Are the Utah Jazz Legitimate Contenders?

The Utah Jazz have been a trending team on the rise early in the NBA season. This Western Conference darling has even been listed as potential trade deadline buyers after a hot start. Now, after losing five of their last seven, are the Jazz falling back to earth?

Are the Utah Jazz Legitimate Contenders?

Exceeding Expectations

Many thought the Jazz were in rebuild mode when they traded away their two superstars. With Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert gone, Utah could find suitable packages for players like Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson and prepare for a loaded draft class. However, the players in the locker room had other ideas. 

Led by newly-acquired players Collin Sexton and Lauri Markkanen, Utah quickly climbed the standings by winning three in a row to start the season and seven of their first ten contests. A 125-119 win over the Atlanta Hawks on November 9th saw the Jazz move to 10-3 on the year. Fans went from daydreaming of Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson to seeing the Jazz as a potential landing spot for Myles Turner

East Coast Issues

The Jazz lost momentum almost as quickly, losing three straight, including a loss at home to the New York Knicks. Utah bounced back immediately, scratching out a one-point victory against the Phoenix Suns in an electrifying shootout. Devin Booker’s 49 points weren’t enough, as Markkanen responded with 38 of his own, a new career high. After splitting games against the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers, the Jazz again lost themselves when hosting the Detroit Pistons. 

The 5-15 Pistons are in the position that many thought the Jazz would be in at this point. While their young roster has talent, it’s no secret that they are hunting for the draft’s top pick. Utah fans can find solace in Conley being out with a calf strain. However, these are the games the Jazz must win going forward if they are going to make a real run at the postseason. 

The Long Road Ahead

Sadly for Jazz fans, things aren’t getting any easier in the coming weeks. Of their next 10 matchups, six are against current playoff teams. The other four? Two against the struggling but dangerous Warriors, one with the Chicago Bulls, and a home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves (who have also been frustrating to watch). Looking further into the horizon, the Jazz will face 11 teams with a winning record between now and the new year. The good news? Things lighten up significantly for Utan in January in February. 

If the Jazz survive the next five weeks with a .500 record or better, they could find themselves in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. Looking at the west today, there are only five games separating the top seed from the 12th-best team. This team could very well enter 2023 as a team in the top half of the playoff standings. The question is, will they survive the holiday season?

Are the Utah Jazz Contenders or Pretenders?

Reviewing Utah’s young season shows impressive wins against the likes of the Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, and New Orleans Pelicans. If they can right the ship against Eastern Conference foes, there is no reason to expect this team to fall out of the playoff picture. Outside of the injury to Conley and Rudy Gay’s lingering finger issue, this team is healthy. The majority of Utah’s roster is under contract for next season, so with the exception of Jordan Clarkson, Gay, and Talen Horton-Tucker,  there are no players that the front office should feel forced to move. 

This team should win 10-12 of their final 19 matchups in 2022. If that holds, the question is, will they buy be at the trade deadline, and if so, who will they target? We will see what the future holds, but as of now, Utah is legit.