Rookie shooting guard Ochai Agbaji was traded before his first NBA game. It was a blockbuster of a deal, and Agbaji was mostly viewed as the old “throw-in” after being selected by the Cavaliers with the No. 14 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
As you know, Agbaji was the third wheel in the Jazz’s trade of star guard Donovan Mitchell to the Cavs which also involved forward Lauri Markkanen and guard Collin Sexton. Throw in the multiple draft picks the Jazz also received, and Agbaji may have even been considered the fourth wheel.
At first, Agbaji looked like that’s exactly what he would be — a throw-in who didn’t contribute much as a rookie. But that has changed lately. Injuries to Sexton and others opened the door to more playing time since about mid-February. So did the trade of shooting guard Malik Beasley to the Lakers at the deadline. Ogbaji has made the most of it.
“It was totally new for me to be traded out of nowhere, not even playing a single game for the team that drafted you,” he told Michael Scotto of HoopsHype on the HoopsHype podcast. “In a way, I saw it as a new and good opportunity for me here in Utah. Coming here with that trade and all the new pieces that we got here, I think it’s a step forward in the right direction for this organization. ”
At first, Agbaji was adapting to NBA life after four years at Kansas, where he won a national championship last season.
“I think finding your everyday routine in the NBA is fast-paced, but sometimes it could be slow,” he told Scotto. “Sometimes you have a lot of free time. Sometimes you’re on the road and busy playing back-to-backs. It’s finding a routine that makes a lot of things easier.”
Agbaji, 22, is averaging 6.5 points on 45 percent shooting, including 39 percent on 3-pointers. But that scoring average has increased significantly with increased minutes in the past month — as Agbaji is averaging 12.5 points in the last 10 games. That includes a 27-point outburst in a win over the Kings.
And like Agbaji, the Jazz have been among the NBA’s most pleasant surprises. A team that was expected to tank has been in the playoff hunt all season.
“We talk about it a lot in the locker room as normal daily conversations,” he told Scotto. “We’re checking the standings and checking what other teams are doing. It’s kind of hard not to pay attention to it when you’re in it. Throughout the past two months, the Western Conference has been a battle. Every single game means something, which I think is fun. We’re locking in and focusing on these next few weeks that we have to make that Play-In push.”
The Jazz (35-37) enter Friday in 12th place in the Western Conference, but are a mere 2.5 games behind the sixth-place Warriors.