Jazz Down Nets Before Holiday Road Trip

Dec 18, 2023, 10:29 PM | Updated: 11:13 pm

Utah Jazz center John Collins attempts a dunk against the Brooklyn Nets...

Utah Jazz center John Collins attempts a dunk against the Brooklyn Nets (Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

(Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz blitzed a road-weary Brooklyn Nets team after a difficult first half and ran away with a 125-108 victory.

Talen Horton-Tucker and Collin Sexton each scored 27 points for the Jazz who have now won three of their last four games.

Wrapping up their five-game road trip with a 1-4 record, Cam Thomas led the Nets with 32 points.

John Collins May Have Found A Fit At Center

John Collins first season with the Jazz has had its fair share of ups and downs.

The seven-year veteran appears to have regained his three-point shooting touch, but has struggled to move the ball within the Jazz’s offense, and his fit alongside Walker Kessler has been borderline disastrous.

Before missing the last four games due to an illness, Jazz coach Will Hardy experimented with Collins as the team’s backup center, and it resulted in a 20 point, 13 rebound, four block outing in Los Angeles.

“We wanted to try to get him and Walker as much time together as possible early in the year to see what that looks like,” Jazz coach Will Hardy admitted, “I think as we’ve gone on, John is more comfortable as a five.”

After a slow start against the Nets, the Jazz big man hit a buzzer-beating three to close the first quarter, and regained his rhythm over the final three quarters of the game scoring 11 points and grabbing three rebounds playing largely as the backup five.

While those numbers don’t jump off the stat sheet, his +5 in the plus-minus column is a major growth.

Entering Monday’s game, Collins owned the seventh-worst plus-minus in the NBA at -187 in 683 minutes and had had a positive plus-minus just four times in his first 22 appearances.

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“John has shown himself to be really effective when he’s a five because then his spacing adds a whole different element to the team,” Hardy added. “He’s still a great roller on the rim, so it’s taken us a little bit of time to settle into who fits best where but that’s part of our job.”

The Jazz don’t need Collins to be an All-Star, but he can’t be a negative every time he steps on the floor.

Playing backup center might not be the role either Collins or the Jazz expected when he was acquired in early July, but if the move allows him to positively impact the roster, it’s a noteworthy adjustment.

Five Game Road Trip Could Determine Jazz Future

With 27 games behind them, the Jazz are officially a third of the way through the regular season.

The team is already significantly behind the eight-ball, sitting nearly as close 15th-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the West as they are to the 10th-seeded Phoenix Suns.

If the front office hasn’t yet decided on whether to push for the playoffs, or to focus on the development of the team’s younger players, their upcoming five-game road trip might do it for them.

After Monday’s game the Jazz head out on the road for stops in Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto, San Antonio, and New Orleans before returning to Utah to face the Miami Heat on December 30.

At 2-12 away from home, the idea of righting the ship on the road may seem far-fetched, but the road trip is hardly a gauntlet of the NBA’s best teams.

The Jazz will face a Cavaliers roster that will be missing their second and third-best players Evan Mobley and Darius Garland, both of whom have suffered long-term injuries.

They then travel to face the Pistons who own an unfathomable 23-game losing streak.

Before Christmas, the team will fly north to face the 10-15 Raptors, before traveling to face the Spurs who are 1-19 in their last 20 games.

The Jazz close the trip against the Pelicans, the best team they’ll face during the stretch, but a team who they’ve beaten twice already this season.

If the team can string together wins against Detroit and San Antonio, while mixing in an unexpected victory or two over Cleveland, Toronto, or New Orleans, they may feel that with some momentum, they can turn this season around.

But, if they see the road woes continue, the team may have a new objective when they return to Salt Lake City as they shift their identity toward youth and development.

Is Cam Thomas The Brice Sensabaugh Model?

Though the Jazz have committed significant playing time already to both Keyonte George and Taylor Hendricks as rookies, Brice Sensabaugh remains the team’s mystery man.

Sensabaugh, the 28th pick has spent almost the entire season with the Salt Lake City Stars in the G League as he attempts to ready his game for the NBA.

Coming out of Ohio State, Sensabaugh was a unique product in NBA circles, showing an impressive skillset as a scorer, and near-total disregard for defense.

There aren’t many players who are skilled enough offensively to make the NBA without showing some interest on the defensive end, but the Jazz may be hoping to find in Sensabaugh what the Nets are getting from Cam Thomas.

Coming out of LSU, Thomas had a similar scouting report to Sensabaugh. The freshman scored an incredible 23 points per game, but did little else on the offensive end, and was one of the worst defenders in the country.

Despite his deficiencies, the Nets took a flyer on Thomas with the 27th pick of the 2021 NBA Draft, and the gamble has paid off.

Even with Mikal Bridges on the roster, the Nets have needed a true go-to scoring option, and have turned to Thomas to fill that role.

Thomas is still a limited defender, and his 2.6 assists per game leave a lot to be desired for a starting guard, but they found value in their late first-round draft pick, either as a long-term roster piece or as a tantalizing young player to throw into trade talks.

Sensabaugh and Thomas aren’t completely similar. The Nets guard relies on his seemingly limitless shooting range to reach his 23.9 points per game average, while the Jazz rookie has used his strong frame to overpower defenders in the G League.

Regardless of their different styles of play, the Nets have shown that you can create value in players who largely excel on only one side of the floor.

The Jazz haven’t hinted at when Sensabaugh might get an opportunity to see regular minutes in the NBA, but Cam Thomas’s development into a high-level scorer in his third season isn’t a bad road map.

Nightly Awards: Jazz vs. Nets

The “They Made This Last Award Look Bad” Award: 

Goes to Walker Kessler and Ochai Agbaji who were on the awards list after Saturday night’s loss to the Sacramento Kings due to their nearly invisible performances.

Both players bounced back against the Nets with Kessler recording a stellar 14 point, 14 rebound, five block outing, while Agbahi finished with 13 points, three rebounds, and two assists.

Though the Jazz have several veterans still in the rotation, eventually they’ll hand the ball over to their young players in hopes of building a championship-contending roster.

Both Agbaji and Kessler figure to play big roles in the team’s future, and Monday’s performances reiterated how they can do it.

Utah Jazz Next Broadcast

The Jazz will face the Cavaliers on Wednesday at 5 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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Jazz Down Nets Before Holiday Road Trip