The Utah Jazz are in a fascinating spot. After trading their franchise players over the offseason, they were handed this roster without knowing anything of what they had. With the season ripe to commence, they opted to wait and see.
Now with the All-Star break looming, the Jazz sit at 0.500 (26-26) with just 0.5 games separating them from a guaranteed playoff spot and 1.5 games removed from home court advantage.
The league has demonstrated incredible parity this year, especially out West. The Jazz often find themselves swinging wildly through the standings even on nights they don’t play.
There is so much parity in the NBA right now. One way to see it is to look at the standard deviation of team net ratings by season: pic.twitter.com/zY2IKWsKpy— Tom Bassine (@tvbassine) January 29, 2023
Marc Stein and others have reported that the Jazz are set on keeping Lauri Markkanen, Walker Kessler, and Ochai Agbaji. This isn’t a surprise. Of everyone on the team, those three all boast great contracts with years of team control and are demonstrating development curves that align with their ages.
But even still, the Jazz needn’t commit to anyone prematurely. The Jazz have the luxury of “kicking the can down the road” (postponing the decision date) a couple of ways to buy time as they sort out the franchise direction.
Here are three ways the Jazz could leave decisions for another day.
Trade the BKN pick
Barring deals over the next handful of months, the Utah Jazz will take three selections into the 2023 NBA draft. As currently projected by FiveThirtyEight, they would have picks #14 (via MIN), #16 (via UTA), and #27 (via PHI).
As currently constituted, the Jazz also will have too many players for the roster: 11 players with guaranteed money, Malik with a team option, and intent to resign Clarkson in free agency. And Utah could prospectively be adding 3 rookies?
There are flyers to take late in the first round, certainly. You have pedigree guys like Kyle Filipowski or Dariq Whitehead whose stock could continue to fall; you have upside plays in Baba Miller; or high performing guys like Emoni Bates. But there may just not be the environment to properly develop any of them.
Now imagine executing a deal like Oklahoma City did last year with Denver. OKC was locked into the 30th pick last year. They exchanged that pick and two future second rounders to the Nuggets for JaMychal Green and a top-5 protected DEN first.
OKC was already bringing in three rookies. They didn’t need another one. So they moved a guaranteed 30th pick for a shot at a far better pick in Nikola Jokic’s age 32 season when he has a player option.
Talk about a fabulous “kick the can” move Jazz should pounce on if given the chance.
Trade Malik Beasley
This idea isn’t so obvious. After all, Beasley is only 25 years old, with a team option next year, and only 3 players have more made threes this season than Malik. Why would you trade him?
I understand, having made many of these arguments myself. But there are arguments that go the other way.
His size and defensive limitations next to a trio of guars in Conley, Sexton, and Clarkson have been poor. Despite his prolific shooting from deep, he’s boasting a true shooting percentage 3.9 points below league average.
He’s also gaining a lot of trade attention around the league with national pundits suggesting him for the Grizzlies and Pelicans, while a recent Hardwood Knocks podcast brainstormed a trade framework with the Bucks.
Such a deal frees money up next year, lands the Jazz a player in Grayson Allen who’s already 80-90% of Malik, a promising rooking in Beauchamp, and a future pick. That would be a home run of a deal for Utah.
Another angle is the sharp shooters projected for the back end of the lottery: 6’7” Michigan wing Jett Howard and 6’7” Kansas wing Gradey Dick. Howard boasts more off the dribble wiggle than Beasley while Dick shows promising defensive instincts to pair with his shooting.
Replacing a good deal of Malik’s production via the draft at a favorable contract would be a great avenue to “kicking the can”.
Take Kelly Olynyk into next year
The Utah Jazz swapped Bojan Bogdanovic for Kelly Olynyk ahead of the season in an effort to round out the team for the best environment of evaluation possible.
Walker Kessler has demonstrated such proficiency that he’s all but guaranteed to start the rest of the season. For regular season success, traditional drop big, rim protecting defense is the best way to go.
But the Jazz having Olynyk presents a lot of flexibility for the remaining lineups where the Jazz have go 5-out. In 650 possessions without non-shooting bigs (Vando, Kessler, and Azubuike), the Jazz are +1.2 per 100 possessions (aka winning the “reserve” lineups). That jumps to +3.1 when you remove Rudy Gay and +5.2 when also removing Talen Horton-Tucker.
The future should be Kessler starting and 5-out lineup potential in all other minutes. At 31 years old, Kelly isn’t likely to be a staple for the Jazz’s next title run. However, he could be an important bridge option before finding the next guy.
Whether that next player is in the draft or on the trade market, the Jazz should look to preserve and continue experimenting with what I’ve called the Clippers model, inspired by Ivica Zubac in the middle and all other lineups boasting 5-out potential.
The Jazz have a lot of decisions to make and frankly aren’t prepared to make all of them in the context of what Utah’s next title team looks like.
Instead, the Jazz can maneuver to a handful of ways to postpone those decisions until more is clear for the direction the team needs to go. Trading the BKN pick, trading Malik Beasley, and carrying Kelly Olynyk into next year are just 3 ways to kick the can.
As the deadline approaches, watch what moves do and don’t get done, and consider if such scenarios could shed light on the Jazz punting the decision for a later date.