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Utah Jazz Preview - Daily Basketball

uth.gifUtah Jazz - Daily Basketball  

    Last year’s record: 51-31 (0.617)

    Players added: Jason Hart, Ronnie Price, Morris Almond, Kyrylo Fesenko

    Players dropped from roster: Derek Fisher, Rafael Araujo, Dee Brown

1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?

Aside from the loss of starting shooting guard Derek Fisher, the biggest offseason news was the lack of any big shake-ups on the roster. Fisher didn’t have a great season with the Jazz last year, but his leadership brought the team together in the playoffs. Voiding his contract was a short-term loss, but an long-term gain. Considering Utah has a respectable hospital and Fisher almost immediately signed with the Lakers, it’s hard to believe the situation was all a result of his daughter’s surgery, but there’s no need for Jazz fans to worry about it.

Rafael Araujo and Dee Brown were both project players, and while both were fan favorites for their hard work and respective ties to the team (BYU, and Deron Williams), neither of the two players showed potential to be anything more than a serviceable reserve.

The two glaring needs this offseason were to get a quality starting shooting guard and a shotblocking center. The Jazz seem to be going with their chances that one of their guards (Hart, Price, C.J. Miles, Morris Almond, Ronnie Brewer or Gordan Giricek) can step in at shooting guard and produce for the team. Right now, that player is Ronnie Brewer. Most fans expected the Jazz to trade for a veteran addition to play a large chunk of minutes at shooting guard, but the team has focused on versatility and may play either a second point guard or a small forward instead of the typical three-pointer jacker.

Ronnie Price and Jason Hart look to compete more for minutes at the backup point guard positions, as both are undersized. Both have struggled to pick the Jazz offense, an obvious problem. Hart seems to have the initial edge over Price, yet somehow he has dished zero assists in four of six preseason games so far.
Andrei Kirilenko

Andrei Kirilenko earned himself a lot of attention this offseason, first in a positive light. His play in the EuroBasket competition impressed everybody, and raised his trade value, before promptly demanding a trade. While a large share of Jazz fans would have loved to acquire Shawn Marion, Andrei Kirilenko has played unselfishly in preseason play, keeping his lips sealed and filling up the stat sheet — although it still makes me cringe to see him shoot a jump shot.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

The Jazz have a reputation as a physical team that executes their offense well. That reputation is back up by the fact that they have continually been one of the top field goal shooting teams in the league (47%), averaged over 100 points per game, and outrebounded their opponents by 5.5 rpg, tops in the NBA.

With deserving All-Stars Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer anchoring the team, those trends should continue. The duo provides an inside-outside scoring threat, with each among the league leaders in assists and rebounds, respectively.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

Really, a large portion of the team’s success relies on Andrei Kirilenko. Chemistry-wise and offensively, it would be better to send Kirilenko back to Russia if he hopes to send Jerry Sloan packing. Kirilenko can make the team stronger or weaker, depending on his involvement in the offense. Anytime a Jazzman holds the balls or plays one-on-one, it throws the rest of the team’s offense out of sync.

Another weakness is the backup point guard position. Deron Williams shouldn’t play 48 minutes per game after playing with Team USA, but neither Hart or Price has been able to set up the offense well. At the beginning of the season, for those 8-12 minutes Williams is off the court, expect the Jazz to struggle.

The shooting guard position is a big question mark. The Jazz have plenty of options, but no exceptional ones. C.J. Miles will ride the bench for another season, after he didn’t participate in the Rocky Mountain Revue, or work on his game much at all.

Defensively, the Jazz got scorched by shooting guards last season. Ronnie Brewer has the potential to heal part of that wound, when the effort is there. His size athleticism puts him ahead of Price and Hart, while neither Miles or Giricek have shown any consistent defense.

4. Position-by-position breakdown

Deron Williams

Point guard: Deron Williams is the future of this team, and he has a max contract extension waiting for him if he can avoid serious injury this year. He’s taken the role of leading the team, and continued to improve by playing with Team USA. As long as Hart or Price can run the pick and roll, the team should be fine once they better grasp the offense.

Shooting guard: Jerry Sloan and Kevin O’Connor don’t want to admit it, but Ronnie Brewer has emerged from the battle for starting shooting guard. He’s been one of the team’s leading scorers every game, and he’s being aggressive on the offensive end. C.J. Miles will likely be traded at some point for a future draft pick or expiring contract, seeing as he’s last in the rotation and wants playing time somewhere. Gordan Giricek should have a good season for the Jazz, unspectacular but solid. Morris Almond could earn a few minutes here and there, but then again, he’s a rookie playing for Coach Sloan.

Small forward: Andrei Kirilenko will never lead the team in socring, but he’s still a 5×5 player when he’s happy. Jazz owner Larry Miller has essentially promised to keep Kirilenko involved, which may send Coach Sloan into retirement after the year, but for now the Jazz should expect a better season than last. Matt Harpring, either hated or loved by Jazz fans, provides a tough player off the bench who can hit a mid-range shot.

Power forward: Carlos Boozer, the team’s second likely All-Star this season, may "coast on defense," but his rebounding and skilled offensive play is invaluable next to Mehmet Okur. Paul Millsap is one of the team’s few players off the trading market, providing another tough "Bully Brother" that gives the team its hard-nosed reputation.

Mehmet Okur

Center: Memo Okur is not a physical post player by any means, but the Jazz should expect another season of clutch three-pointers from him. He doesn’t block a lot of shots or rebound very well, but he does force the opposing big men to step up on him. Jarron Collins, probably the least valuable player on the team, does draw some charges, but he’s losing his minutes to the Ukrainian Train. Kyrylo Fesenko was originally projected to spend all season with the Utah Flash D-League team, but he’s looking to replace Collins in the rotation and provide shotblocking that neither Collins, Boozer, or Okur provide. Aside from that, he’s good for several post-game locker room quotes.

5. Season Predictions

    Season Record: 56-26 (1st in Northwest Division)

    Playoffs: #4 seed, eliminated in second round

    All-Stars: Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams

Jazz fans must accept that last season’s run to the Western Conference Finals was greatly eased by the Golden State Warriors. The Jazz are still another year or two away from competing, and while the team will continue to improve overall, they have to find a way to beat the San Antonio Spurs before they can win an NBA championship. Obviously this is a biased, optimistic opinion, but the Jazz can compete in a seven-game series against any team in the East, and any team in the West except for the defending champions.

The Jazz have four stars on their team (Williams, Boozer, Okur, and Kirilenko). Depending on how many show up this season, the team can always make run against any opponent.

The Jazz are going once again overachieve, although opposing fans and NBA "experts" never give the Jazz enough credit. If you’re going to jump on a bandwagon, be smart about it.