DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 10: Malik Beasley #5 and Nickeil Alexander-Walker #6 of the Utah Jazz walk onto the court before an NBA game against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena on December 10, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

"Our Team Represented Ourselves Really Well" | Utah's Youngsters Continue To Answer The Call

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

In a league dominated by athletic wings and point guards who can shoot from 30 feet out, it may be an anomaly that Nikola Jokic is the reigning two-time MVP.

He is a big man who, at 7 feet, can bend defenses to his will. Whether using his skillset to score from anywhere, his size and strength to rebound anything, or his elite vision to get his teammates open looks, Jokic has been nearly unguardable for the past couple of seasons.

So when Utah's rookie center Walker Kessler (10 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks) approached head coach Will Hardy during Saturday's showdown against Jokic and the Nuggets, Kessler kept his words short.

"I'm trying really hard," he said to Hardy.

When retelling this story following Utah's 115-110 loss, Hardy said it with a smile and a smirk — giving reporters his response to Kessler's statement.

"Dude, I get it. … He's the two-time MVP," Hardy said.

While the moment may seem insignificant, considering there are bound to be hundreds of them throughout the season, Kessler's comment was very telling.

This was a night that very quickly could've been written off by the Jazz. Down so many key contributors and having to play a young and inexperienced lineup for much of the game, nobody would've batted an eye if Utah came up significantly short in defeat.

Yet, that never happened.

Despite the odds, the Jazz kept "trying hard."

They answered every run of the Nuggets with one of their own, buckling down on defense and moving the ball around on offense. They had a chance to tie the game with three seconds left, but Nickeil Alexander-Walker's three-pointer was off — a rarity for him that night.

"I thought they (Jazz) played really hard. … Honestly, I thought they (Jazz) deserved to win the game," Hardy said postgame. "Some unfortunate missed shots, some unfortunate moments down the stretch. That's a really good team we just played, and I thought our team represented ourselves really well."

NAW was sensational, playing a season-high 40 minutes and finishing with a season-high 27 points, shooting 9-of-16 from the floor and 5-for-10 from three-point territory. He added three rebounds and two assists.

"Nickeil, overall, played a very good game," Hardy said. "I love the way that Nickeil approaches the game. … I think he competes on both ends really, really hard. I think that he's really trying to involve his teammates and be a part of the group. … So that's a credit to him."

"He's stayed ready all year," Hardy added. "He works really hard with our assistant coaches, watches a lot of film. … He's a really good young player."

He wasn't the only younger player to thrive with his back against the wall on Saturday.

Talen Horton-Tucker — playing a season-high 34 minutes — was electric on both ends of the court, using his big body and elite handles to finish with a season-high 19 points, adding seven rebounds, four assists, and two blocks.

While Kessler has drawn a lot of consistent praise this season, it's a positive sign moving forward for the Jazz that NAW and THT played so well on Saturday. They've been in and out of the rotation throughout the year but have constantly answered the bell when their number has been called.

Leandro Bolmaro and rookie Ochai Agbaji both saw significant action on Saturday, and Simone Fontecchio dropped a career-high 18 points against Golden State last Wednesday.

Like Kessler told Hardy, the Jazz are a team that's trying really hard — and will continue to do so for the rest of the year.