Why the Utah Jazz are one of the NBA’s weirdest — but maybe coolest — spots

By maaz

Published on:

were utah jazz No Should be good this season.

two years ago, utah blew away its long-gone core Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell sent the former to Minnesota and the latter to Cleveland for a plethora of players and future draft picks. It seemed like it was a sign of the end of something six year era who watched the jazz after the league Third best regular season record But only win three playoff series and never make the conference finals. After disposing of its stars, Utah 37-45 done Previous Season – End of Year 10-19 on the skid – And this year’s outlook was equally disappointing, especially after the team Started from 7-16 By early December.

But lately, the Jazz have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Before losing some recent games, Utah had won six games in a row and nine of its last 10 games, part of a stretch in which the team won 15 of 19 games immediately following a poor start to the season. Suddenly and improbably, Utah is a team that opponents don’t want to see coming on their schedule.

Generally speaking, this might still be viewed as a bad thing in the macro-obsessed world of NBA front-office strategy making. The Jazz have only a 10% chance of making the playoffs even after their hot six weeks – partly because playoff probability models doubt they’re really that good, but also because they win nurtured them In the final play-in slot of the Western Conference, one team from Need to win two more games in a row To actually reach the playoffs. Conventional wisdom dictates that a hot streak is what improves (gives you) your record. worse draft position) but your postseason odds don’t improve, it is, on the contrary, one of the worst things that can happen to a team in the middle of a season.

However, things are a little more complicated for jazz. Due to pickup safety, they not actually owned If it falls out of the top 10, their first-round pick will be dealt to OKC As part of 2021 business Including Derrick Favors. Had Utah not caught fire in December, they likely would have retained the selection – although it would not have been a top 5 pick, as they would have had the league’s second seed. sixth worst record Before the victory begins. And while the 2024 draft class depth can beThis appears to be A Brief on True Difference-Makers This time.

Beyond that, Utah needs to see what it has on its roster — and what that group can do — as much or more than any other team right now.

The main drivers of the Jazz’s recent hot streak have been 25-year-old Collin Sexton and 26-year-old Lauri Markkanen, both of whom rank among the league leaders in scoring. wins above replacement (WAR) over the last two weeks. Markkanen is Up to 17th in the league in WAR On the season overall (with 4.9), Sexton has a projected RAPTOR rating of +5.1 points per 100 possessions, while Sexton is 41st in WAR (3.5) with a RAPTOR of +3.2. Michelle (who is) was sent away despite the two having later ideas regarding business. are playing great too Now), Markkanen and Sexton give Utah Pair of incredibly valuable trading assets If the Jazz want to shop him around.

Or, the team may have inadvertently found a duo that could become the backbone of Utah’s next contender. (That may be why jazz reportedly no interest At least in dealing with Markkanen.) Shocking as it may seem, Markkanen is currently playing well enough to be a strong No. 2 — over a weak No. 1 — for a rival team, while Sexton is comfortably average. Above the Raptors is the third-best player among the NBA champions.

If Markkanen and Sexton continue to play at their current RAPTOR levels, they will form a tandem within the range Of to be good enough Leading a championship-level team, historically, if surrounded by another star:

Finding that last, best star is easier said than done, but this is where another interesting part of Utah’s current situation comes in: They have a Very of future draft capital. Aside from their own picks (except that one first-rounder who might tell OKC), the Jazz have the rights to Nine selections in the first round from other teams Between 2025 and 2029. exactly the same Danny Ainge, CEO of Basketball Ops When he ran the Boston Celtics, he accumulated picks that gave Utah the flexibility to use any on possibilities Or in businesses, depending on the needs of the team. If Sexton and Markkanen are really that good, it could provide motivation to pick up another player and accelerate the contention window for the Jazz.

That’s a big reason why the Jazz need to see how far they can go this season to help determine how high the future ceiling may be for their stars. The second reason is to figure out who to put on the rest of the roster.

Apart from the experienced John Collins (whose ability has now completely evaporatedit seems) and Jordan Clarkson, both Signed before 2023-24and Kelly Olynyk, Kris Dunn, Talen Horton-Tucker and Simon Fontecchio, whose deals are expiring and may moveThe rest of Utah’s rotation is made up of young players the team needs to evaluate. And while point guard Keyontae George has struggled out of that group (-5.0 RAPTOR), the team Already used options On Ochai Agbaji and Walker Kessler, both have shown defensive ability. Kessler, in fact, Leads the league in block rate0.5 percentage points ahead of Victor Vembanyama.

Auditioning your young players, keeping an eye on the star potential of Markkanen and Sexton, evaluating trade options and – why not? – Really trying to capitalize on that playoff possibility, the Jazz have surprising reasons to try and win games for a team that was projected to finish near the bottom of the league this season.

In turn, this puts Utah in a very different – ​​and arguably much more favorable – position than any other team in that class. (Even Spurs, who may be completely confident that Vembanayama will be the centerpiece of their next contender, have a lot of questions over their future, and less reason to win in the here and now.) If they play their cards right, Play and things fall apart Moving forward from here, the Jazz may have executed one of the quickest and most unexpected rebuilds in recent NBA memory.