Since Ryan Smith and Ashley Smith took ownership of the Jazz from Gail Miller on October 28th, 2020, the Utah Jazz has been in a completely different direction compared to previous years. In the 2022 off-season, we saw the cornerstone pieces of the franchise, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, get traded away in some of the biggest trades in recent NBA history. The Jazz acquired ten first-round draft picks; Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, the draft rights to Walker Kessler, and other rotational players. With this acquisition of draft capital, most NBA fans believed Utah would have a fresh restart on their team and be in the draft lottery for the next few years. This would have been the case, but each of these players had breakout seasons where they could display their talents and skillsets that they brought to the team.
An excellent instance of this happening is Lauri Markkanen. Markkanen before last season was on an upward trajectory with the Cleveland Cavaliers, averaging 14.8 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game, and 1.3 assists per game. After Markkanen got to Utah, he blossomed into an All-Star caliber player, averaging 25.6 points per game, 8.6 rebounds per game, and 1.9 assists per game. This led the Utah Jazz to finish the season with a 37-45 record, which was significantly higher than anyone else expected. Walker Kessler was also an excellent player for the Jazz by locking down the paint, averaging 8.4 rebounds per game and 2.3 blocks per game. Former Sixth Man- of the Year Jordan Clarkson averaged 20.8 points per game and 4.4 assists per game, which are career highs for the 30-year-old point guard.
With the Utah Jazz exceeding all expectations from their previous season, they entered the 2023 NBA Draft with the 9th, 15th, and 28th overall picks. At No. 9 they drafted 6-foot-9 Taylor Hendricks, at No. 15 they drafted 6-foot-4 Keyonte George, and at No. 28 they drafted 6-foot-6 Brice Sensabaugh. With Taylor Hendricks shooting nearly 48% from the field and nearly 40% from 3-point range, he will make an excellent frontcourt pairing with Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler. Keyonte George had an explosive start to the NBA Summer League and was even on pace to win the NBA Summer League MVP before he got injured, so he will provide some excellent scoring off the bench for the Utah Jazz. We have not seen much of Brice Sensabaugh since he was drafted by the Jazz, but his versatility as a scorer at the forward position will provide good opportunities for the team to score more points. To wrap up their off-season, the Utah Jazz traded Rudy Gay and a 2nd-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks for John Collins.
As for what we can expect from the Utah Jazz this year, we can expect a lineup consisting of Collin Sexton at Point Guard, Jordan Clarkson at Shooting Guard, Lauri Markkanen at Small Forward, John Collins at Power Forward, and Walker Kessler at Center. This starting lineup might even change from game to game, as one of the biggest strengths the Jazz has is its roster depth. We can also expect the Jazz to be a fairly competent team in the Western Conference, as they were just outside of the play-in tournament last year. If Lauri Markkanen can take that next step to being an All-NBA player next year and John Collins fits well in Will Hardy’s coaching system, we could see Utah being in the playoffs after missing only a single year.