton have been assisted, while 85 percent of Talen Horton-Tucker’s threes are helped by an assist.

That means a high percentage of George’s three-point makes have to be created off the dribble, despite the three being arguably his most dangerous scoring tool.

Ultimately, George is responsible for his own shooting percentages, and knowing which shots to take, and simply making more of them will be the easiest way fo him to improve his efficiency. But he could stand to get a little help from his teammates finding him in better positions to score where he has been effective.

Nightly Awards: Jazz vs. Timberwolves

The “Maybe That Will Get Him Going” Award: 

Goes to Talen Horton-Tucker who started the game shooting 0-4 through the first three quarters, but went a perfect 3-3 in the fourth to finish the game with seven points on 3-7 shooting.

Horton-Tucker was just 8-43 shooting over his last 23 quarters prior to his breakout fourth, and with injuries to both Markkanen and Clarkson, the Jazz need the guard to add a scoring punch off the bench.

The “Trust The Talent, Not Body Language” Award: 

Goes to the entire Timberwolves organization who have hit two home runs by picking up Jaden McDaniels and Naz Reid on draft night despite concerns over their engagement level in college.

McDaniels, who didn’t play against the Jazz, was the 13th-rated recruit in the country, but often looked disinterested during his lone season at Washington, and was picked by the Timberwolves with the 28th selection in the 2020 NBA draft.

Reid was the 22nd-ranked recruit in the country but was out of shape during his one season at LSU before going undrafted and signing a two-way deal with Minnesota in 2019.

McDaniels has turned into one of the premiere perimeter defenders in the NBA, while Reid has developed into a versatile option in the Wolves frontcourt off the bench.

Care factor certainly matters in the NBA, but a player’s disinterest in college and the distractions that come with it may not always be a great predictor of a player’s success at the next level.

Utah Jazz Next Game

The Jazz will face the Trail Blazers on Saturday at 7:30 pm MST in Salt Lake City. The game will be televised on KJZZ, streamed on Jazz+, and can be heard on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone.

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Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter at @BensHoops or on Instagram @BensHoops.

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Fontecchio Shines, George Struggles In Jazz Loss To Timberwolves