Quarter Season Update
December 3, 2010 -
In my preseason preview post, I made what I felt was a pretty optimistic prediction of 55 wins for the Jazz this season. Somehow, the Jazz have actually managed to exceed that pace with a 15-5 record through the first 20 games of the season. With so many new players on the roster, I actually expected them to struggle somewhat early on. Sometimes it's nice to be wrong.
I won't take the time now to go through a full analysis of the team, but instead I'll identify a few players who are exceeding, meeting, and falling short of my expectations thus far. I won't cover everyone on the roster -- just those who have stood out in one way or another in my mind.
Deron Williams – After a bit of a slow start, he’s now playing like a legitimate MVP candidate. Dude is amazing.
Paul Millsap – I expected him to take a back seat to Jefferson. Was I ever wrong. His offensive game has really evolved (just ask the Miami Heat), and he just keeps getting better.
CJ Miles – I almost put him in the top category, but he just hasn’t developed that consistency yet. He continues to show flashes of brilliance but still mixes in too many no-show performances. He’s definitely improving, though.
Al Jefferson – Big Al has exceeded my expectations in some areas (defense) and fallen short in others (rebounding). All in all, he’s about where I expected him to be 20 games into his Jazz tenure. He should continue improving, and he’ll need to for the Jazz to be serious contenders.
Andrei Kirilenko – While there’s always a part of me that’s disappointed when AK consistently fails to be the player he was 5 years ago, he is meeting my expectations if not my hopes.
Gordon Hayward – I was livid when the Jazz drafted him. He began to change my mind a little with his solid performance during summer league. Then he teased me with his 26-point outburst against the Lakers during preseason. Unfortunately he’s done nothing since. It’s still early, but I expect more from the #9 pick.
Raja Bell – I’m basing this solely on his on-court performance and not his locker room impact, which I think is invaluable. Bell is simply not shooting well enough. With the loss of Korver and Matthews, the Jazz desperately need Raja's outside shot.
In summary, this team seems to be coming together a little ahead of schedule. That said, I’m sticking with my prediction of 55 wins. The West is just too good. The Jazz managed to win a few games they probably shouldn’t have, and they’ll need better play out of their wings in particular if they want to keep up the current pace.
The Comeback Kids
November 30, 2010 -
This year’s Utah Jazz team is definitely not for the faint of heart. Absolutely unreal how they have managed to consistently fall behind by double digits and then somehow come back to win.
It’s even more amazing when you look at the teams they’ve done it against. The Jazz had 8 such 10+ point comebacks during the month of November and managed to pull them off against some of the top teams in the league
Here's a summary of their conquests:
Nov 6: Clippers – trailed by 18 – won by 2 (double OT)
Nov 9: @Heat – trailed by 22 – won by 2 (OT)
Nov 10: @Magic – trailed by 18 – won by 10
Nov 12: @Hawks – trailed by 11 – won by 4
Nov 13: @Bobcats – trailed by 19 – won by 1
Nov 20: @Blazers – trailed by 11 – won by 9
Nov 26: Lakers – trailed by 19 – won by 6
Nov 28: @Clippers – trailed by 10 – won by 12
With the exception of the perennially woeful Clippers whom the Jazz victimized twice, all the teams on the list made the playoffs last season. Additionally, 6 of the 8 wins occurred on the road and 4 of them were on the 2nd night of a back-to-back -- two areas the Jazz have struggled in recent seasons. I don’t have the time or motivation to do the research right now, but I would be surprised if an NBA team has ever had this many double-digit comeback wins in a single month. Truly a November to remember.
While the ability to come back from seemingly insurmountable deficits it’s certainly a good thing, being forced to do it on a regular basis is not. Championship teams don’t routinely fall behind by double-digit margins. They put teams away early. The Jazz have shown tremendous heart and determination by refusing to quit no matter what the score, but they need to come out of the blocks a little faster if they plan to keep winning.
November 22, 2010 -
That headline is my new nickname for Al Jefferson, which I sincerely hope doesn’t stick. While scanning through Big Al's game stats, I happened to notice an interesting and somewhat disturbing trend. He seems to have one good game followed by a less-than-stellar outing. With the exception of the first four games of the season, Jefferson has never increased his scoring output in consecutive games. It goes up one game, then drops the next.
Jefferson’s first regular-season game (heretofore referred to as Game 1) in a Jazz uniform was forgettable. He scored only 6 points against Denver. He has failed to reach double digits only one other time since, a 2-point outing against Miami in Game 7. Big Al’s next-lowest scoring totals came in games 11 and 13, in which he put up 12 and 10 points respectively. In odd-numbered games, Jefferson is averaging a dismal 12 points on 40% shooting (31/77).
Even-numbered games have been a completely different story. Jefferson has averaged 20 points on 52% shooting (60/115) in those contests. He is also averaging 5 more minutes played in those games, which I think is more of a result of his higher productivity rather than a cause for it.
Here’s the real kicker: Utah’s record in even-numbered games is 6-1. In odd-numbered games, it's only 3-4.
