Jazz’s Hardy Makes Statement With Starting Lineup Change

After expressing his displeasure – both before and after Wednesday’s blowout loss to Portland – with his team’s effort level and approach to the game, Jazz head coach Will Hardy made a statement with the new starting lineup he sent out on Saturday vs. New Orleans, writes Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune.

With Lauri Markkanen (hamstring) and Jordan Clarkson (illness) unavailable and center Walker Kessler playing in his first game back from a seven-game injury absence, Hardy dug deep on his bench and sent out Kris Dunn, Simone Fontecchio, and Omer Yurtseven alongside usual starters John Collins and Keyonte George to open Saturday’s contest.

Dunn, Fontecchio, and Yurtseven have each received multiple DNP-CDs in the past month and aren’t among Utah’s top nine most-used players, but Hardy decided it was the right time to start them for the first time this season. As Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune relays (via Twitter), in explaining the changes before the game, Hardy cited Dunn’s perimeter defense and ball-handling, Fontecchio’s size and length, and Yurtseven’s ability to play physically against Jonas Valanciunas.

Really though, as Larsen points out, the revamped starting lineup represented Hardy putting his money where his mouth is after telling his players earlier this week that a lack of effort would result in a reduction in playing time.

“I go home after every game win or loss and I’m constantly beating myself up about things that I did or didn’t do,” Hardy said on Wednesday. “And I just want them to take the same responsibility and ownership over this program. If you’re gonna wear a Utah Jazz jersey, you have to give a s–t about the Utah Jazz.”

The new-look lineup came through on Saturday, helping to lead the Jazz to a 105-100 upset win over New Orleans that included an impressive fourth-quarter comeback.

“I don’t believe in free minutes,” Hardy said after the game. “I think that some of the guys that were on the floor tonight are showing that they’ve earned some minutes and that they’re willing to make sacrifices for the team.

“… This is for sure the first game this year that we’ve won because of our defense,” he added. “I thought that every player that took the court tonight really, really competed on that end of the floor.”

With neither Markkanen nor Clarkson likely to be out for long, it’s unclear how Hardy will adjust his starting five – and his rotation as a whole – when they return. They’re the team’s top two scorers, and obviously Markkanen won’t be coming off the bench, so they’ll presumably reclaim key roles.

Still, when Utah’s roster healthy, with Markkanen, Clarkson, and Kessler all available, there presumably won’t be enough playing time to go around for Saturday’s new starters and reserves like Talen Horton-Tucker, Collin Sexton, Ochai Agbaji, and Kelly Olynyk. Based on his comments earlier this week and his lineup decision vs. New Orleans, Hardy has made it clear how those players can make their cases for regular minutes.

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