Jazz Showroom for Growth in Pre-Season Opening

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

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

Here are the key takeaways from the Jazz’ preseason opener loss to the Raptors.

Markkanen’s skill level is through the roof

He’s only played 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 put the Jazz on the board to open the game with a fadeaway midrange jumper, then showed an impressive display of three-point shooting, finishing in transition, basket cuts and conatstence as a free throw line.

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

Markkanen grounded the ball against Toronto’s tallest defenders, backed off smaller defenders and rarely seemed to accelerate in his first game with the Jazz on the offensive side of the ball.

Defensively, Markkenen didn’t provide much of a deterrent to the Raptors defense and didn’t get much help from fellow starter Kelly Olynyk. However, his offense and quick chemistry with guard Mike Conley was evident early on and should be a reliable tool for the Jazz this season.

Walker Kessler was jazz’s best rookie

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

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

Kessler may only get minutes because Udoka Azubuike is still recovering 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 by sliding a screen in the pick and roll and finishing on two Raptors defenders while drawing a foul.

He also spaced the ground well from the dunker point and showed his basketball smarts against the Raptors’ inexperienced defense.

Ochaci Agbaji and Simone Fontecchio are also expected to play as rookies for the Jazz, but for now Kessler seems the most NBA-ready of the three.

Sexton comes off the bench

In a surprising move, Will Hardy brought CollioffSexton off the bench to his jazz debut. With veteran Mike Conley starting at point guard, Hardy may have preferred to go with the bigger Malik Beasley at shooter, 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 the Jazz have lacked on the perimeter in recent years and his 3-4 shot from the three-point line looked promising in 18 minutes on the field.

After signing a four-year, $71 million contract with the Jazz in Donovan Mitchell’s trade, there’s very little chance Sexton will continue to come off the bench. But the dilemma of how to play him in pre-season is a direct result of Conley and Jordan Clarkson being on the roster.

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

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

As it is, jazz will lose many games

During the offseason, there was growing concern that the Jazz were too talented to really tank this season. After all, the Jazz have eight players on the roster with at least four years of NBA experience, each of whom has proven they belong in the league.

If winning too many games was a concern, however, there are probably fans breathing a sigh of relief after watching the team implode in the second half.

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

Toss in the number of young players Hardy could field throughout the year for development, and the Jazz could easily miss 30 wins this season.

The Jazz are back in preseason action Tuesday against the Portland Trail Blazers. The match begins at 8 p.m. MT and can be heard on the KSL Sports Zone.

Ada J. Kenney