UTAH JAZZ

Jazz Mailbag: What Happens When Walker Kessler Returns?

Nov 21, 2023, 4:45 PM

Walker-Kessler-Utah-Jazz-New-Orleans-Pelicans-NBA...

Walker Kessler of the Ut

SALT LAKE CITY – Welcome to a Thanksgiving week edition of the KSL Sports Utah Jazz mailbag.

Each week we will send out a prompt on KSL Sports Threads, Instagram, X, and Facebook pages asking for the mailbag questions you have about the Jazz.

Then, we’ll respond to as many questions as we can in that week’s mailbag.

Jazz Mailbag: What Happens When Kessler Returns?

Q: What do the Jazz do when Walker Kessler comes back? They really miss his rim protection, but the offense seems to have more space to operate with the lineup they have now. How do you feel Ochai Agbaji has done in the starting lineup?

A: This is probably the biggest question facing the Jazz coaching staff at the moment. Though the Jazz are just 4-9 on the season, and 2-4 in Kessler’s absence, it’s been easy to see how much better the team has played without him, especially over the last four games.

My guess is the coaching staff’s biggest hope is that inserting a willing passer like Keyonte George does enough to fix the spacing to allow both John Collins and Kessler to share frontcourt together, even if it’s only for a few minutes to begin the first and third quarters and to potentially close games depending on matchups.

George’s better-than-expected passing, and Collins’ evolution into a 43-percent three-point shooter will certainly help the team’s spacing upon Kessler’s return, though Collins’ shooting numbers may be aided by spacing the floor against opposing teams’ starting centers without Kessler in the lineup.

Regarding Agbaji, he’s had some bright flashes on the defensive end challenging both Kevin Durant and Devin Booker in the two Phoenix Suns series.

I liked Hardy’s request that Agbaji becomes 10-20 percent “wilder” on defense in order to become a menace on that end of the floor, even if it means a few more fouls per game.

In short, Agbaji needs to think less and play more, and I think that’s a strong observation from Hardy.

Q: Is there a world where the Jazz send Jordan Clarkson to the bench or even trade him by February or March to make room for an Ochai Agbaji and Keyonte George backcourt?

A: The answer to this question is no and yes.

First, no, I don’t see a scenario where the Jazz move Jordan Clarkson to the bench in favor of Ochai Agbaji.

The Jazz like how Clarkson pairs with Lauri Markkanen, providing a more than ample scoring punch to make life easier on their only All-Star.

Plus, Clarkson has been absolutely fabulous since the Jazz moved George into the starting lineup averaging 29.6 points and 4.4 assists while shooting 51 percent from the floor and 39 percent from three.

In fact, if Clarkson keeps that pace up alongside George, he’ll be a serious candidate to earn an All-Star nod alongside Markkanen, especially if the Jazz find a way to start winning some games.

Now, on the flip side, if the Jazz aren’t winning, but Clarkson continues to produce at an All-Star level, the Jazz will certainly shop him to a team looking for a microwave scorer before the deadline.

I’d keep an eye on which teams seriously chase Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine, and would imagine the Jazz would find those same suitors for Clarkson, while offering him at a lower price.

With his team-friendly contract, and plug-and-play type of game, Clarkson could fetch a very healthy return if the Jazz decide to focus on developing their youth in the second half of the season.

Q: What do you see happening with Kris Dunn?

A: I will admit I was wrong about Kris Dunn’s role on this team after a strong close to last season, followed by some impressive performances during the preseason.

I thought he’d be a regular contributor, but right now he’s out of the rotation entirely.

However, I do anticipate the Jazz making a trade at some point this season using pieces from their overloaded backcourt, and minus a contender wanting to take on Dunn’s veteran minimum deal in exchange for a second-round pick, he likely doesn’t have a lot of value.

So, there’s a decent chance the Jazz move one of their other guards potentially opening a spot for Dunn in the rotation.

The question then becomes are the Jazz in a place where they are winning games and look to Dunn to provide minutes on a team chasing the playoffs? Or, are they going young, in which case they could insert rookie Brice Sensabaugh into the rotation to aid his development, and improve their lottery odds.

Q: What coaching changes have you seen from Will Hardy compared to year one?

A: I’ve been surprised at how willing Hardy is to tinker with his lineups and rotation early in the season when he sees something that isn’t working.

From benching Kris Dunn, to starting Keyonte George and Ochai Agbaji, to moving Simone Fontecchio into the rotation, there have been a lot of changes since opening night, and that will continue when Walker Kessler gets healthy, and if the Jazz decide to insert Taylor Hendricks into the lineup this season.

