It's been quite the season for the Jazz.
Amid many changes — including a new head coach and trades that sent out four of their five starters from last season — expectations from those outside Utah's locker room didn't paint a promising picture for the Jazz.
Although Utah may have felt short of the postseason, in no way does it mean the season wasn't a success. The Jazz were battling for a play-in spot until the final games of the year, and might've had a legitimate chance to make it if not for a rash of injuries in March and April.
Regardless, Utah exceeded almost all expectations for the season. And most importantly, they've set the stage for a bright future.
"We talked at the beginning of the year a little bit about expectations and narratives and not letting anybody dictate who this team is going to be but them," head coach Will Hardy said. "The way that they fight every day, the way that they are committed to trying to win, the way that they've all sacrificed for the group. … For that to happen, I'm so happy for them."
"I think we're perfectly imperfect," he added. "We're a little chaotic at times, but that's how we like it. We don't want the game to be too neat and tidy. … That doesn't really suit our group very well. It's not one person setting the table for everybody else. … It's a collective effort, and we never give up."
Simply put, Markkanen was among the brightest and best storylines in the NBA this season. The sixth-year forward had a breakout season, being named to his first All-Star game and eventually chosen as a starter. He's also a prime candidate to be selected All-NBA and be named the NBA's Most Improved Player of the Year.
As Utah's No. 1 option, Markkanen has emerged as one of the top players in the league and an All-NBA candidate. He averaged career-highs in points (25.6), shot attempts (17.3), field goal percentage (49.9%), free throw percentage (87.5%), assists (1.9), and minutes (34.4).
He also averaged 8.6 rebounds per game, 39.2% from three, and 58.6% effective field goal percentage, all the second-most in his career.
It was also a career season for Clarkson, shedding the sixth man moniker to emerge as one of the more versatile guards in the league. He started 61 games this year, showing his durability and versatility in a different way that could make the free agent a hot commodity this summer.
He averaged 20.8 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, both career highs. But the most significant development has come from his play-making ability, averaging a career-high 4.4 assists as he's shown the ability to facilitate an offense at a high level.
Arguably the least talked about player on Utah's roster, Olynyk is the one who deserves a lot of the credit for the success of the Jazz season. Considered the "connective tissue" on the team by Hardy, Olynyk was the veteran leader and calming locker room presence Utah needed.
Doing all the little things, the 10-year forward averaged 12.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists on 39.4% shooting from deep. He served as the team's point-forward, running the offense when needed and coming up clutch repeatedly.
To say it was a whirlwind season for the center would be an understatement, as Kessler burst onto the scene as one of the top rookies in the league. There's no questioning his impact on both ends of the court, as he's expected to finish among the top of the Rookie of the Year rankings while being a near lock for All-Rookie.
He finished the year averaging 11.5 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks in his 40 starts. He was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for February, debuted at All-Star weekend that same month, and then dropped a career-high 31 points in late March. He also became the first rookie in 25 years to record at least four games of 7+ blocks, trailing Tim Duncan's five times in 1998, and he became the first Jazz rookie ever to record a 30-point, 10-rebound game.
Nearly 11 months to the day when he underwent knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, Sexton made his Jazz debut in the season opener. Although the year was up and down after he dealt with multiple hamstring injuries, the big positive is that he made it to April healthy and is primed for a big offseason — his first in two years.
After replacing Clarkson as Utah's sixth man, Sexton thrived as a change-of-pace guard leading the second unit. He then took over the starting role when Mike Conley was traded to Minnesota, showing the ability to lead the offense as a primary scorer. He averaged 14.3 points, 2.9 assists, and 2.2 rebounds on 39.3% shooting from beyond the arc.
Arguably no other Jazzman made more strides post-All-Star break than Horton-Tucker. Following the trade of Mike Conley to Minnesota and injuries to Clarkson and Sexton, Horton-Tucker was elevated to the starting point guard spot and completely took over.
He averaged 19.3 points, 6.3 assists, and 5.0 rebounds over the final 16 games of his season. His growth when given a chance to stick in one position is reason enough for the Jazz front office to be excited about Horton-Tucker's potential moving forward.
Comparing where Agbaji was during the first half of the season to where he finished the year, it's like looking at a completely different player. He spent most of the first 41 games of the year primarily on the bench or in the G-League, continuing to develop his game. He exploded over the final 41 games, getting better every night and carving out a legitimate role in Hardy's rotation.
Agbaji averaged 13.8 points per game over the last two months, including a streak of five straight games in double figures. He also dropped a career-high 28 points in Utah's last win of the season. A 118-114 upset victory over the top-seeded Nuggets.
While it may not have been the statistical season Gay hoped for, his veteran leadership was essential in the Jazz surpassing almost all expectations this year. He was the steadying force on Utah's second unit, leading what was arguably the best bench unit throughout the first half of the season.
Although he posted career-low numbers across the board, it didn't mean that he didn't have a positive effect on the team. He finished third on the year in plus-minus, posting a +57 rating in 56 games.
It may be hard-pressed to find a better post-All-Star break addition to a team than what Kris Dunn meant to the Jazz. With injuries taking a toll on Utah's guard depth over the last six weeks of the year, Dunn's arrival came at the perfect time — and he thrived when given the opportunity.
He averaged 13.2 points, 5.6 assists, and 4.5 rebounds with the Jazz, shooting 47.2% from deep. Not only did he post a Jazz season-high 14 assists against Denver, but he also saved his best for last when he dropped 26 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists against the Lakers in the season finale.
Much like Horton-Tucker, Fontecchio was one of the main beneficiaries of Jazz trades and injuries as it freed up minutes for the rookie to find his first consistent minutes in the league.
He averaged 23.3 minutes per game throughout March and April, showcasing the ability to play on both ends of the court. Although his numbers throughout the season are skewed, he really came on in the last two months when he averaged 11.3 points on 37.5% from three-point territory.