Markkanen Doing Heavy Lifting Post All-Star Break

Mar 2, 2023, 2:09 PM | Updated: 2:16 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz are through the first week post-NBA All-Star break, so it’s time to examine how they’ve fared in the four factors of a successful season.

The four factors — youth development, NBA standings, veteran performance, and fun factor — were laid out before the season as a grading system for a team that isn’t quite rebuilding but isn’t competing for a championship.

Here’s how they fared with the All-Star break now in the rearview mirror.

Utah Jazz Four Factors: Post All-Star

Youth Development: A

Barring a major letdown to close the season, the Jazz have probably solidified an A grade for their rookies with the early development of Walker Kessler, and the late progress from Ochai Agbaji.

Kessler continues to be one of the league’s best rookies averaging 8.2 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks. He’s also solidified his spot in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future.

The Auburn product’s best performance this past week came in a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder when he recorded a seven-point, seven-block, 18-rebound outing, including the game-saving block at the end of regulation.

Agbaji meanwhile has quickly developed into a deadly shooter, a dangerous transition threat, and one of the Jazz’s more enticing defenders.

Over his last five games, Agbaji is averaging 12.0 points and 2.6 rebounds while shooting 40 percent from the three-point line on more than six attempts a game.

Agbaji is only the sixth rookie in Jazz history to knock down multiple three-pointers in five consecutive games.

NBA Standings: B

The Jazz still find themselves in play-in tournament territory, sitting in the ninth seed in the West, 1.5 games back of the fifth-seeded Golden State Warriors, and a game up on the 11th-seeded Los Angeles Lakers.

With 19 games remaining, the Jazz can choose to either chase a playoff spot, or fall back in the lottery, and can feel good about the outcome.

Tuesday’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs looked like the first true sign that the team was more interested in improving their draft stock than making a postseason push, but may also have been due to injuries in the backcourt to Collin Sexton, Jordan Clarkson, and Agbaji.

The upcoming six-game road trip, including two stops in Oklahoma City and one matchup with the Dallas Mavericks will paint a clearer picture of the Jazz’s intentions.

Veteran Performance: B-

Any thought that Lauri Markkanen might put the breaks on after being named to his first All-Star game was quickly quashed after the Finnish forward scored 43 points in last week’s win over the Thunder.

Markkanen is averaging 32.7 points and 8.0 rebounds since returning from the break while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 37 percent from the three-point line on nine attempts per game.

It seems an All-Star nod wasn’t enough, as he may now be angling for All-NBA recognition.

Outside of Markkanen, however, the Jazz veterans have struggled.

Jordan Clarkson’s scoring has dropped to 16.5 points per game while shooting an inefficient 40 percent from the floor and 18 percent from the three-point line.

Kelly Olynyk is also in a slump, averaging 9.7 points on 35 percent shooting from the floor and 33 percent from three.

Rudy Gay’s season has continued to deteriorate as the veteran forward is averaging 5.0 points on 26 percent shooting from the floor while missing all five of his three-point attempts since the All-Star break.

Markkanen is carrying a big load for the Jazz at the moment, and until he gets help from his veteran teammates, the team may continue to lose games they shouldn’t.

Fun Factor: B

The Jazz have gone 2-1 since the All-Star break, winning a brilliant overtime thriller against the Thunder while suffering their worst lost of the season at home to the Spurs.

Mix in Saturday’s win over San Antonio and the Jazz have remained very watchable, largely due to Markkanen’s highlight reel plays and the development of Kessler and Agbaji.

If the rest of this season resembles Tuesday’s loss to the Spurs though, this grade will drop quickly.

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Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter at @BensHoops or on Instagram @BensHoops.


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Markkanen Doing Heavy Lifting Post All-Star Break