The Utah Jazz can contend for the playoffs in 2023-24 by playing their cards right.
As the new NBA season approaches, the Utah Jazz are in a much better position than a year ago. They have a roster with youth and talent and veterans who contribute, with few bad contracts and zero chemistry issues. The Jazz just missed the play-in tournament last season, due to several factors (including a rumored bit of soft tanking in March and April).
Now, with a star in Lauri Markkanen, a young, talented big in Walker Kessler, and John Collins rounding out the frontcourt, along with Jordan Clarkson, Collin Sexton, Talen Horton-Tucker, Ochai Agbaji and promising rookie Keyonte George, the Utah Jazz have a solid base to work with for the 2023-24 season.
Why should they contend for the playoffs, instead of proceeding on schedule with the rebuild?
Competing for the playoffs, and making a jump in the West standings would be a huge boost for the franchise, both locally and nationally. The fans want to see an improved team in Year 2 of the post-Rudy/Donovan era, not another year of being oh-so-close to the play-in.
Plus, the Jazz are unlikely to keep their first-round pick in 2024, as it is owed to Oklahoma City from the Derrick Favors trade if it falls outside the Top 10. The Jazz drafted 9th last year with their own pick after going 37-45.
The 2024 draft class is notably weaker than 2023, which is good timing for the Jazz and letting the pick go.
Tucker at Sporting Logically spoke recently about what the Jazz need to do this season, stating that they can take a step forward and move into the Top 6 in the Western Conference.
Utilizing their best lineups is key to making this happen for the Utah Jazz. Lauri Markkanen had an incredible season a year ago, making his first All-Star team. He will need to be ready for teams’ defensive plans focusing on him this time around. Improving his passing and recognizing double teams earlier would be a significant help to the Jazz.
Integrating John Collins and having him comfortable in the offense early will be key to the Jazz’s chances of early season success. He is capable of scoring 20 points a game; however, 15-17 a night and getting his 3-point shooting back up to 34% would be sufficient.
The continued growth of Walker Kessler on both ends of the court is vital for the Utah Jazz this season. They must keep him healthy, focused, and motivated. He should be able to average double-digit points and rebounds without issue (he did so for most of the 2nd half of last season, according to Basketball Reference).
Having a healthy backcourt of Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton to start the year will be key. Clarkson’s new deal (reported $23.4 million for 2023-24) almost assures that he will be a starter. Sexton’s experience and quickness should be sufficient to get him the other guard spot.
The development of the rookies will be a storyline – Keyonte George is the one most likely to get NBA minutes early, owing to his strong summer league performances. Hendricks and Sensabaugh are more likely to see G-League time for now but could come into play by January if they show promise.
Sorting out a good rotation early in camp, and keeping the distractions to a minimum can help this Utah Jazz team rise into the playoff picture in a crowded Western Conference. And opportunities to make a trade to improve the roster are likely to present themselves during the season if the Jazz desire to make a move.