How Can Jazz Finish Season Successfully?

Mar 14, 2024, 4:11 PM


Hendricks #0 of the Utah Jazz gestures after a basket during the first half against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Paycom Center on December 11, 2023 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Photo by Joshua Gateley/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joshua Gateley/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz have one month remaining in the regular season, and having fallen out of the playoff race, the value of the final 17 games is a bit ambiguous.

The Jazz are just 2-11 in their last 13 games since the NBA trade deadline, and have slipped to 12th in the Western Conference.

What can the team do over the next month to have a successful close to the season?

Jazz Need Good Losses, Some Wins This Season

Having lost 11 of their last 13 games, it’s easy to forget that the Jazz were an even 26-26 at the trade deadline.

The Jazz had the 12th-worst record at the time, and were set to convey their top-ten protected first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

With their recent slide, the Jazz now own the ninth-worst record in the NBA and are on pace to hold onto the pick.

Having taken such a dramatic approach at the deadline, the Jazz need to ensure that they do wind up with a top-ten selection, which means winning games should no longer be considered a priority.

The Jazz are projected to finish in the 34-win range, which should put them comfortably behind the Atlanta Hawks and the Houston Rockets in the standings, nearly guaranteeing they’ll end up with a top-ten pick in June.

But just because losses may benefit the team’s draft lottery odds, the Jazz could stand to find themselves in closer games, and even squeak out a few wins to close the season.

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Over their last 13 games, the Jazz are tied with the Washington Wizards for the worst record in the NBA, and six of their 11 losses have come by ten or more.

While getting the young players more time on the floor will be good for their development, the reps would have added value if the games weren’t already decided by halftime.

Though losing games is far from a disaster, more competitive losses and an occasional win may provide a softer landing at season’s end.

Rookie Development

Keyonte George has already benefited immensely from the playing time he’s received since the beginning of the regular season, and the rookie guard has taken another step forward over the last month.

Since the trade deadline, George is averaging 17.0 points and 5.5 assists while shooting 44 percent from the floor and 43 percent from three.

Now the Jazz have an opportunity to see how rookies Taylor Hendricks and Brice Sensabaugh perform with increased roles.

Hendricks is averaging 7.0 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 48 percent from the floor and 33 percent from three in his last 10 appearances with the Jazz.

Sensabaugh is averaging 6.3 points and 2.4 rebounds while shooting 48 percent from the floor and 31 percent from three in his last 10.

Neither player’s future is likely to be determined over the final 17 games of the season, and both would benefit from suiting up for the Jazz during summer league, but strong play from the rookies would further help justify trading Kelly Olynyk and Simone Fontecchio at the trade deadline.

Find Momentum For Walker Kessler

After being named to the All-Rookie first team Walker Kessler has taken a step back in his second season seeing his per-minute production dip in a reserve role.

At just 22 years old there’s no reason to hit the panic button on Kessler, but a strong close to the season would help lessen the number of issues the Jazz need to address this summer, especially if they hope to make the playoffs next season.

Simply establishing himself as a more reliable backup center would be a positive development over the final 17 games as injuries and inconsistent play have derailed Kessler’s sophomore campaign.

With Olynyk off the roster, there should be plenty of minutes for Kessler to recapture the promise of his rookie season, now it’s on him to make it happen.

Hope Lightning Strikes Twice With Lofton, Bazley

The Jazz found a helpful piece in Kris Dunn last season after signing the veteran guard to a 10-day contract.

Though Dunn could leave the Jazz this offseason, he’s more than earned his veteran-minimum salary with the roster this year.

Now the Jazz are hoping that the recent signings of Kenneth Lofton Jr. and Darius Bazley may bear similar fruit.

Lofton Jr. has career averages of 3.9 points and 1.7 rebounds in 41 appearances with the Memphis Grizzles, but his unique skillset for a big man could help replace what the team lost in Olynyk.

Bazley has career averages of 8.9 points and 5.3 rebounds in 231 NBA appearances, and the Jazz could use his athleticism and defense on the perimeter.

The odds of either player making a significant contribution are likely small, but the Jazz would welcome another surprise like Dunn.

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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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