Utah Jazz introduce new starting lineup with two new starters; Walker Kessler out with elbow sprain

The second-year center is expected to miss the next two weeks, the team says.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler (24) as the Utah Jazz host the Memphis Grizzlies, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023.

The Utah Jazz have seen enough to know they need changes to the starting lineup — and changes are coming.

Ahead of the Jazz’s game against Indiana, head coach Will Hardy is inserting two new players into the starting lineup.

One change is a forced one. Second-year center Walker Kessler suffered an elbow sprain during the Jazz’s season opener to the Sacramento Kings on Oct. 25 — one that Kessler tried to play through. As a result, he’s expected to be out for about two weeks while the injury heals.

Kessler, 22, had struggled to begin the 2023-24 season. The Auburn product is averaging 8.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per game in his eight starts, both figures down from last season in which he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. A shotblocking center, Kessler’s defense wasn’t as impactful, either, contributing to the Jazz’s 29th-ranked defensive start.

In his place, John Collins will start at the center position against Indiana, and for the foreseeable future. Collins hasn’t been a full-time center since 2020, when it was a big contributing factor to him having the best year of his career — Collins averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds per game that season. Kelly Olynyk, too, will likely see more time, which could open up more space for the likes of Lauri Markkanen and Jordan Clarkson to drive the paint.

Collins’ move to center pushes Lauri Markkanen to the power forward spot; second-year pro Ochai Agbaji will start at small forward. Agbaji, too, has had a rough start to the year, with his minutes limited to backup time behind Markkanen.

But perhaps the biggest change is at point guard. There, rookie Keyonte George will get the start, pushing Talen Horton-Tucker to the bench after the latter struggled with shotmaking and turnovers. George isn’t expected to be a final product yet at just 19 years old, but is expected to bring less dribbling and more point guard wisdom to the role.

This story will be updated.