The Utah Jazz had another solid season last year and once again
Jerry Sloan showed how good he is managing a basketball team by winning
53 games in the regular season and “upsetting” the Nuggets in the
playoffs before being swept by the Los Angeles Lakers.
It was another slow start of the season, as the Jazz were only 18-16
in early January, but then they cruise past all the way finishing the
season in a high note 35-13.
Jerry Sloan’s teams are known for their aggressiveness on the floor
and for their extreme efficiency on the offensive end and Deron
Williams is the man that runs the show like John Stockton was in 80’s
and 90’s. Williams finally received his first all star selection and he
showed a true ability in making his teammates better overall players.
He and Carlos Boozer remained healthy during the season and a rookie
called Wesley Matthews was the biggest surprise of the season,
although he is not in Utah anymore.
The Jazz were on the top 10 in offense, defense and in my rebound
rankings, but they failed to be present in the top 5 in any of those
categories. They ultimately had all the signs of a good team, but they
didn’t belong in the elite. They could hang around against the Nuggets,
the Suns or the Blazers, but they were on step behind to the real
powerhouse of the conference: the Lakers.
2009/10 Advanced Stats:
Pace 11th 96.7
Offense 6th 108.0
Defense 10th 102.3
Rebounds 5th +3.02
Projected Depth Chart:
PG: Deron Williams, Ronnie Price, Sundiata Gaines
SG: C.J. Miles, Raja Bell, Othyus Jeffers
SF: Andrei Kirilenko, Gordon Hayward, Jeremy Evans
PF: Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap
C: Mehmet Okur, Francisco Elson
It was a matter of time to see Carlos Boozer went out of Utah and he
left the team going to Chicago in a sign-and-trade deal. The Jazz
received a trade player exception and they wisely used in former Wolves
Al Jefferson for an interesting replacement.
However it is important to note that these two players are
completely different, not only in terms of style, but also in terms of
position, as Boozer is typically a Power Forward, while Al Jefferson is
more suited to play at the center position, so this is not a case of a
pure replacement: Jerry Sloan needs to make some magic in here and put
the right pieces together.
With Carlos Boozer on the court, Deron Willams ran one of the most
efficient pick-and-rolls sets in the NBA, but Al Jefferson doesn’t have
the same ability and skill to incarnate Boozer’s play. However,
Williams has the rare ability to make other players better and
Jefferson in my opinion won’t be an exception.
The problem is that since he went down with an ACL injury in 08-09,
he doesn’t look the same player. Although he played 76 games last
season his explosiveness simply wasn’t there. The Jazz need Big Al to
be the “old” powerful Power Forward that he was a couple of seasons
ago, so his health is one of the key factors for this season.
With Al Jefferson on the team, Jerry Sloan can now use Paul Milsap
as a Power Forward because at 6-10 and 265 lbs, Jefferson has more than
enough size to play in the pivot in today’s NBA. Actually, due to the
injury of Mehmet Okur, head coach Jerry Sloan said that Jefferson and
Paul Millsap will be the two front court starters if the season was
Milsap took advantage of Boozer’s regular injuries especially two
years ago, when he started for 38 games and delivered some nice numbers
with 16 points and 10 rebounds per game. Since then he was seen as the
future PF of this team and eventually, he signed a long term contract
with the Jazz. Last season he was back to the backup role and once
again he showed some consistency and production. I will highlight his
playoff numbers because they are worth to be highlighted: 18.0ppg,
8.8rpg and 1.4bpg while shooting 57.4% from the field! His time has
arrived in Utah, let’s see if he is capable of endure a complete
82-games season being the primary option at his position.
Meanwhile, Mehmet Okur is primed to lose his starting job and some
playing time when he returns from his Achilles injury. He got injured
in the playoffs last season, as he played only one game against the
Nuggets. His fragile body is evident for a player that has the mission
the stop the centers of this league. However his long range shooting
ability fits well in Jerry Sloan system and it’s up to Sloan to find
the right chemistry between Jefferson, Milsap and Okur,
Jerry Sloan’s task in finding the right chemistry in the frontcourt
is way easier when you have a point guard like Deron Williams in your
team. Williams had another terrific season, but this time he wasn’t
snubbed from the annual NBA All-Star festivities. He averaged 18.7
points per game, while shooting 46.9% from the field and he was on the
top of assists leaders along with Steve Nash and Chris Paul, as the
only NBA players that averaged double digits assists per game. Although
he won’t play with Carlos Boozer for the first time in years and he
has more new teammates than usual for a established organization like
the Jazz, there is no reason to think that Deron Williams won’t be able
to put together another monster season.
Deron Williams aside, it is in the backcourt that the Utah Jazz made
more moves going for this season. Last season they gave up of Ronnie
Brewer by trading him to Memphis because they thought that rookie
Wesley Matthews would be a better fit for the future, but strangely
they didn’t match Portland’s offer and Matthews is no longer with the
team. Also Kyle Korver joined Boozer in Chicago and so, the Jazz were
forced to make some moves.
They signed veteran Raja Bell who had a season to forget last season
due to multiple injuries. Bell is a good defensive player and he
showed a nice ability to knock down long rang jumpers. Actually this
will be his second stint in Utah, so Jerry Sloan knows him pretty well
and how he can help the team. Bell will compete with C.J. Miles for the
Shooting Guard position.
However, it is in the Small Forward position that the Jazz have some
doubts for the present and future as Andrei Kirilenko is involved in a
lot of trade rumors. He is entering the final year of a fairly
expensive contract and even though he has been productive when healthy,
his contract numbers demands an all star level player and AK47 has
been used as the 6th man coming off the bench as of late.
The Jazz selected Gordon Hayward in the draft, as they had the New
York Knicks pick and Hayward is coming off of a Cinderella season with
Baylor, but the NBA world is way different. Because he is a high IQ
profile player, I believe he will have a nice career by playing in a
team like the Jazz, however he needs some time to grow and how patient
the Jazz will be if Kirilenko eventually gets traded in the near
Jerry Sloan has another challenge in front of him for this season
with some new players and without their leading scorer of the last
seasons. However he already has shown in several occasions that he is
one of the best coaches in the league and we can count the Jazz to be
in the top this season.