Despite Surprise Wins, Jazz Drop In West Standings

Mar 24, 2023, 1:15 PM

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz are through week 24 of the NBA schedule, 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 and isn’t competing for a championship.

Here’s how they’ve fared with just 10 games left in the regular season.

Utah Jazz Four Factors Week 24

Youth Development: A-

The two key Jazz rookies followed up brilliant performances in Monday’s win over the Sacramento Kings with rather pedestrian outings against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday.

Though Kessler’s 10 point, eight rebound, five block performance against the Kings wasn’t particularly eye-catching statistically, he held All-Star Domantas Sabonis to just 11 points on 4-11 shooting and came up with several massive stops in the fourth quarter.

Ochai Agbaji did have his best game of the season against the Kings, leading the Jazz with 27 points, carrying the offensive load with Lauri Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson, and Collin Sexton sidelined.

Then, against the Trail Blazers, the burden of carrying the team in the previous game seemed to slow the Jazz rookies.

Kessler finished with eight points, five rebounds, and three blocks against Portland while Agbaji added seven points, three rebounds, and three assists.

Normally, those numbers would be fine for rookies entering the final weeks of the season, but Kessler and Agbaji have already proven they aren’t your average first-year players.

NBA Standings: B

Shockingly, the Jazz went 2-1 this week including wins over the playoff-bound Boston Celtics and Sacramento Kings and still dropped in the Western Conference Playoffs.

The Jazz currently sit in the 12th seed in the West at 35-37, but just a half-game behind the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Dallas Mavericks for the eighth seed.

The team’s schedule is about to get even more difficult as they host the Milwaukee Bucks, travel to face the Kings, then return home to play the Phoenix Suns in a span of just four days.

Though the Jazz have the third toughest remaining schedule in the league, it’s unlikely they’ll be overtaken by the Trail Blazers who sit a full three games back with just 10 games left to play.

They may fall behind the Pelicans, though New Orleans owns the ninth most difficult remaining schedule and could very easily finish the season winning only one more game.

With both the Mavericks and Lakers having favorable schedules to close the season, and the Jazz, Pelicans, and Trail Blazers having difficult paths forward, it’s hard to see any of those three teams qualifying for a spot in the Play-In Tournament.

With that said, I’d predict the Jazz will finish 11th in the West, just out of the playoffs, but ahead of the Pelicans and Trail Blazers.

Ideally, the Jazz would have either firmly locked up a playoff spot or landed higher in the draft lottery, but winning too many games as a result of the strong play from Markkanen, Kessler, and Agbaji is hardly a wasted season.

Veteran Performance: B

If this grade were only for Markkanen it would be a resounding A+ as the Finnish forward is likely in line to earn an All-NBA nod at season’s end.

Markkanen is averaging 30.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 35 percent from three.

He’s scored 40 or more in two of his last 10 games and 30 or more five times. Simply put, he’s been unstoppable.

Unfortunately, health has largely derailed the close of the season for both Collin Sexton who has missed the last 12 games and Jordan Clarkson who has missed the last seven, and nine of the last 10.

In their absence, Kris Dunn has been a tremendous bright spot showing off the talent that made him a top five pick in 2016.

Dunn has scored in double-digits in nine of his 12 appearances with the Jazz and is averaging 12.0 points, 5.2 assists, and 4.4 rebounds in just 23 minutes off the bench.

Fun Factor: A-

Wednesday’s loss to the Trail Blazers was a bit of a drag for Jazz fans as the team looked a step slow, and Markkanen took several scary falls throughout the night.

Otherwise, seeing Agbaji and Kessler dominate the Kings, and the entire team rallying to hold off the Celtics made for two of the more memorable wins of the season.

For better or worse, Team 49 has played more than its fair share of close games, and it’s made for an entertaining season.

The final 10 games will be even more difficult than the first 72, but the Jazz should keep most games competitive.

Overall, with two wins in Utah, the Jazz received solid grades for how they fared in the four factors of a successful season for week 24.

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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Despite Surprise Wins, Jazz Drop In West Standings