• Utah Jazz Season Preview 2009-10

    October 27, 2009 -
    With the Jazz set to open their season tomorrow night in Denver, it's time to publish my official 2009-10 preview. I haven't been this unsure about how the Jazz would perform since 2003-04, the year after Stockton retired and Malone left to chase that elusive title with the hated Lakers.

    The range of possibilities is wide this season, but I'll gaze into the crystal ball as best I can. Here are my projections for the team, as well as individual players:


    2008-09 Record: 48-34 (3rd in Northwest Division; 8th in Western Conference; Lost in 1st round of playoffs)

    2008-09 Statistical Leaders:
    Points: Deron Williams (19.4)
    Rebounds: Carlos Boozer (10.4)
    Assists: Deron Williams (10.7)
    Steals: Ronnie Brewer (1.7)
    Blocks: Andrei Kirilenko (1.1)
    FG%: Paul Millsap (53.4%)
    3Pt%: Mehmet Okur (44.6%)
    FT%: Kyle Korver (88.2%)

    Key Additions: Eric Maynor, Wes Matthews
    Key Subtractions: Brevin Knight, Jarron Collins
    (Obviously I use the word “key” rather loosely.)

    Roster/Depth Chart
    PG – Deron Williams, Ronnie Price, Eric Maynor
    SG – Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Wes Matthews
    SF – CJ Miles, Andrei Kirilenko, Matt Harpring
    PF – Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap
    C – Mehmet Okur, Kosta Koufos, Kyrylo Fesenko

    Projected Opening Day Starting Lineup:
    Deron Williams (PG), Ronnie Brewer (SG), Andrei Kirilenko (SF), Carlos Boozer (PF), Mehmet Okur (C)

    Strengths
    Point guard play – Deron is a budding superstar and one of the top-2 players in the league at his position. He has improved each season, and this one should be no exception. With Deron’s leadership and clear competitive drive, the Jazz have an ideal floor general.

    Depth – Utah has one of the deepest rosters in the league, with a second unit capable of holding its own against many starting squads. This can prove highly valuable over an 82-game season.

    Balance – At least 8 players on this theam are capable of dropping 20 points on any given night. At least 4 are capable of dropping 30. The Jazz are not dependent on a single superstar for the bulk of their scoring, which makes them more difficult to defend.

    Flexibility – With such a deep, versatile lineup, Sloan has the option to exploit matchups without sacrificing talent. Most everyone on the team can play two and in some cases three different positions.

    Weaknesses
    Outside shooting – Utah was one of the worst 3-pt shooting teams last season. Four of the top six players based on minutes played per game (Boozer, Millsap, Kirilenko, and Brewer) are not consistent deep threats. Okur was the only player on the team to shoot over 40% from behind the arc. When your center is your best shooter, you have to worry a little bit.

    Wing play – The Jazz lack a consistent scoring threat from the wing positions to take pressure off Williams and the post players. Brewer, Kirilenko, Korver, and Miles can all score effectively in spurts, but none can be counted on to consistently provide 15+ points per game or to create their own shots.

    Interior defense – With Boozer and Okur together in the starting lineup, Utah lacks a shot-blocking presence in the frontcourt. This has been painfully apparent over the past couple of seasons, as opposing teams regularly take it to the hole without fear.

    Toughness – Not an attribute you would expect to be missing on a Jerry Sloan-coached team, but the Jazz failed to show much toughness last season. This was evidenced by their dismal record on the road and in the second game of back to backs. Losing Harpring to injury (and possibly retirement) will not help in that category.

    Wildcards
    Health – The Jazz missed 149 man games to injury or illness last season. Not a single person on the roster played in all 82 games, and all of the top guys except Brewer missed significant action: Boozer (45 games), Kirilenko (15), Williams (14), Okur (10), Millsap (6). Simply keeping the team healthy should result in a higher win total than last season, but they are already off to a bad start. CJ Miles and Kyle Korver were both injured in the preseason, requiring surgery that will keep them out until at least December. Okur, Brewer, and Price also missed preseason games due to injury.

    Centers – Kosta Koufos and Kyrylo Fesenko are both young, intriguing big men with the physical tools necessary to become a serious presence in the post. Will either begin to realize that potential this season? If one of both can step up and become that enforcer the Jazz have been missing, it could make a huge difference.

