Can the Jazz keep this up? NBA scout weighs in on Utah’s hot start

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One month into the 2022-23 NBA
season, the Utah Jazz have exceeded all expectations. After trading
Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale
and replacing head coach Quin Snyder with 34-year-old Will Hardy,
Utah was expected to plummet down the standings and enter the
Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes.

Instead, the Jazz are 10-6, with
wins over the Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, Atlanta Hawks, New
Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Clippers among others. Utah
currently has the NBA’s seventh-best offense (scoring 111.4 points
per 100 possessions) and 12th-best defense (allowing 108.7 points
per 100 possessions). 

They have a balanced attack,
with six players averaging double-digit points: Lauri Markkanen
(21.3), Jordan Clarkson (17.9), Collin Sexton (13.3), Kelly Olynyk
(13.2), Malik Beasley (12.3) and Mike Conley (10.7). This team
plays extremely hard and makes a ton of hustle
plays. 

And unlike the other franchises
that were projected to tank entering this season, the Jazz aren’t a
super young team. Utah’s roster has an average age of 25.86 years
old, which is significantly older than the youngest teams in the
league – the Oklahoma City Thunder (23.14), Houston Rockets
(23.58), San Antonio Spurs (23.84) and Orlando Magic (23.94). While
the Jazz are assembling an impressive young core, they’ve gotten
huge contributions from experienced players like Markkanen, Olynyk,
Clarkson, Beasley, Sexton, Conley and Jarred Vanderbilt.

Entering this week, Utah sat
atop the Western Conference standings. However, after losing
three-straight games, the Jazz have slid to fourth-place in the
West. 

Was Utah’s early-season success
a fluke or can they sustain this level of play going forward? Will
they keep this core together or eventually trade away some of their
veterans for additional draft picks and prospects?
BasketballNews.com reached out to an anonymous NBA scout and picked
their brain about Utah’s impressive start to this
season.

“They’re off to such a hot
start, and they’ve got a lot of guys who are really confident,” the
anonymous NBA scout told BasketballNews.com. “I’m a big Jordan
Clarkson guy and he has really emerged. He’s always been a scorer,
but I think he knows that he has to be good night in and night out
and he has to lead the charge for this team. Lauri Markkanen is
killing it, and I’m really happy for him.
This is what we thought Lauri Markkanen would be
when the Bulls took him [No. 7 overall]. It took some time, but
this is the guy we thought he might become. I think Kelly Olynyk is
a great veteran, and so is Mike Conley. They have a solid bench
with Collin Sexton. I’m a Walker Kessler guy; I think he’s actually
going to be a really good big. And then they’ve got Talen
Horton-Tucker… When they acquired Ochai Agbaji and Leandro
Bolmaro, I thought those guys would get an opportunity to play, but
they really haven’t gotten opportunities because there’s so much
depth! They have a lot of veterans who have been very
productive.

“I just feel they made a lot of
nice moves, even though they weren’t considered ‘sexy.’ They
weren’t [additions] that many people thought would make this huge
difference, but they’re all playing really well together. I like
their team, and I think they are coached really well. I think
[their early success] is a testament to their coaching staff and
the great job that they’ve done.”

Is this sustainable? That’s the
question that everyone is asking about this year’s Jazz. The NBA
scout thinks that Utah is for real.

“I think it’s sustainable,” said
the NBA scout. “They hear all of the noise [about tanking], and
they heard it going into the year, but they’ve got a bunch of guys
on that roster who know how to compete and play hard, they’ve got
good leadership from their vets, they’ve got a lot of talent and
guys who can play, and they have a lot of guys who have faced
adversity at some point in their career. They’re just kind of built
in a unique way. 

“As for what I’ve seen from
them, obviously they can score on you in bunches. They have
multiple guys who can initiate offense. They have bigs who can
stretch the floor. They have shooting. One area that really matters
once you get to the playoffs is legit rim protection, so hopefully
Walker Kessler can be that for them. I think there are a few areas
to circle and keep tabs on, but they’re playing really well. They
play hard and bring so much energy.”

The scout had a ton of praise
for Will Hardy, who is a first-time head coach.

“I think the coaching staff
deserves a ton of credit. I think there’s a bunch of buy-in and
trust,” the anonymous NBA scout said. “And when they have a deficit
or they struggle in different phases, it seems like they always
break through. They have a really good way of fighting through
those struggles, and I think that’s always a sign of a good team.
It’s a reason why they’re one of the best teams in the league.
They’ve won close games, and they’ve finished games where they
didn’t play well and found ways to win. I think that’s a testament
to the coaches and everyone over there.

“You look at everything that
went on over this offseason, losing Quin Snyder was a big deal; I
think Quin Snyder is a great coach. But it can’t be overlooked the
job that Will is doing. Will is a great example of a young coach
who got his opportunity and made the most of it. You look at how
these guys respond to him and what he’s done so far, it’s really
impressive. I think there’s a lot of great young coaches and
assistants out there who are emerging, and that should be a bigger
story. I think it’s a great thing. As much as we talk about the
young talent in the league and how the NBA is in great hands, it
can’t be overstated how good these young coaches have been and Will
is a great testament of that. There are so many young coaches who
are showing that they really know what they are doing, and I think
that’s great for the league.”

Before this hot start, many
people around the NBA expected the Jazz to continue moving their
veterans for draft picks or young talent. The general consensus was
that rival executives from playoff teams would be circling Conley,
Clarkson and Olynyk like vultures, and that Utah would look to
continue stockpiling draft capital. Now, is it possible that Danny
Ainge and Co. decide to keep this core together and see if they can
make a run? Or, given that these veterans have increased their
trade value, is Ainge
more likely to wheel-and-deal?

“I think you ride it out with
these guys because they’re playing so well,” the NBA scout said.
“Entering the year, I think there was a lot of thought around them
having some movable players and movable assets. Knowing what they
were doing and [how they were positioned] going into the year, it
felt like this is just what Danny does. Now, the fact that they are
winning games and this new coaching staff [is succeeding], you’re
building a culture. You build a culture by winning games. You can’t
overlook that in this process. 

“I know team-building is the
bigger picture here, but they’ve put themselves in a great
position; I think what they got back in their trades – particularly
in the Rudy trade – was just next level, and I was not expecting
that. I think they’re in a great spot
and they’re winning games – and that’s still a good
thing! I think too often, we shy away from teams winning games to
‘rebuild,’ but it’s not a bad thing to continue winning games and
build your culture.”

Only time will tell whether the
Jazz can keep this up, but there’s no question that they have been
a fun story and the league’s biggest (and most pleasant) surprise
in recent weeks.



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