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Jazz Mailbag: What Happens When Walker Kessler Returns?

Nov 21, 2023, 4:45 PM

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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

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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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Jazz Mailbag: What Happens When Walker Kessler Returns?