Questions Remain As Jazz Near Season Opener

Oct 23, 2023, 4:07 PM | Updated: 4:16 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz season opens this week, and after five preseason outings, questions remain about what the team will look like on Wednesday night.

Some questions have already been answered, e.g. Lauri Markkanen appears to have seen no drop off on his All-Star caliber play from last season.

The Finnish forward averaged 16.8 points in just under 21 minutes per contest in the preseason, an uptick from last year’s stellar campaign.

Furthermore, of the three rookies, Keyonte George is the most ready to help the team on day one, though it’s unlikely to be in a starting role.

With the handful of knowns heading into the season, what remains to be answered on opening night?

Who Starts In Jazz Season Opener?

Though coach Will Hardy has willingnly offered that the Jazz won’t have a traditional point guard initiating the offense this season, it’s still unclear who will get the start at either backcourt spot on opening night.

Talen Horton-Tucker started all five preseason games for the Jazz, and was the team’s second-leading minute-getter, perhaps a clear indicator that he should be the favorite to start on opening night.

Collin Sexton made three starts, including the first two preseason games, and the final tune-up last Thursday.

Jordan Clarkson started preseason games three and four but rested along with Markkannen, John Collins, and Kelly Olynyk in the final exhibition outing.

Keyonte George led the Jazz in preseason minutes played, but never started, and had the lowest efficiency of any guard in the rotation.

Conversely, Kris Dunn never started but was by far the Jazz’s most efficient guard, he looked comfortable initiating the offense and is the team’s best perimeter defender.

At this point, the only major surprise would be if George earned a starting spot on opening night. Otherwise, there’s evidence to support Horton-Tucker, Sexton, Clarkson, and Dunn all earning those spots.

Can John Collins Shoot?

Despite an admittedly small sample size of just four games, John Collins appears to be shooting the ball much better than he did last season with the Atlanta Hawks.

A career 35 percent three-point shooter, Collins efficiency dropped to just 29 percent last season, coinciding with his lowest scoring average since his rookie campaign.

In four appearances with the Jazz so far, Collins has knocked down three of his eight deep balls.

Though eight attempts are far too few to draw any conclusions from, it’s another promising sign coming off his strong shooting performances to close last season.

Over his final 12 regular season games, Collins knocked down 44 percent of his 4.3 three-point attempts per game. In six playoff appearances, he shot 34 percent on 5.3 attempts.

All told, in Collins last 22 games including four starts with the Jazz, he’s knocked down 37-88 three-point attempts, or 42 percent on four attempts per game.

If he keeps that up, the Jazz will be thrilled to pair him with Markkanen and Walker Kessler in the front court.

Will Kessler Shoot Threes?

While Collins is looking to recapture his previous career shooting numbers, second-year center Walker Kessler is trying to prove he can be a deep threat of any kind.

Kessler hoisted four threes during the preseason, knocking down just one attempt, but showing an increased willingness to shoot them.

The rookie standout connected on 1-3 threes in 74 appearances last season, or about one attempt every 25 games.

Keeping up his current pace from the season, Kessler would attempt roughly 65 three-pointers if he played all 82 games.

Every NBA team wants to space the floor, but can Kessler do it well enough to help the Jazz this season? More success early in the year would go a long way toward confirming its effectiveness in his arsenal.

How Big Is The Rotation?

While Markkanen, Collins, Kessler, Clarkson, Sexton, Olynyk, and second-year wing Ochai Agbaji all seem like safe bets to be in the opening night rotation, how many bodies will see the floor in meaningful minutes?

Most regular season rotations consist of nine players, though Hardy showed a proclivity towards ten for stretches last year.

If the seven spots above are assumedly in the rotation, who are the other two, or potentially three players that will earn the final spots?

Dunn, Horton-Tucker, and George appear to be the frontrunners in a ten-man rotation based on preseason play.

That would leave newcomer Omer Yurtseven out of the frontcourt rotation and would exclude Luka Samanic and Simone Fontecchio, both of whom finished last season showing improvement in their games.

The Jazz are hoping to compete for a playoff spot this year, so hurt feelings at the end of the bench will have to take a backseat to winning, but the team’s roster is deeper than most, and barring injuries or blowouts, minutes will be hard to come by.

Utah Jazz Season Opener

The Jazz will face the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday at 7 pm MST in Salt Lake City. The game will be televised on KJZZ, streamed on Jazz+, and can be heard on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone.

Download the new & improved KSL Sports app from Utah’s sports leader. You can stream live radio, video and stay up to date on all of your favorite teams.

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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