Hardly anyone was supposed to care about the Utah Jazz this season.
After trading away four starters — All-Stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, along with Bojan Bogdanović and Royce O’Neale — during the offseason, the Jazz were supposed to be one of the worst teams in the NBA.
The future was supposed to be all that mattered in Utah, the present more or less forgotten.
That is not how things have turned out though.
The Jazz are a surprising 3-1 to start the 2022-23 season, with wins over three presumed Western Conference playoff teams — Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans.
People have noticed.
Here’s what select national media have said about the Jazz’s hot start.
ESPN senior writer Zach Lowe
Lowe discussed the Jazz at length on the most recent edition of “The Lowe Post,” noting among other things that the Jazz play hard, something that couldn’t be said of the team for much of last season.
“The thing that sticks out to me, and again it is early, they play super hard,” Lowe said. “Super hard. They just play really hard.”
Lowe has been impressed with Jazz coach Will Hardy and the team’s ability to come together despite seemingly not having been built to win.
“What can happen to a team when it is essentially the product of two trades, the players you get back in the trades are not the point of the trades. They are vehicles to get draft picks,” Lowe said. “So then you end up thinking all of these players are kind of good, but do they have any cohesion together? Any point to being together? Are they just here by happenstance, in a waiting area until they get traded again?
“I think what Utah has done, and credit to Will Hardy and the players, is taken what looked like a disparate mishmash and thought, “How can we use the mishmash to our advantage? How can we take advantage of these skills in unconventional ways? All of a sudden, they are kind of making sense out of this.
“... It’s been a fun story, they have real players. We will see how long they can keep it up.”
Lowe also singled out Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson and rookie Walker Kessler, tabbing Kessler as a legitimate NBA player, while noting that Clarkson is likely in Utah for the long haul.
“I have heard they are super reluctant to move Clarkson,” Lowe said. “They are really fond of him, for whatever reason. I’d peg him as the least likely of all of these Jazz players to be traded.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Chris Herring
Herring was a guest on “The Lowe Post” and thus part of the discussion about the Jazz. Like Lowe, he has been impressed with how hard the Jazz have played and believes the team is more talented than many thought.
“A lot of it, first of all, Danny Ainge wanted to continue to trade guys. He wanted to find a taker for (Mike) Conley, and I’m sure the same was true for Clarkson, and he couldn’t do it,” Herring said. “So you’ve got maybe more left than what you really wanted to have talent wise.
“Not to mention because you were trading good players away, you got good talent back. You got some guys. Jarred Vanderbilt has been a complete dog. ... It is a team that plays hard. A team that is not that young, with a lot of veterans.”
Herring singled out a few statistics that illustrate that the Jazz indeed play as hard as people imagine.
“You see it show up in all the statistics,” he said. “They are second in offensive rebound rate. Third in forcing turnovers. Fifth in assist percentage. Seventh in 3-pointers made and 11th in 3-point percentage.
“There are red flags” — Lowe and Herring singled out opponents 3-point percentage and that the Jazz allowed a league worst 62 points per game in the paint — “but it is really refreshing to see them play hard. These guys know other teams are watching. There is pride involved. They want to win”
ESPN senior writer Brian Windhorst
The Jazz were also discussed on another ESPN podcast — “Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective.”
Windhorst, like Lowe and Herring, lauded the Jazz for their effort, but was hesitant to believe in the team long term.
“The Jazz have probably been the biggest surprise of the first week, he said. “... Early in the season if you play hard and are in better shape, and the Jazz look to be, that it can make a difference. I don’t think this team is headed for a surprise playoff run.”
Windhorst believes that the Jazz’s hot start is exactly what the franchise was hoping for, though, despite the expectation that Utah will be involved in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes.
“I don’t think it is so much the Jazz won’t let this team win. They are going to lose plenty of games. Win in the early part of the season, though, and you are going to engage your fanbase, build up your head coach and give your players an opportunity to build their values,” Windhorst said. “That is what they should be doing.”
“Eventually they are going to start losing. It is a tremendous start for them and they probably aren’t going to have too many great weeks this season. I don’t think they will win 12 games, but I don’t think they will win 32 either.”
Windhorst also singled out Markkanen and believes he will be in Utah long term, whereas Windhorst doesn’t believe Clarkson will be.
“(Markkanen) just didn’t feel comfortable in Chicago, felt more comfortable in Cleveland and feels really comfortable in Utah,” Windhorst said. “I was told fit is a big thing for European players when they come to the NBA and I think they (the Jazz) are holding onto Markkanen.
“I think Jordan Clarkson is trying to play in a way that hastens (a trade). He is playing with maximum effort and under control. He is on his best behavior. I think the Jazz would love for him to get good value.”
ESPN NBA reporter Andrew Lopez
Lopez, who covers the New Orleans Pelicans for ESPN, saw the Jazz up close when they defeated the Pelicans.
His biggest takeaway? No one is out-efforting Utah.
“It was a team that just plays hard and they are going to do that all year,” Lopez said on “The Hoop Collective.” “Does that mean they will have a winning record? I don’t know. Eventually you think they’ll regress to the mean and be what everyone expected them to be this year, but ... the bones are there. This team is going to try and play hard every night.”
Lopez also came away impressed by the scorers that Utah has on its roster, including but not limited to Markkanen, Sexton and Clarkson.
“They have a bunch of guys who can just score,” he said.
ESPN senior writer Kevin Pelton
Pelton took part in a roundtable that examined the first week of the NBA season and in his eyes, there was no bigger surprise than the Jazz
“Break up the Jazz? Supposedly tanking the season after trading their two stars, the Jazz began 3-0 with wins against three West contenders, including Rudy Gobert’s Minnesota Timberwolves,” Pelton wrote. “It’s only three games — and worth remembering the 2013-14 76ers started 3-0 and finished 19-63 — but it does feel like maybe Utah ought to see how good this group is before tearing it down in the name of landing top NBA prospect Victor Wembanyama.”
ESPN NBA reporter Tim McMahon
Like Pelton, McMahon, who covered the Jazz for ESPN the last few years, believes the Jazz’s hot start is the early story of the NBA season.
“The Utah Jazz — fresh off trading four starters while stockpiling as many first-round picks as possible — already have as many wins as I anticipated they would by Thanksgiving,” MacMahon wrote. “Opening with a trio of wins over playoff teams qualifies as shocking. The Jazz are playing hard for rookie head coach Will Hardy. Lauri Markkanen is off to a spectacular start, and fellow young trade additions Collin Sexton, Jarred Vanderbilt and Walker Kessler have also flashed potential for a franchise still likely (and hopeful?) to finish in the lottery.”