In that sense, I think he’s more confident in making changes to his lineups knowing he won’t lose the locker room, and that might have been more difficult as a first-year head coach.

Q: The Jazz could obviously use a consolidation trade, but which direction should they go? Try to move up in the standings or down (and getting more assets)?

A: This will almost certainly be determined by their record on December 15 when every player who signed a contract this offseason becomes available for trade.

The Jazz will have 12 more games under their belt by December 15, and if they continue at their current .308 winning pace, they’ll be right around 8-17 on the season.

With the four additional play-in tournament spots, the Jazz could still see the playoffs as a somewhat reachable goal, but will also have to weigh whether they’d prefer to chase the 10th seed in hopes of a longshot playoff bid, or hold onto their first round draft pick which would be sent to the Oklahoma City Thunder if it falls outside of the 10 picks.

Or, if the Jazz were to go 8-4 over the next three weeks and have a near-.500 record, they could certainly look to add help to their depth chart.

Are you on Threads yet? Let’s connect, give us a follow @kslsports


Download the new & improved KSL Sports app from Utah’s sports leader. You can stream live radio, and 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.

  • Utah Jazz Scoreboard

  • Utah Jazz Team Leaders

  • Utah Jazz Standings

Utah Jazz

collin-sexton-was-present-during-utah-gymnastics-meet-against-stanford-at-the-huntsman-center-2024...

Michelle Bodkin

Jazz Point Guard Collin Sexton Takes In Utah Gymnastics Meet

Utah Jazz point guard Collin Sexton was in attendance for the Red Rocks' best meet (so far) of the 2024 season.

2 days ago

Utah Jazz rookie Brice Sensabaugh...

Ben Anderson

Jazz Turn To Rookies In Loss To Hornets

The Utah Jazz were unable to snap their four-game losing streak as they fell to the Charlotte Hornets at home 115-107.

3 days ago

Utah Jazz head coach Will Hardy...

Ben Anderson

Hornets Hand Jazz Fifth Straight Loss

The Utah Jazz losing streak extended to five games after falling at home to the Charlotte Hornets 115-107.

3 days ago

Utah Jazz Charlotte Hornets Brice Sensabaugh...

Chandler Holt

Jazz Rookies Show Out In Third Quarter Against Hornets

Utah Jazz rookies Keyonte George and Taylor Hendricks put up highlight after highlight in the third quarter against the Charlotte Hornets.

3 days ago

Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson Brice Sensabaugh...

Chandler Holt

Brice Sensabaugh, Jordan Clarkson Connect For Highlight Play In Transition

Brice Sensabaugh stole the Hornet's pass, saved the ball, and received a flashy assist from none other than Jordan Clarkson.

3 days ago

Utah Jazz Lauri Markkanen New York Knicks dunk...

Chandler Holt

Lauri Markkanen Pins Layup On Glass, Throws Down Dunk On Other End

After denying a Miles Bridges' layup attempt, Lauri Markkanen ran the floor and threw down a nasty one-hand dunk.

3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

ksl-sports-newsletter...

KSL Sports

KSL Sports Newsletter: Sign Up Now

Sign up today for the KSL Sports newsletter. Get the latest Utah sports news delivered to your inbox.

...

KSL Sports

Jazz Notes Newsletter: Sign Up Now

Sign up today for the Jazz Notes newsletter. Get insider analysis, game recaps and opportunities to win tickets!

Follow @kslsports...

The Road Home Mediathon 2023

The KSL Sports Zone and KSLSports.com are proud to support the all-day Mediathon 2023 at the Road Home, an annual tradition to raise money and other essential items for the Road Home, a Homeless Shelter.

3 kids wearing real salt lake jerseys smiling...

Real Salt Lake

6 Reasons You Need to Experience a RSL Matchday

RSL Games are a great way to spend time with your family with fun activities, good food, and traditions you can only experience at the field.

High angle view of the beautiful Rose Bowl Stadium...

KSL Digital Sales

How to Prepare for the 2023 Rose Bowl

Everything you need to know to plan your 2023 Rose Bowl trip in Pasadena, California. This year, the Utes will face Penn State.

Jordan-Clarkson-Utah-Jazz...

KSL Digital Sales

Notable Moments From The Utah Jazz Season… So Far

At the beginning of the season, the Utah Jazz were second to last. Now they rank in the top 10 teams in the Western Conference.

Jazz Mailbag: What Happens When Walker Kessler Returns?