Jazz

Jazz Dancing to Unexpected Strong Start

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The Utah Jazz don’t have star power.

They traded that away. Donovan Mitchell, gone. Traded to Cleveland. Rudy Gobert, gone. Traded to Minnesota. Bojan Bogdanovic, gone. Traded to Detroit. It appeared as if Utah was actively trying to tank this season.

No one gave Utah’s players or Jazz head coach Will Hardy that memo.

There were rumors of Utah not being done trading away assets, shopping Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson as well.

Conley and Clarkson remained entering this season. Utah has used the veteran guards and a budding star in Lauri Markkanen to a surprising 7-3 record.

How have the Jazz done it? Let’s take a look.

Jazz – strength in – numbers

Utah has six players averaging double figures. Not only are four starters in double figures but Collin Sexton and Malik Beasley are providing big-time punch off the bench. Coach Hardy has the Jazz locked in and playing great team basketball.

Lauri Markkanen (21.8), Jordan Clarkson (17.9), Sexton (14.4), Kelly Olynyk (12.4), Conley (12.4) and Beasley (10.6) all average double figures and Jarred Vanderbilt averages nine more per game.

Sexton is producing this much on a meager 22 minutes per contest. Clarkson has always been a microwave off the bench, but this year he is being asked to do more — including start — and is providing more. The Jazz getting 12 points per game from Olynyk is a surprise.

The combination of Markkanen averaging nearly 22 points along with Olynyk scoring at career-best rates is providing Utah the extra punch it needs to…

Win close games

The Jazz are not only playing good teams tough, but ultimately winning. They enter the week with the most wins over .500 teams with four, including Memphis twice. Utah already has two overtime victories and another one-point victory.

They are cashing in in the clutch.

Olynyk is 7-for-11 in clutch situations from the field. He is also 4-for-4 on clutch three-pointers including his go-ahead three against Memphis last Saturday

Between the trio of Clarkson, Olynyk and Markkanen have provided 60 clutch points this year, with each having an even 20 of that figure. That is the most by any trio in the NBA.

Clarkson’s clutch and diversified game

Not only is Clarkson providing his typical scoring punch, but he has made a big jump in setting up his teammates.

Clarkson is averaging 5.3 assists per game this year, more than doubling his career average of 2.6. More importantly, he is delivering in the clutch in both areas. His 20 clutch points are tied for sixth in the NBA with teammates Markkanen and Olynyk and his seven assists are good for third in the league.

Markkanen Filling Potential?

The Arizona product was a top-10 pick in the NBA Draft.

Teams saw the talent. However, Markkanen hasn’t looked like a game-changer. This year, though, he is looking like the matchup nightmare teams envisioned he was coming out of college.

A seven-footer with the ability to not only put it on the floor but hit the three is a very tough cover. Markkanen’s usage rate is up among the most in the NBA.

He’s delivered, averaging all-star-like numbers through ten games. He is making the leap without his typical strong three-point shooting (shooting under 30% from deep), but he is shooting at a career-best 51.7% from the floor.

Every team needs a go-to player. It didn’t look like Utah would have one entering the year, but Markkanen has become just that.

Bottom line

Utah doesn’t have the sexy player.

If you told anyone before the year Lauri Markkanen is the best player on your team, not much would be expected. But Utah is making noise and knocking off teams overlooking them early.

The Jazz are doing it in a variety of ways and a number of factors are the cause. Markkanen taking a leap. Six players averaging in double figures. Bench scoring for a strength in numbers approach. Playing well in close games by delivering in the clutch. Guys like Olynyk having career years.

Add it all together and the Jazz are piling up wins and in perfect tune to start the season.

About Mitchell Skurzewski

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