    Boozer – No one (himself included) expected Carlos Boozer to be in a Jazz uniform on opening day. But here he is. Boozer is in a contract year and will have every incentive to play his heart out this season. The question is, what kind of a team player will he be?

    Worst-Case Scenario – On paper, this is essentially the same team that made the playoffs last season by the skin of its teeth, and then barely put up a fight against the Lakers in the first round. Particularly with some of the improvements to other Western Conference teams, it’s not that difficult to imagine the Jazz landing in the lottery.

    Best-Case Scenario – This team actually has the talent to win the West and contend for a title. When healthy and playing on the same page, the Jazz can compete with anyone in the league. Unfortunately neither of those two things happened much last season. If all the pieces fall into place, Utah will give the Lakers and Spurs a run for their money. At very least, they will be a team no one wants to meet in the playoffs.

    Predictions – The Jazz will improve over last season’s disappointing finish. They will continue to have one of the most efficient offenses in the league but will also continue to struggle stopping good teams down the stretch of close games. That said, the interior defense will be better than last season due in part to Boozer’s newly found (and contract-motivated) commitment.

    Deron Williams will have a monster year and earn his first all-star invitation, increasing his scoring and assists totals, and improving his shooting percentage. The DWill vs. CP3 debate will rage on, as Deron closes the statistical gap and leads his team to a better record.

    Ronnie Brewer will earn a contract extension with his improved defense and limited-but-efficient offensive game. He will play heavy minutes in the first part of the season while Miles and Korver rehab their injuries. His lack of shooting will hurt the Jazz in the short term (particularly when he’s on the court with Kirilenko), as teams will pack the paint to stop Boozer and Millsap.

    Eric Maynor greatly exceeded expectations in the preseason and will see solid minutes backing up Williams, particularly with Price likely logging some time at SG. Maynor’s lack of strength will be a liability against bigger guards, but he has shown he can play at this level.

    Mehmet Okur will increase his 3-point attempts to compensate for the lack of other outside shooters. He will miss a handful of games throughout the season with back problems but will prove an integral part of the team's success.

    Paul Millsap will make the Jazz look smart for matching his contract offer this summer. His stats will be limited by Boozer’s continued presence (though Sloan will likely find him some minutes at SF) but his contribution will go beyond the box score.

    Carlos Boozer will be the consummate professional and will post career numbers. He hurt his brand so badly over the summer that he will be in damage-control mode all year. The crystal ball is a little murky, but I think I see a different colored uniform in February...

    CJ Miles was poised for a breakout year before tearing a tendon in his shooting hand. He likely won’t be back in the lineup until sometime in December, and it may be the all-star break by the time he is back to form. He will have some outstanding games but won’t achieve the consistency we’ve all been craving from him.

    Kyle Korver finally got his wrist healthy before injuring his knee. Like CJ, he will miss the first part of the season and may not be back until January. When he does come back, however, he will likely return to form relatively quickly. His shooting off the bench will be key down the stretch.

    Kosta Koufos didn’t show the improvement I had hoped to see from him during the preseason. He will likely spend some time in Orem but will still see some minutes with the Jazz. Kouf is a bright guy and a hard worker, so I expect him to earn more time as the season progresses. 2010-11 will be his breakout year.

    Kyrylo Fesenko seems to be getting better, just not as quickly as I would like. Since he’s not eligible for Flash duty anymore, he will see his share of DNP-CDs unless the opposing team has a big, legitimate center. Unfortunately the light won't come on quickly enough for him, and this will be his last season with the team.

    Andrei Kirilenko bulked up significantly during the offseason. This should make him more durable over the course of the season but won’t bring back the all-star who disappeared a few ago. AK will have the occasional brilliant game (i.e. 18 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks, 3 steals) but won’t do it consistently.

    Ronnie Price will take full advantage of his additional minutes, providing energy and hustle off the bench. Sloan admitted his error in not playing Price enough last year and won’t duplicate the mistake. While Maynor may actually beat him out for backup PG by the end of the season, Ronnie will remain in the rotation.

    Jerry Sloan will once again be snubbed for coach of the year despite overcoming the offseason Boozer drama to exceed expectations in leading his team to one of the top records in the conference.

    Projected 2009-10 Record: 54-28
    (2nd in Northwest Division, 4th in Western Conference, lose to Lakers in Western Conference Semifinals)

    The Jazz are likely still a few pieces away from being a true title contender. This season will be a step in the right direction, but they won't quite get there.

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