With the trade deadline over, Utah has made it very clear what its intentions are for the rest of the season and where the Jazz believe they can improve upon from a roster standpoint.

While it may not surprise many, Utah believes that it already had all of the critical pieces to bring Salt Lake City its first-ever title. 

Led by all-stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, key contributors Mike Conley, Royce O’Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Jordan Clarkson, the Jazz already had the pieces in the locker room and on the court. Throw in the continued progress of Trent Forrest, Rudy Gay, and Hassan Whiteside, and Utah is looking like a team with as much depth as anybody in the league.

“We’re a very competitive team,” Utah general manager Justin Zanik said on Friday. “When we’re healthy and connected, we have a chance to contend for a title. We want to bet on this group. … We have proof of concept with this group.”

But there was still one major part that needed to be addressed, and it wasn’t easy. Arguably, the heart and soul of the team, Joe Ingles suffered a season-ending torn ACL on Jan. 30. With Ingles out, the Jazz needed to find a way to make up for his 24.9 minutes per game — and they accomplished that mission on Wednesday.

The day before the end of the trade deadline, Utah made its move.

The Jazz sent Joe Ingles, Elijah Hughes, and a second-round pick to Portland and received Nickeil Alexander-Walker from the Blazers and Juancho Hernangomez from San Antonio. The Spurs received Tomas Satoransky from Portland and another Jazz second-round pick.

The Jazz improved their depth across the board and got two players who could provide instant minutes, particularly with Alexander-Walker.

“When there was an opportunity to acquire him, we took an opportunity to acquire a young player who’s had some minutes and developmental time and some rotational minutes in the NBA, that has skills and tools,” Zanik said of Alexander-Walker.  

Utah’s primary addition from the trade is the young and talented Alexander-Walker, a former first-round pick in the 2019 draft. He’s averaging 12.8 points and 2.8 assists per game this season, and at 6-foot-5 with good length, he could evolve into one of the better two-way players in the game. 

“First and foremost, I’m a basketball player,” Alexander-Walker said. “I really am at my best getting into the paint and making plays from there. As a perimeter defender, that’s where my main focus is coming into the team. Guys have solidified themselves so I’m just trying to find my niche on the defensive end.”

Alexander-Walker has shown steady progress since being chosen No. 17 overall by New Orleans. 

His rookie year showed the flashes of what makes Zanik and the Jazz so excited to have him on the team. Throughout the COVID-19 broken-up season, Alexander-Walker averaged 5.7 points in just 12.6 minutes per game.

The following year he took massive strides, averaging 11 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game in 21.9 minutes while shooting 34.7% from beyond the arc. 

This season has seen Alexander-Walker improve, but it has come with more pressure. With New Orleans hampered by injuries, Alexander-Walker was thrust into a more significant role off the bench, and he responded. He scored 20+ points in six games, including two 30+ games. 

“There’s definitely moments where I was able to be who I truly was,” Alexander-Walker said of his time in New Orleans. “I feel like through those games, a lot of people who have watched had seen that. I can only imagine what I’m going to bring to this team. … I’m excited because a lot of it goes well with who I am.”

The potential is clearly there for Alexander-Walker. With Utah’s ability to develop players through its coaching staff and organization, there are many reasons why this trade could end up being a steal as time goes on.

“We’ve always wanted to bet on our coaching staff and culture here to take some of the really good things Nickeil shows and make it even better,” Zanik said.

Utah will look to resurrect Hernangomez’s season after struggling to see the court in stints with Boston and San Antonio this season, averaging 1.1 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. But just two seasons ago with Minnesota, he averaged career-highs of 12.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game on 42% shooting from beyond the arc. 


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