SALT LAKE CITY — Before he took on Kyrylo Fesenko in a friendly game of H-O-R-S-E prior to Tuesday morning's practice, Raja Bell spent time working on his stroke with the Utah Jazz's shooting coach.
The lesson with Jeff Hornacek must've paid dividends. Bell cinched the win over the big center with a smooth-looking 18-foot jumper.
Beating low-post players in fun contests isn't the reason Bell shot with Utah's special assistant coach, of course. But the veteran shooting guard has been trying to refine his mechanics and has worked on catching and popping, screening and his jump shot before practices this week.
Bell's desire to improve, even at age 34, and his willingness to work on his trustworthy shot that had been a bit wayward early in his return to both NBA action (after nearly a year off) and the Jazz (after five years away) has been duly noted by his other coach.
"You would think he's a rookie," an impressed Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "He's been out there (recently) quite a bit just working on things he feels like helps him."
Now in his 11th NBA season, Bell knows the fluctuations of shooting success. So, hitting only six of his first 20 shots and going 2-for-9 from 3-point territory didn't make him panic last week.
Previous experiences have proven his aim bounces back. Bell recalls one back-to-back situation a few years ago when he missed a whopping 10 attempted threes in one game at Oklahoma City. The following night, after Suns coaches told him "don't worry about it," he recalls going 8-for-8 in Los Angeles.
Though he's working up a sweat to improve, Bell is not going to sweat about missing early season shots.
"The reality," he said, "is that timing and everything takes a minute to come back."
By the way, Bell said that before Sunday's 3-for-3 outing in the Jazz's blowout win at Oklahoma City.
Another reality many might not realize: The perceived lack of an outside sharpshooter a la dearly departed Kyle Korver — or also dearly departed Wesley Matthews — has raised concerns for some outside of the Jazz.
But Bell has shot 41.1 percent from beyond the arc in a decade of NBA play.
And Korver, who set a single-season 3-point-shooting record in 2009-10?
Yep, 41.1 percent from 3-point land for the ex-Jazzman for his career, too. (p.s. Matthews has a career 37.1 percentage from long range.)
In other words, Bell can shoot the lights out with the best of them and has no reason to believe that well-established habit won't continue in Utah.
It helps that Bell's body, as well-seasoned as it is by NBA standards, feels good and is mostly rust free because of all of the cardio he did in his playing absence. His left, non-shooting wrist, which required surgery last December and kept him out of most of last season, is also dandy again.
"Just some time for me" Bell said is all he needs to fully get back into the swing of things. "A little bit more greasing of my wheels, and I'll be fine."
Even if the shots aren't falling for the overlooked sharpshooter — "funny what you get labeled as in the NBA," he said — Bell still does plenty to help lift the Jazz.
"He's a very professional player. He's a hard worker," Sloan said. "He, I think, is a team guy, wants to do what's right for the team. Those guys are important to you because they help keep you on track."
Sloan also appreciates how Bell takes superb care of his physical shape by working in the weight room and in the gym.
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