After Play-In Elimination, What’s Next For Jazz?

Apr 6, 2023, 10:10 PM

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SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night 114-98, officially eliminating their playoff chances.

Kris Dunn scored 22 points, dished out eight assists, and grabbed seven rebounds on an efficient 9-10 shooting.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 22 points.

Jazz Officially Eliminated From Play-In Tournament

For the first time in seven seasons, the Jazz will be excluded from the playoffs after officially being eliminated on Thursday night.

The Jazz had a narrow pathway to qualifying for the play-in tournament had they won their remaining games to close the season, while both the Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks went winless.

Now, heading into the last weekend of the regular season the Jazz can turn their attention to the standings across the league in hopes of improving their lottery odds before Sunday’s finale.

The Jazz will finish the season with no worse than a share of the 10th-best odds of winning next month’s draft lottery and can improve those percentages depending on how they perform in their next two outings.

If the Jazz beat both the Denver Nuggets on Saturday and the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, they’ll finish the season with a 38-44 record which could pull them into a tie with either the Chicago Bulls or the Dallas Mavericks in the final standings.

Dallas and Chicago will face off on Friday night with the winner moving to 39 wins on the season, and out of the reach of the Jazz’s maximum win total.

The loser however may be motivated to drop their final game of the season to remain at 38 wins in hopes that the Jazz will catch them.

If the Jazz lose to either the Nuggets or the Lakers, they’ll guarantee themselves no worse than the ninth-best odds of moving up in the draft lottery.

There is an outside chance the Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards, or Indiana Pacers could climb to 36 wins before the end of the season, potentially improving the Jazz’s odds of winning the lottery, but the three Eastern Conference teams have little motivation to do so.

If the Jazz do finish with the ninth-worst record at season’s end, they’ll have a 20.2 percent chance of moving into the top four picks of June’s draft.

They’d also have a 50.8 percent chance of drafting ninth overall, and a 29 percent chance of getting lept by at least one team and drafting 10th or lower.

The draft lottery will be held on May 16.

The team with the ninth-best odds of winning the draft lottery has done so twice since it was first instituted in 1985.

The Chicago Bulls won the lottery in 2008 and selected future MVP Derrick Rose with the top overall pick. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the draft lottery with the ninth-best odds in 2014 and selected future All-Star and NBA champion, Andrew Wiggins.

What’s The Next Step For Agbaji?

Thursday’s game was a big opportunity for Ochai Agbaji, getting a true opportunity to play with the ball in his hands with Jordan Clarkson, Collin Sexton, and Talen Horton-Tucker all sidelined by injury.

Truthfully, the results were mixed.

The rookie scored 13 points, but shot just 6-18 from the floor, including 0-8 from three, and failed to record an assist in 31 minutes on the floor.

Agbaji hasn’t been asked to fill that role for the Jazz this season with their deep backcourt, and the team’s 5-31 shooting from the three-point line didn’t help his cause, but the wing has yet to show a true knack as a playmaker at any point during his rookie season.

To reach his full potential as an offensive player, his playmaking will have to improve. Until then, the Jazz believe he can continue to have a larger impact on the defensive side of the ball.

“I think defense needs to be a huge focus,” Will Hardy said of the Jazz rookie. “I think he’s been a good defender this year but I think he could take a big jump.”

Some of that focus could help on the defensive glass where Agbaji grabbed just one rebound against the undersized Thunder frontcourt, despite his superior athleticism. While the number is too low for a player seeing regular rotation minutes, there may be other factors to blame.

“When you’re playing more minutes like he has been and you’re more involved, fatigue sets in and all of a sudden those things that we all thought about Ochai early in the season — like Oh man he’s a great cutter, oh wow he crashes the glass a lot and gets these loose balls — you don’t do as much because you don’t have as much energy,” Hardy said. 

There’s no need to fret about Agbaji’s lack of playmaking or rebounds at this point in his career, but with two games left in his rookie season, and a long offseason ahead, there are clear areas where he can improve.

Utah Jazz Next Broadcast

The Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets will tip off at 1:30 pm MT on Saturday. The game will be televised on AT&T SportsNet and can be heard on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. It can also be streamed on DirecTV Stream and FuboTV.

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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After Play-In Elimination, What’s Next For Jazz?