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Utah Jazz Mid-Season Report

Sports Illustrated

It defies logic that the Utah Jazz have had a more enjoyable season this year compared to last. There might be two or three screen assist aficionados who miss charting those, but almost every Jazz fan must be rejoicing in the entertainment value of its current iteration. 

The Jazz were preparing to enter the playoffs as a top-five seed at this point last year. They had Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert on their roster and a top-tier head coach. But things felt miserable. The expiration date on Gobert had come and gone. Mitchell was ready to charter elsewhere. The direction of where things were headed was foggy at best. 

The bird’s eye view of the Jazz organization in 2023 looks wildly more hopeful and fun than most would have thought. 


Trader Danny Ainge

What goes up must come down, and Jazz executive Danny Ainge demonstrated a masterclass in renovating a team. It should come as no surprise that Ainge had a roadmap for rebuilding the Jazz. Ainge performed the same tactic with his former team only a decade earlier. 

What Ainge has already accomplished for the Jazz should be memorialized. The twenty-year veteran executive traded Gobert and his five-year $205 million contract to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for:



Ainge then moved Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a trade for: 



Ainge was able to prioritize future draft picks for the future while finding NBA-ready players who could contribute. The Jazz became the weigh station for the Los Angeles Lakers as they offloaded Russell Westbrook. The Jazz received an additional first-round pick in 2027 in return. 


First Year Coaching

The Jazz entered the year facing a lot of questions. One of them being, would Quin Snyder be easy to replace? First-year head coach Will Hardy has already ended those inquiries. A disciple of Gregg Popovich, Hardy is a tactician at heart. Hardy had control over implementing the Boston Celtics impressive defense last season as an assistant coach for the team. Anecdotally, his absence from the Celtics staff has proven his prowess (The Celtics overall defense has dropped), and his work for the Jazz has boosted his ceiling. 

Hardy has also embraced the weird reality that is coaching a team like the Jazz. The organization’s goal might not be to win every game to improve draft position, but Hardy refuses to let that stop him from getting his players to compete. In the long run, getting players to buy in creates a good culture and winning attitude. For all the hope that a generational player is attained via one of the many draft picks that they have at their disposal, the experiment works with a strong foundation in place. 


Playing Above Expectations

The Jazz were routinely picked as one of the league’s worst teams before the season. Not only are the Jazz not the worst team in the league, but they are pretty far away from it. 

Will Hardy’s squad sat in eleventh place in the Western Conference standings with a 29-31 record at the All-Star Break Markkanen has established himself as the new face of the Jazz early on this season. Markkanen deservedly represented the Jazz in the All-Star game this year by leading the team in scoring with 25 points per game. The former Wildcat is putting up some of his best rebounding and outside shooting numbers in addition to his career high scoring output. 

The Jazz have seen a pleasantly surprising campaign down the roster from Sexton, who has fully embraced coming off the bench. An uber-athletic scorer and finisher, Sexton has been more disciplined in his shot choice this season. The six-foot-one-inch guard is settling less for off-the-dribble threes and finding more driving lanes. Sexton still needs to develop his playmaking now that Mike Conley Jr. is no longer around. Too often, the guard lineups with him and Jordan Clarkson get redundant.

Kessler was the best-kept secret in the NBA this year for about two months. The only bad news for the Jazz this year is that Kessler’s good play has made it a criminal offense not to play him. The Auburn products impact defensively is a significant factor in why they win tight games. The Jazz may have stumbled their way into another generational defensive talent. 


Next Year’s Jazz

It is hard to say what to expect from the Jazz next season. Conventional wisdom says that the Jazz should be better, with their young players getting a year older and presumably better.

That leaves the rest of the world to consider what the Jazz do with its treasure trove of draft capital. Would it be too early to capitalize on those picks and put a package together to acquire the next disgruntled superstar? It’s too premature to answer that yet. The Jazz are in a wait-and-see mode. A contender could lose early in the playoffs. That could cause a ripple effect throughout the league. Same if a player decides they want a new home. 

Jazz fans should enjoy this season’s last games, take a three-week vacation, and check back in May when the draft lottery happens. Until then, begin the distribution of the Walker Kessler Rookie of the Year stickers and buttons. 

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