Coach Will Hardy will have a flexible roster in the 2023-24 NBA season. The Utah Jazz are in the second season of a rebuild after trading away almost the entire roster a year ago. The current roster is not close to a finished product yet, but it does have a lot of talent. With the midseason subtractions of Mike Conley, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Malik Beasley, as well as the more recent addition of John Collins, this year's starting lineup will look different from last year.
Let's take a look at some of Utah's options.
Last season, the opening-day starting lineup was Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson, Lauri Markkanen, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Kelly Olynyk. That was also Hardy's most-used lineup all year, with 629 possessions. Throughout the season, Walker Kessler proved his value and earned a starting role, relegating Vanderbilt to the bench. The lineup got shaken even more when Conley and other Jazz teammates were traded away. From that point onward, the starting point guard position was up for grabs. When Collin Sexton was healthy, he often started but missed 34 games to injury. Ochai Agbaji, Talen Horton-Tucker, and Kris Dunn all had turns in the starting lineup, and Jordan Clarkson even occasionally took the reigns at point guard.
Coming into the season, that point guard position remains a mystery. Jordan Clarkson will almost certainly be a starter, as he has started all 61 games he's played for Coach Hardy, but he is naturally a shooting guard. The most natural point guard on the roster is probably Kris Dunn, but he's one of the older players on the team and may not be a long-term piece. Talen Horton-Tucker played some point guard at the end of last season and showed great flashes of talent, but he has significant flaws in his game. Keyonte George checks many boxes here, but Hardy has made it clear that rookies need to earn minutes with their on-court performance rather than being given minutes to develop. Ochai Agbaji might be the most deserving of a starting spot among these names, but he's not a point guard. Clarkson would have to take the point guard role if he were to start, which is not ideal.
Kris Dunn played 22 games for Utah last season, averaging;— NBA University (@NBA_University) August 3, 2023
47.2 3P%—1.6 3PA/g
Excellent numbers and PHYSICAL on both ends. Perhaps most impressively, he shot 54.7% from floater range—6th highest in the NBA. Love a comeback story… pic.twitter.com/ugQyZYGIMK
The frontcourt is easier to predict, as we know that Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler will be starters. Kessler will play center, and Markkanen can comfortably play either forward position. The question is, will the third frontcourt starter be Kelly Olynyk or John Collins?
Olynyk started all 68 games he played last year, and perhaps more importantly, he fills needs for the Jazz that Collins might not. Mike Conley was the only true passer and playmaker for the Jazz last year, and the team struggled in that area after he was traded. Kelly Olynyk became Utah's best passer despite playing as a center or power forward. Olynyk's connective passing and secondary playmaking will be something the team will sorely need. While Markkanen, Kessler, and Collins are all willing to pass, none of them have the playmaking ability that Olynyk does. If Collins were to be Hardy's choice in the starting lineup, playmaking would be a significant weakness. Choosing Kris Dunn as the point guard could be a way to offset that, though, so I would expect Hardy to go one of two directions:
- Collin Sexton, Jordan Clarkson, Lauri Markkanen, Kelly Olynyk, Walker Kessler
- Kris Dunn, Jordan Clarkson, Lauri Markkanen, John Collins, Walker Kessler
My prediction is that lineup number 1 will start on opening night. Will Hardy has already shown trust in Sexton and Olynyk. I believe they'll have first dibs for those starting roles. There are, however, two issues with that lineup. The first is that in 154 possessions last season, that lineup was -1.6 points per 100 possessions. It was a very effective lineup offensively but struggled to defend. The second issue is that John Collins might be one of the best players on this team. His production will be a huge question for the Jazz this year. He's had two down seasons due to injury and mismanagement, but if he can get back to the player he was through his first few seasons, he could be very valuable for Utah. If he impresses the coaching staff during training camp, he could earn starting minutes right out of the gate.
There are so many different ways the Jazz can go with this roster. So let's look at some of the most fun potential groups we could see take the floor together.
