After months of trade rumors and speculation, the NBA trade deadline is finally over. The Utah Jazz, currently sitting at fourth in the Western Conference standings, entered this deadline season with a variety of issues they needed to address. On the Jazz’s hierarchy of needs, adding a solid perimeter defender and depth to the back end of the roster stood at the top.
Were those needs addressed? Well, yes, but also no. The Utah Jazz only made a single trade:
The Utah Jazz are acquiring guard Portland’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker and the Spurs’ Juancho Hernangomez in a three-way deal, sources tell ESPN. The Spurs gets guard Tomas Satoransky and a second-round pick, and the Blazers get Joe Ingles, Elijah Hughes and a second-round pick.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 9, 2022
Personally, I think this is a great trade for Utah. Realistically, the Jazz got Nickeil Alexander-Walker, a young player with potential, for nothing. It was unfortunate to see Joe Ingles go, but given his injury and contract situation, it only made sense. Elijah Hughes, while sometimes fun to watch, was never going to get playing time on the roster and couldn’t play a lick of defense. And to make matters better, the second round picks in the exchange are likely going to end up at the back of the draft. The Jazz could simply buy into the second round if they wanted a pick in that range.
While Alexander-Walker has issues with his shot selection, shooting percentages, and turnovers, he also has an abundance of potential as a playmaker and defender. This season NAW has averaged 12.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.8 assists on 37.5/31.1/72.2 percent shooting splits. That isn’t pretty, but given that he played as a primary shot creator on the New Orleans Pelicans, it makes sense. At around 6-5 with a 6-10 wingspan, NAW also has the ability to be a strong defender.
Take a look at this clip, where NAW stays in front of Will Barton and gets the strip:
That is great defense! NAW stays disciplined, not reaching or swiping on the Barton drive, and then gets the strip on the turn around. The Jazz need more of this.
Or this clip, where NAW showcases how his length could become a difference maker for Utah:
The Jazz have lacked the athleticism and length to make plays like this. While NAW is far from a perfect, he does have the potential to become one of Utah’s most versatile defenders.
But does this trade solve any of Utah’s issues right now? That will fully depend on how NAW performs. Maybe a new situation with a different coach and different system will serve him well. But for now, we will have to wait and see.
As for Juancho Hernangomez, the other player Utah received in the deal, I don’t foresee him getting any playing time this season. The former first-round pick has always had potential, but has never put it all together. Unless poor health strikes the Jazz again, he’ll likely ride the pine.
While this trade alone might be underwhelming, it's important to understand that the Utah Jazz had very few assets to work with. A hurt Joe Ingles, a struggling Jordan Clarkson, and a variety of end-of-bench players weren’t going to net Utah a premier defensive wing. Mortgaging another first round pick for a role player would empty Utah’s draft asset cache and leave them without an insurance policy, should things turn upside-down. In this situation, there was only so much they could do.
For now, the focus should shift to getting health and making the most of the players currently on the roster. Since Donovan Mitchell’s return, the team has already looked significantly better. Players are defending hard, hustling, and looking like they're having more fun. With Rudy Gobert returning soon, the Jazz now have the opportunity to leave the recent stretch of brutal play in the rearview and kick it into high-gear before the playoffs.