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For Utah to lean a direction, they first must learn what they have

The Utah Jazz executed trades for four starters from last season’s team which returned a cast about whom little was known. That puzzle must be solved for the Jazz to lean a direction

Portland Trail Blazers v Utah Jazz
Collin Sexton is one of the many “unknowns” that landed on the Jazz this offseason
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

“Begin with the end in mind”

Fans of the literary genre of personal development are likely familiar with Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In the book, Dr. Covey argues efficiency and effectiveness is owned in large part to intentional progression.

“Seek first to understand, then be understood”

With this habit, Dr. Covey teaches about the need to understand one’s environment and the cast therein before imprinting thereon with one’s own philosophy and plan of attack.

It’s clear the wisdom from both of these lessons is being exercised by the Utah Jazz front office in the early part of the season.

After a summer that returned just three rotation players (Conley, Clarkson, and Gay) and only two members of the coaching staff (Jensen, Skeeter) from 2021-22, Utah had little idea of where they stood let alone where it could lead them.

No doubt the ultimate end is a championship, as everyone reiterated during the introductory press conferences. However, if you re watch the tape, there as a lot of language consistent with understanding the present in order to act consistent with the goal.

“Everything is new”, “new opportunity”, “clean slate”, “don’t want to set expectations”, and “row the boat in the same direction” were all phrases used by General Manager Justin Zanik.

In fact, the Jazz pulled the trigger on a Bojan Bogdanovic trade specifically to round out the roster for purposes of evaluation and development.

With a record of 14-12, 0 games back of the playoffs (6th seed), and 0 games back of the lottery (14th worst league record), the Jazz are the definition of “playing it out” and not leaning a direction.

Many fans are supportive of the front office molding the roster to a team worthy of top lottery odds (aka, “tank”). That would likely include trading a couple veterans (Conley, Clarkson, Gay, or Olynyk).

Others have suggested that maybe this team is good enough that a mid-season trade to improve the roster should be considered (aka, “going for it”).

So, do the Jazz understand what they have in the context of their future goals? Let’s review the roster with this question in mind.

Portland Trail Blazers v Utah Jazz
Jordan Clarkson carried a massive load the other night without the calls to carry the team to a win
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

The Vets

The Jazz have a really good idea what they have with the veterans. By definition, they’ve been around (in everyone but Kelly’s case for a sizeable stretch with the team) and in enough systems, playing with enough teammates that you know what you have.

Jordan Clarkson continues to be rumored as more likely to be extended than traded. His efficiency has always left some to be desired but his playmaking for others has increased his impact on the game. He’s also the cultural icon for the team, whatever that’s worth.

JC is likely to opt out of next year’s contract and is likely to be looking a 3 year $75M deal, which you’re probably unable to trade. Is Utah prepared for that?

Mike Conley has demonstrated just how valuable he is to this team. Certainly he’d be value-add this season should a team look to trade for him or if Utah is interested in “going for it”. However, next year’s $14M guaranteed is giving teams serious pause.

Kelly Olynyk’s ability to stretch the floor at the 5 and pass has really helped unlock the Jazz as a top 5 offense but the defense has suffered and he’s extremely foul prone.

Ultimately, trading any of these guys is dependent on knowing what you have in the others.

Portland Trail Blazers v Utah Jazz
Lauri Markkanen spots up during the Jazz home bout with the Trail Blazers
Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Lauri Markkanen

The Jazz more or less know what they have with Lauri: an All-Star level talent, under team control, on a great contract. Per reports, Jazz are signaling no intent to move him.

Lauri has increased his usage, increased his efficiency, diversified his offensive approach, and demonstrated scalable defensive skills for his position. His modest self-creation numbers and developing ability to get the ball means he’s still a ways off All-NBA, #1 option territory.

Indiana Pacers v Utah Jazz
Jarred Vanderbilt hangs from the rim as the Jazz beat the Pacers at home
Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Jarred Vanderbilt

Jazz are still learning about Jarred and who he is in the context of building a contending team from the ground up. He’s a piece rumored to be available but at a high price.

Jarred’s increased inclination to fire from the right corner 3P line is a big development. He’s already taken more (26) than in all previous seasons combined and made 4x more (12) than ever. He’s a tricky player for whom to evaluate impact. The starting lineup is great but all other lineups featuring Vando have gotten smoked.