The giant lineup
Talen Horton Tucker, Lauri Markkanen, John Collins, Kelly Olynyk, Walker Kessler
This lineup would have the size advantage at nearly every position. THT is 6'4", which isn't the biggest for point guards, but his 7'1" wingspan, sturdy build, and freakish athleticism give him the physical edge over almost every guard in the league. Lauri Markkanen has never played shooting guard, making this the most unrealistic part of the lineup. However, the modern NBA allows teams to ignore traditional positions in many circumstances. This lineup would not work against teams with multiple quick ball handlers, as Markkanen and Collins are not equipped to defend that type of player. There are a few teams, however, that play one central ball-handler flanked by off-ball wings and bigs. This jumbo Jazz squad could theoretically defend those types of lineups. Taylor Hendricks could be substituted for Collins or Olynyk for more defensive versatility.
Run & Gun lineup
Keyonte George, Ochai Agbaji, Brice Sensabaugh, Taylor Hendricks, Walker Kessler
The youth movement has been fun to watch. Last season's rookies, Agbaji and Kessler, earned significant minutes by the end of the season, and both will be essential pieces for the Jazz this year. This season's rookies, Hendricks, George, and Sensabaugh, will have to earn their minutes the same way. If they do, we could see a few minutes of a pure youth lineup. The Jazz currently have eight players under contract who were born in the year 2000 or later.
To be clear, this lineup will likely be terrible if it gets any run this year. That's just the reality of playing rookies and sophomores. It would be enjoyable, though. I expect to see many fast breaks, energy, and athleticism.
Kris Dunn, Ochai Agbaji, Lauri Markkanen, Taylor Hendricks, Walker Kessler
I know, I know. Taylor Hendricks is a rookie, and rookies are typically poor defenders. Ochai Agbaji is a second-year player, and he wasn't great defensively as a rookie. However, I see this lineup as being an absolute menace on defense. Kris Dunn is in the league because of his on-ball defense. His shooting and playmaking that he showed for Utah last year was a bonus, but his defense is why he's in the NBA. Walker Kessler is already an NBA All-Defense candidate. He’ll contend for the Defensive Player of the Year award this season. Lauri Markkanen is a solid off-ball defender and an elite rim protector from the forward position. Hendricks projects as a versatile big/wing that can defend on the perimeter and at the rim. Slotting him next to Kessler and Markkanen would give the Jazz three legitimate rim protectors, all playing different positions, and an elite point-of-attack defender.
Rim Protection is crucial to effective defense…— NBA University (@NBA_University) August 13, 2023
➡️ Defends More Shots at Rim
⬇️ More Effective Rim Protection
What stands out? pic.twitter.com/7x7Vxr0HA4
Agbaji is the biggest question mark in my mind. If he can take a step forward this season, he could be the athletic wing defender we hope to see. I would expect this lineup to frustrate opponents into terrible shots because they couldn’t get to the rim. Realistically, this lineup is a year or two away from being as effective as I’m describing, but you never know. I didn’t expect Kessler to figure out NBA defense so quickly. It’s possible that Hendricks and Agbaji can follow suit.
The Spacing lineup
Keyonte George, Collin Sexton, Jordan Clarkson, Lauri Markkanen, Kelly Olynyk
The Jazz are not the three-point leaders they were a few years ago, but they still have a lot of shooting on the roster. Having multiple bigs who can legitimately shoot gives Utah flexibility. They can play Kessler at the center for defense and rim pressure or Olynyk at the center for offensive versatility and shooting. In this lineup, you’d have five players that will all demand attention behind the three-point line and five players who can put the ball on the floor. You could sub Agbaji in for one of the guards for a bit more defense. You could even try Simone Fontecchio to add size to the lineup.
This season will be one of change and growth for Utah. I hope Coach Will Hardy will be experimental in his lineups because there are many ways he can go with this team.