Utah Jazz Mailbag: Can Jazz Make Noise In West Next Year?

Apr 9, 2024, 3:57 PM | Updated: Apr 11, 2024, 1:58 pm


Lauri Markkanen of the Utah Jazz blocks Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies (photo: Deseret News, Ben B. Braun)

(photo: Deseret News, Ben B. Braun)

SALT LAKE CITY – Welcome to the Utah Jazz mailbag where every week our NBA insiders answer your questions on social media about your favorite team.

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

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

Jazz Mailbag: Can Jazz Realistically Improve?

Question: What are the realistic chances that the Jazz will be any better next year, or will it reflect the last few months?

Answer: This is both an easy answer and a difficult one that requires some nuance.

First, let’s agree that there is no chance that the Jazz will be as bad next season as they have been over the last two months since the trade deadline.

The Jazz are 3-24 in their last 27 games, that’s a .111 winning percentage, which would be the worst in the NBA by a full five percentage points.

Spread out over an 82-game schedule, and the Jazz would win only nine games next season, so it’s safe to assume that won’t happen.

Related: What Type Of Help Do The Jazz Need This Summer?

Additionally, I have it on good authority that the Jazz both want to improve the team, and don’t believe they can truly bottom out as long as they have a player like Lauri Markkanen on the roster.

But here’s the tricky part, the Jazz can hold onto Markkanen, improve internally with growth from their returning players, hit on their top-10 draft pick, shore up their rotation through free agency, and still not be one of the ten best teams in the West next season.

Let’s assume it’s a given that the Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Dallas Mavericks are all returning most of their rosters next season, and will easily be better than the Jazz.

Then, let’s include the likelihood that the flawed but experienced Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, and Los Angeles Clippers are all still better than the Jazz next year.

That’s seven teams before mentioning the Sacramento Kings who are on pace to finish with one of the ten best records in the West in back-to-back seasons, and the New Orleans Pelicans who are competing for a guaranteed playoff spot this season.

If those teams avoid catastrophic injury next season, they should all be penciled in as having significantly higher odds of making the playoffs than the Jazz.

Now here is where the playoff math gets truly difficult.

The Memphis Grizzlies will welcome back a healthy Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and Brandon Clarke next season. They’re also adding a top-ten pick in the draft, and have an intriguing rookie in GG Jackson to add to an already dangerous roster.

The Houston Rockets have shown significant signs of life over the last two months, and are also set to add a top-ten pick to their roster.

The Golden State Warriors still have a player named Stephen Curry on their roster, and the San Antonio Spurs might already be able to build a winner around super-rookie Victor Wembanyama.

So, between the young teams on the rise, and the veteran teams who have not yet bowed out of the playoff chase, I think there’s a realistic chance the Jazz and the Portland Trail Blazers enter next season as the favorites to finish with the worst two records in the West.

Q: Most likely case scenario in which the Jazz get their next No. 1 guy or MVP Caliber player which we need for a Championship.

A: Allow me to nitpick between having a No. 1 guy and having an MVP in the NBA, which are really two different conversations.

For example, Jayson Tatum is the no-question No. 1 guy on the Boston Celtics who are the odds-on favorites to win the title this season.

However, he’s not in the MVP conversation, and will probably finish fifth or sixth in the voting when the results are released in the coming weeks.

That is actually good news for the Jazz who don’t need to find an MVP to have a chance to win a title (though it would certainly help).

Now, let’s talk about how the Jazz find that No. 1 guy, ruling out any player on the current roster, based solely on what we’ve seen each of the last two seasons.

The most talked about option among fans seems to be geared towards tanking, resulting in a top pick in the draft, and selecting a future star.

Related: What Happens If Jazz Win The Draft Lottery?

The next most talked about option is hoping that another superstar requests a trade from their current team, and the Jazz line up the best offer in a trade.

While both are certainly possible, I am not sure they are the most realistic.

As I look at the team’s current makeup, and what assets they have on the horizon, I think the most likely pathway for the Jazz to find the next face of their franchise is by hitting a grand slam on a draft pick in the middle-to-late lottery.

Though I recognize why that may seem like a shot in the dark for many fans, it’s not as uncommon as you might think

Looking back at the Jazz over the last 30 years, finding steals in the draft has been the most profitable investment.

The Jazz selected Karl Malone, John Stockton, Andrei Kirilenko, Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, and Donovan Mitchell with the 9th-30th picks in the draft.

Deron Williams is the only top-eight draft pick by the Jazz to make an All-Star team, while they have also netted All-Stars in Lauri Markkanen, Mike Conley, Mehmet Okur, and Adrian Dantley via trade.

But beyond the Jazz’s long history, it’s surprising how many current teams’ best players result from finding steals in the draft outside of a top-five selection.

Milwaukee (Giannis Antetokounmpo), New York (Jalen Brunson), Cleveland (Donovan Mitchell), Indiana (Tyrese Haliburton), Miami (Jimmy Butler), Chicago (DeMar DeRozan), Brooklyn (Mikal Bridges), Washington (Kyle Kuzma and Deni Avdija), Denver (Nikola Jokic), Oklahoma City (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander), Clippers (Kawhi Leonard), Sacramento (Domantas Sabonis), and Golden State (Stephen Curry) all found their best players in what would be considered the mid-lottery through the early second round.

And, that’s ignoring Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns who happen to have Kevin Durant on the roster.

In fact, of the top-four MVP candidates this season (Jokic, Gilgeous-Alexander, Doncic, and Antetokounmpo) only Doncic was selected with a top-five pick, while the rest were selected outside of the top ten.

So, top picks increase the likelihood of finding a star player, while trades bring the most guaranteed return, the truth is, the Jazz’s next franchise piece may very well come via the draft, but outside of a top-five pick.

Want to ask questions in next week’s mailbag? Give us a follow @kslsports. If you submitted a question and it didn’t get answered here, listen to this week’s edition of the Jazz Notes podcast (located in the player above) where we answered more of your questions.

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, 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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Utah Jazz Mailbag: Can Jazz Make Noise In West Next Year?