December 8, 2009 -
The Utah Jazz didn’t exactly explode out of the blocks to start the 2009-10 season. While they are playing better now, it took them 13 games to get above .500 for the first time. Much of the slow start could be attributed (once again) to injuries. The absence of their two best shooters (Korver and Miles) really hurt them, as evidenced by the steady dose of zone defense they saw from opponents.
But the problems run deeper than that. Plain and simple, the Jazz have a flawed roster. The team has plenty of talent, but the players don’t complement each other particularly well. While the best long-term solution would be to make a trade or two (something I hope to see happen prior to the February deadline, but I’ll save those thoughts for another post), let’s assume for now that the roster remains the same. Sloan can still mitigate some of the problems by using the right mix of players together and avoiding certain problem combinations:
Problem Combo #1 – Boozer and Okur make possibly the weakest defensive frontcourt tandem in the entire league. While both are talented offensive players, neither is a shot blocker, neither is a strong individual defender, and both are horrible at help defense.
Problem Combo #2 – Brewer and Kirilenko make one of the worst-shooting wing tandems in the league. While both are athletic, exciting players, neither can stretch a defense nor be counted on as a consistent scoring threat.
Unfortunately, Jerry Sloan was playing both of these combinations together in the starting lineup of Williams, Brewer, Kirilenko, Boozer, and Okur at the beginning of the year. In fairness to Sloan, he has been somewhat limited by the numerous injuries and illnesses that have left the roster depleted all season. Ironically, it was injury and illness that basically forced Sloan into what I believe is the most effective starting lineup for the Jazz, which I’ll outline in a minute.
Since I know Sloan values my opinion, I’ve created a set of basic rules for him to use when determining his lineup combinations. They are as follows:
Rule #1 – Always have at least one shot blocker and one 3-point shooter on the floor at all times
Rule #2 – Avoid playing Boozer and Okur at the same time whenever possible
Rule #2A – When Booz and Memo do play together, Kirilenko should also be on the floor to ensure at least one shot blocker in the frontcourt
Rule #3 – Avoid playing Kirilenko and Brewer at the same time
Rule #3A – If AK and Brew must play together, Memo should also be on the court to ensure at least one 3-point shooter.
In my humble opinion, the best starting lineup for the Jazz right now is Williams (PG), Matthews (SG), Brewer (SF), Boozer (PF), and Fesenko (C), leaving Maynor (PG), Miles (SG), Kirilenko (SF), Millsap (PF) and Okur (C) coming off the bench. Minutes would be distributed as follows:
PG – Williams (38), Maynor (10)
SG – Matthews (24), Miles (24)
SF – Brewer (24), Kirilenko (24)
PF – Boozer (24), Millsap (24)
C – Fesenko (12), Okur (26), Boozer (10)
This distribution would severely limit the amount of time either of the aforementioned problem combos would need to be on the floor together. Minutes at the wing positions would essentially be up for grabs depending on matchups and who was playing better on a given night.
Sloan will have some tough choices to make when Korver and Price get healthy again, leaving a huge logjam in the backcourt. This is one reason why exploring a trade is still the best option. I’ll share my thoughts on that soon.