The Utah Jazz have been one of the more impressive teams this season but, after a hot start, injuries have diminished their ability to win games and reach the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
Although forward Lauri Markkanen, a first-time All-Star in 2022-23 has returned, guards Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton remain out for the Jazz. Clarkson and Sexton, both of whom were starters for Utah this season, are high-volume scorers that play a combo guard role. Without them, the offense has taken a hit, particularly in the damage that they can do beyond the arc. Due to Sexton being out, the perimeter defense has also taken a hit.
However, the plus side of the adversity that they’ve found out even more what they have in players like center Walker Kessler, wing Ochai Agbaji, and guard Kris Dunn.
Kessler, a season-long starter for the Jazz, has displayed a generational level of shot-blocking.
Agbaji, who starts in place of Clarkson, has grown in his confidence and is routinely looking like an excellent 3-and-D player.
Dunn, who starts in place of Sexton, was playing in the G League prior to proving himself worthy of a multi-year contract with the Jazz. Dunn has been a determined driver, floor general, and defensive menace in his short time with Utah.
All of this should inspire confidence in the Jazz to be a surprise team in a postseason run when fully healthy. Nonetheless, while the Jazz have quite a few players to like, there’s still a team that they could face that would make like exceedingly difficult for them.
The Denver Nuggets, who would be the Jazz’s nightmare seeding scenario and matchup in the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
Jazz’s nightmare seeding scenario, matchup for 2023 NBA Playoffs
The biggest problem that the Nuggets present for the Jazz is two-time MVP Nikola Jokic.
Kessler is obviously one of the best shot-blockers in the league, averaging a 2.4 blocks per game (fourth in the NBA) and holding opponents to 51.3 percent shooting within six feet of the rim (13.6 percent below the average field goal conversion rate within six feet of the rim).
Unfortunately, because Jokic spends so much time outside of the restricted area, Kessler’s ability to impact the game as he usually does will be dampened.
The Jazz Should Have Some Success Against Joker
To be sure, Jokic will absolutely have a tough battle when guarded by the 7-foot-1 pivot.
In fact, Jokic has only averaged 23.3 points per game on 55.3 percent shooting from the field in three games against the Jazz this season, numbers that fall below his season averages and percentages. This is with Markkanen and Kelly Olynyk as his primary defenders as well, two players who could still be starters when the Jazz return to fully health.
Furthermore, while only taking 2.2 three-point attempts per game this season, hes taken 3.7 three-point attempts per game against the Jazz this season.
This latter number is particularly important. Whether Jokic was taking more 3-pointers because he was avoiding Kessler in the paint or because he hoped to draw their lankier players out of the paint, it’s something to monitor in a potential playoff series.
For the Jazz, it only becomes problematic if Jokic begins to hit his threes against them. A 39.0 percent from 3-point range, he’s only shot 18.2 percent against the Jazz this season.
The Other Guys Matter Too
That being said, though Jokic is engine of the offense, the Nuggets are more than him.
The Jazz have been unable to truly stop sharpshooting forward Michael Porter Jr. or find a way to bottle up an excellent athlete in forward Aaron Gordon. The lack of athleticism among the Utah frontcourt rotation becomes increasingly apparent when they have to slow down these two. As a result, expect both MPJ and AG to have a strong series against Utah.
Porter has averaged 18.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game against the Jazz this season while shooting 48.0 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from 3.
Gordon has only averaged 13.3 points and 4.0 rebounds per game against Utah in 2022-23. Nonetheless, filtering out an underwhelming 4-point performance in their second matchup of the season, Gordon has averaged 18.5 points per game against Utah.
In fact, given the conundrum that Denver’s frontcourt presents for the Jazz’s as a whole with Jokic still capable of scoring 20 or points on a bad night, the only way the Jazz will defeat the Nuggets in a series is if their guards outplay the Nuggets’.
This too is also quite possible, given the defense intensity of prowess of players like Dunn, Sexton, and Agbaji. However, on the flip side, Denver has a pair of strong defenders that can slow down Sexton an Clarkson in Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Even worse is the fact that both Brown and KCP fit Jokic and the Nuggets like a hand in a glove.
Brown is averaging a career-high 11.0 points per game on 48.2 percent shooting from the field and 36.8 percent from deep this season.
KCP is averaging 10.9 points per game this season, while shooting 46.6 percent from the field and a career-high 42.5 percent from 3-point range.
That said, with the Nuggets as the top seed in the Western Conference, the Jazz should avoid landing with the 8th-seed. They wouldn’t be able to achieve this by just winning out in the 2023 Play-In Tournament though. Utah, 3.5 games behind the seventh-seed Minnesota Timberwolves, will need to finish the season on a high note and overtake the Anthony Edwards-led squad.
The post 2023 NBA Playoffs: Jazz’s nightmare seeding scenario, matchup appeared first on ClutchPoints.