Indiana Pacers v Utah Jazz
Collin eyes the opposing team before making his move
Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Collin Sexton

Collin came to the Jazz as the biggest question mark and remains such through the quarter mark of the regular season. They envision a 6th man role and developing him into a PG with mixed results thus far.

He has shown more scalable shot distribution, better efficiency, and when Mike Conley has been absent from the game, good instincts to involve others. The defense is still more show than substance and mistakes abound. There’s a lot more to learn about Sexton and his future with the team.

Utah Jazz v Philadelphia 76ers
Malik Beasley gestures to a raucous Philly crowd earlier this season
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Malik Beasley

Malik was almost viewed as a “salary throw-in” to the Gobert deal but for those who’ve paid attention to his career are unsurprised by the early season results.

He’s shooting just shy of 39% from beyond the arc at the second highest volume of his career. He’s generating a lot of gravity and attention on offense. He’s showing an ability to create a bit off the dribble though decision making can suffer and the defense is iffy.

Fresh off his 26th birthday, with a team option next year, the Jazz are in the drivers seat with an elite shooter they have a real good understanding of.

Portland Trail Blazers v Utah Jazz
Walker Kessler challenging shots at the rim has become a nightly highlight from the young big
Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Walker Kessler

Walker was often coined as “an extra 1st rounder” in the Gobert deal thanks to having been drafted some weeks prior. He’s demonstrated NBA ready instincts and minutes warranting impact straight away. And there may be more to tap into.

Being a rookie big, Kessler still fouls a lot and can be jump happy when guarding bigs with a propensity for pump fakes. However, his league leading block rate for players with 300+ minutes will quickly develop a big reputation and his presence on both ends translates to really positive minutes.

Jazz know what they have but know there’s more development to take place.

Indiana Pacers v Utah Jazz
Talen Horton-Tucker prepares to launch to the rim against the Pacers
Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Talen Horton-Tucker

Jazz are still puzzling over Talen, I imagine. Another recent birthday celebration marked just his 22nd year. He’s big, strong, and with focus and direction he’s demonstrated real impact.

But the 3P shot just isn’t there. He’s amassed 400 career attempts at a 27% success rate. He does find himself a victim of blinders offensively but has shown defensive instincts and a better recipe for efficient offense. He’s a puzzle I don’t know will ever be solved.

LA Clippers v Utah Jazz
Nickeil Alexander-Walker has shown some improvements this year in his limited run
Photo by Jeff Swinger/NBAE via Getty Images

Nickeil Alexander-Walker

NIckeil landed on a pretender squad last season via the Joe Ingles trade having experienced role and head coach turmoil his entire career. I don’t know that anyone has a good read on his game and its future with the team.

Nickeil’s most encouraging development appears to be defensively where he’s moved well, competed, and avoided consistent mistakes. His offensive efficiency remains nothing to boast about but he’s having a good season from a creating for other standpoint.

Indiana Pacers v Utah Jazz
Simone Fontecchio celebrates a made 3 in a recent game
Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Simone Fontecchio

Simone has demonstrated in small doses what he was known for in Europe: good shooter, effective at using his size on both ends. What’s still left for Utah to figure out is how much he can do with the ball in his hands.

Memphis Grizzlies v Utah Jazz
Ochai Agbaji has seen little to no playing time which may be an early indication of a bust
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Ochai Agbaji

Ochai has seen just 72 minutes of NBA run and it’s largely been a disaster. Not only is he clearly not impressing in practice to force the coaching staff to play him but in those minutes he’s a pure spot up shooter.

There’s a ton to learn about Agbaji but so far the more we do the less encouraging it is.

Likely the Jazz front office is STILL figuring out what they have and how it all plays into where they want to go. Until those questions are fully sussed out, we’re unlikely to see any wholesale changes consistent with leaning a direction.

December 15th is typically considered the start of trade season as it’s the first day most players signed during the offseason to new deals are able to be traded. That date is fast approaching and would be the natural beginning of any deal negotiations Utah has in mind assuming they’re ready to lean a direction.

Thanks to where they sit in the standings, they continue to have both options open to them.