There’s been a lot of hiccups this season for the Utah Jazz. Consider some of the teams making headlines out there for struggling like the Chicago Bulls and the Memphis Grizzlies. Chicago looks like they hate playing basketball together and yet found a way to beat the Jazz. Memphis has missed most of their basketball team for the entire season and found a way to trounce the Jazz last night. Having said that, there’s a lot to be happy about with what has happened so far this season and reasons to think they can make it into the play-in tournament. Let’s look at some of those reasons.
A handul of the teams ahead of the Jazz have a downward trajectory happening
Look at the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers. The Warriors, for example, have lost 8 of their last ten and their team has maxed out every cap dollar they have. The other issue is they are only going to continue aging. Yes they have Steph Curry and he’s still putting up incredible numbers but Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins are being asked in post games if they should even be starting with how poorly the’ve played.
KLAY THOMPSON DEFINITELY BEEN READING OUR TWEETS… pic.twitter.com/ZrvD7bMnU9— De ️ressed Warriors Fan (@GoIdenState) November 28, 2023
The Clippers with James Harden have started to win some games recently but did not look good after the Harden trade with multiple losses in a row. Yes, James Harden will continue to remember he’s a pro athlete paid to .... not be overweight... but the Clippers always come with injury risk with the age of their roster. One pulled hamstring and there’s no question they could go on another slide like they did when Harden missed time.
The New Orleans Pelicans had a strong start to last season and once the annual Zion Williamson injury happens, they inevitably fall off a cliff. Maybe this is the season that Zion stays healthy but history tells us that at some point in the season, Zion will likely be missing time. Considering that Utah beat New Orleans twice, minus Lauri Markkanen, it seems possible that they can eventually overtake them.
The Jazz are on an updward trajectory
Considering the trajectory of those teams, Utah’s looks more likely to improve. The Jazz will continue to get better as a team as Keyonte George gets more and more comfortable and the different pieces of the team build more chemistry. The Jazz’s biggest issue this season has been the play of Jordan Clarkson, Talen Horton-Tucker, and Collin Sexton not being able to consistently play at a high level, or keep the ball moving within the offense.
Keyonte George has been the answer to a lot of these issues, but he’s still finding his shooting this season. That said, in his last four games it appears George has found his three point shot, in his last for games he’s shooting 44% from three on 6.7 attempts per game. He’s only shooting 35% overall, but that will likely improve as George starts getting more free throws. In the last four games, George is averaging 5 FTAs per game and you could argue he hasn’t gotten the friendlies whistle. As George learns how to pick his spots and cut out the shots he isn’t missing, you’ll see that efficiency improve.
We also haven’t seen the Jazz’s other rookies yet and we may see later in the year, which will help with depth. Taylor Hendricks just had his best game of the season for the Stars and he’s showing all the things Utah needs to become better. He’s hitting threes, blocking shots, and defending on the perimeter.
Having a rookie joining them during the season isn’t in and of itself a huge bellwether of winning, but it is a reminder about the Jazz’s depth. The Jazz are going to be trying all 82 games this season. When other teams are dropping off, the Jazz will be improving on the edges.
The Jazz will also make a trade. We’ve mentioned the trio of trying: Jordan Clarkson, Talen Horton-Tucker, and Collin Sexton already, that they’ve been the biggest issue, and that is the truth. One thing that will happen this season will be an addition by subtraction. If the Jazz can improve the minutes of THT and his shooting split of 36%/28%/88% to ... anything better, you’ll see the Jazz immediately improve. It’s not clear anyone wants that contract on their team but there may be a team out there interested in cutting salary and Utah can take advantage. A scenario like that will immediately improve the Jazz over the long haul.
The Jazz should have Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler together again at full strength. Jazz fans love to lament the loss of Mike Conley last season, and that’s definitely been a part of why the Jazz have struggled this year, but another big reason was the bad start by Walker Kessler. Kessler is playing better since returning from injury and, with the play of Keyonte George, he should find his lane even more. The Jazz also have Lauri Markkanen playing at a high level and things should get easier for the all-star forward as things continue to improve.
Walker Kessler since coming back from injury:— David J. Smith (@davidjsmith1232) November 30, 2023
He struggled going 4-11 last night, and his FG% this season has gone from 72% to 54%. But I think we'll continue to see strong play from him moving forward.
Remember, it’s a long season and there’s a lot of basketball left to be played. As the season goes on the Jazz will continue to improve and will win more games as other teams reign it in to adjust for picks. Yes, it could have been better, but the best is yet to come for this Jazz season.