Rebuilding Jazz have scoring to contend in West, but defense and depth could hold them back – Cache Valley Daily

Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) reacts after a dunk against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)


Last season: 37-45, did not qualify for the playoffs.

Coach: Will Hardy, second season with the Jazz (37-45 overall).

What to expect: Utah made sweeping changes a year ago after trading Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert and the team isn’t done rebuilding. Lauri Markkanen blossoming into a star and Walker Kessler putting together a strong rookie season helped the Jazz be more competitive than expected, but Utah still missed the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Climbing the ladder in a deep and talented Western Conference will be challenging. The Jazz acquired John Collins from Atlanta in a trade to partner with Markkanen and Kessler in the frontcourt, and he is another reliable option on offense. They also extended Jordan Clarkson’s contract after he averaged career highs in points (20.8), assists (4.4) and rebounds (4.0) and fully guaranteed the final season of Kelly Olynyk’s deal to give their young roster some veteran leadership. Point guard is one position that remains in flux. First-year guard Keyonte George could be the point guard of the future, but Hardy plans to run the offense by committee to start the season. Clarkson, George, Collin Sexton, Talen Horton-Tucker and Kris Dunn all figure to split minutes at point guard early while Hardy experiments with his backcourt. The Jazz have plenty of scoring threats but they will need to shore up a weak defense and get consistent performances from a relatively inexperienced second unit to take a significant step forward this season.

Departures: F Rudy Gay, C Udoka Azubuike, F/C Damian Jones, F Juan Toscano-Anderson.

Additions: Collins, George, F Taylor Hendricks, F Brice Sensabaugh.

Player to watch: Markkanen flourished in his first season in Utah in an offense tailored to fit his strengths. The Finnish forward was named an NBA All-Star for the first time, and he earned the league’s Most Improved Player honors after posting career highs of 25.6 points per game and 49.9% shooting. Utah has committed to build around Markkanen as the franchise’s latest budding star. If he can build on his successful debut season, Utah has a shot at returning to the postseason sooner than expected.

Season opener: Oct. 25 vs. Sacramento Kings.

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