Will the Utah Jazz be able to get back into playoff contention?
The Jazz ended the 2022-23 regular season with a record of 37-45, putting it in fourth place in the Northwest Division and 12th in the Western Conference.
Center Walker Kessler had a productive rookie season for the Jazz, finishing with averages of 9.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game in 74 games played and 40 starts. His season was highlighted by a 20-point, 21-rebound performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves, which saw him grab nine offensive boards as Utah took a 126-125 win over Minnesota.
“I was only here for like two days, but those guys were nothing but polite to me,” Kessler said of being traded from the Timberwolves to the Jazz in July, via the Associated Press. “My grandad and my dad are from Minnesota. I’ve got some extended family here I’m going to go say hey to, but it was fun. It was a lot of fun to play here.”
Who could the Jazz look out for at the No. 28 pick? Will they be able to find a diamond in the rough later in the first round?
Jaime Jaquez Jr.
A former 4-star recruit out of Camarillo, Calif., Jaquez initially chose to join a 2019 UCLA recruiting class that ranked 77th in the country and featured one other enrollee, 3-star forward Jake Kyman. He averaged 17.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game last season, going as high as 29 points in a 79-76 loss to the Gonzaga Bulldogs in March.
The 6-foot-7-inch forward decided to enter the NBA Draft in April following a 4-year career with the Bruins. He played in 134 games and started in 126 over his college career, seeing consistent improvement in his scoring and assist values.
“Jaime Jaquez Jr. has shown everyone that he’s a leader and a winner,” UCLA head coach Mick Cronin said in April. “It’s hard for me to put into words what he has meant to our program, but he’s obviously been a huge part of our success. I said it two weeks ago, and I’ll say it again — we built our program around his competitive spirit and toughness, starting four years ago. Jaime has heart and he’s all about hustle and hard work. … His dedication, his loyalty and his tenacity are unmatched, and I can’t wait to see him play in the NBA.
“I understand why UCLA fans love this guy so much because he’s everything that you want to see in a Bruin. I will miss him greatly, but it’s time for him to take the next step to the NBA.”
Jaquez would provide a solid supporting role for the Jazz and help boost a bench that took 10th place in the NBA with an offensive rating of 57.9.
Jones, a 3-year veteran for the Xavier Musketeers, ended the 2022-23 campaign with 15 points, 4.4 assists and a 50.9% field goal percentage. The 6-foot-6-inch guard from Birmingham, Ala., shot at a 36.7% clip from the 3-point line last season.
Jones scored 29 points when the team took down the Providence Friars in a 94-89 win in Amica Mutual Pavilion, hitting 90.9% of his shots, including all three of his tries from beyond the 3-point line.
“Sometimes you have to acknowledge that you won because of a player or two players. We won tonight because (Xavier guard) Souley Boum and Colby Jones were outstanding,” Xavier head coach Sean Miller said, via the Associated Press. “Souley Boum was as good as any guard in the country tonight. Colby was right there with him. In large part that’s why we won.”
Jones could be a reliable scoring and playmaking option off the bench for Utah. He could further improve a team that ranked 10th in the NBA in assists per game with 26.
A former 4-star recruit out of Farmville, N.C., Smith chose NC State over offers from East Carolina and High Point to commit to the Wolfpack’s 2021 recruiting class, according to 247Sports. He averaged 17.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 34 games played and started last season.
Smith said NBA teams wanted to see him improve parts of his game but feels he showed enough growth to make the leap in March.
“Teams wanted to see me be more of a point guard, making the right play, making the right decisions,” Smith said. “They wanted to see me improve my finishing, and I increased that. I showed I can be a leader.”
Like Jones, Smith could provide a solid backup guard option should Dunn not re-sign with the Jazz after next season.
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