The Jazz have only won a single game in which Jefferson scored less than 15 points, and that was the Miracle in Miami when Millsap posted a career-high 46 to offset Big Al’s disappointing night. The team clearly needs his scoring punch, and they tend to struggle without it.
We’re only 14 games into an 82-game season, so there’s not much statistical validity to any of this yet. Still, it’s somewhat concerning that Jefferson seems to have trouble putting up strong performances in consecutive games. The silver lining here is that he doesn’t string together consecutive bad games either. My hope is consistency (the good kind) will come in time as he becomes more comfortable with the system and his teammates.
EDIT: I wrote this article before the Sacramento game (#15 -- an odd number) on Monday night. Naturally, Jefferson had to go damage my theory with a 19-point outing against the Kings. Still, it was statistically worse than his previous game (20 pts on 8-13 shooting), so if he turns in a better performance on Wednesday then the pattern remains in tact.
Paul Millsap Takes His Talents To South Beach
November 10, 2010 -
Let’s pretend you don’t already know what happened. Let me give you some key statistics from last night's Utah @ Miami game, and you tell me what outcome you would expect:
- Al Jefferson has his worst game of the season, scoring only 2 points on 1-7 shooting and spends the entire 4th quarter on the bench
- Raja Bell manages only 3 points on 1-6 shooting, his lowest output of the year
- CJ Miles hits only 5 of 14 shots including a dismal 0-6 from behind the arc
- The Jazz shoot 27% from the field in the first half and trail by 19 points at halftime
- Deron Williams fouls out
- Ronnie Price and Francisco Elson are in the lineup at the end of the game
- Dwayne Wade scores 39 points while shooting over 50%
- Lebron James posts his first triple-double in a Heat uniform (20 pts, 11 rbs, 14 asts)
- Chris Bosh exceeds his season averages in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks
- The Heat’s “big 3” combine for 76 points, 26 rebounds, 18 assists, 5 blocks, and 2 steals
- Miami attempts 47 free throws to Utah’s 21
- The Heat outrebound the Jazz and have fewer turnovers
Presented with that list of facts prior to the game, I would have guessed Utah loses by at least 20. Well, unless you’ve been living in a sports-free bubble for the past 12 hours, you know that despite the aforementioned statistics, the Jazz managed to mount a furious comeback and stun the Heat in overtime (despite trailing by 8 points with less than 30 seconds in regulation). So how in the world did this happen?
Three words: Paul Freakin’ Millsap
In one of the most impressive individual performances I’ve ever witnessed, Paul Millsap placed the Jazz squarely on his undersized-for-a-power-forward shoulders and willed them to an improbable victory. He scored 46 points (the most of any Jazz player since Karl Malone in 1998) and grabbed 9 rebounds while taking charges, playing tough defense, and doing everything but wiping sweat off the floor during timeouts.
Although most of his damage was predictably done in the paint, Millsap showcased a well-rounded offensive game, including the debut of a new weapon in his arsenal: the 3-point shot. Sap hit three clutch 3-pointers in the final minute of regulation to help force overtime. Prior to this game, he had only made two 3s in his 5-year NBA career. Jazz and Heat fans were equally stunned.
To be fair, Deron Williams (21 pts, 14 asts) and Andre Kirilenko (16 pts, 9 rbs, 7 asts) also contributed solidly to the victory, but this was Millsap’s show. Prior to the game, Chris Webber on NBA TV chose Sap as his fantasy pick of the night, stating that he believed Paul would have a strong performance against Miami’s front line. In his wildest fantasy, however, I don’t think CWebb imagined how right he would be.
Through the first 7 games, Millsap is now averaging 24 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 assists while shooting over 63% from the field. He won’t sustain this level for the entire season, but he’s already proven to be more than just a suitable replacement for Boozer at the power forward position. Millsap is a clear upgrade.
CJ Miles - Jazz Wild Card
November 4, 2010 -
In a conversation with a fellow Jazz fan during the preseason, I stated that Utah’s wins this season would be more heavily correlated with CJ Miles’ performance than any other player. My thought process was as follows:
The PG position is rock solid. Deron is the best in the league, and the addition of Watson gives the Jazz a proven vet playing behind him. Price can fill in as needed.
The PF/C rotation is looking great with Jefferson, Millsap, AK, Memo, and a much-improved Fesenko (I'm not even counting Elson who may also contribute). The Jazz are bigger and better here on both sides of the ball over last season and will match up favorably with just about anyone.
The wing positions provide the biggest question marks. The Jazz haven't had consistent scoring from the wing in years. They've also had the propensity to get absolutely lit up by opposing SG/SFs. Bell will help with perimeter defense and outside shooting. Hayward should contribute, but it's tough to expect too much from him this year. Kirilenko will be important, but he's really more of an interior player than a true wing.
I think the major wild card is CJ. If he can provide that scoring punch and defensive energy off the bench, effectively taking some of the pressure off Deron and Al to have a big game every night, the Jazz will be a tough team to beat.
The first four games of the season have certainly supported my theory. Miles has averaged 20 points in Utah’s wins and only 2 points in their losses. Taking that a step further, he was 1-8 FG (0-3 3pt) combined in the two losses and 15-25 FG (8-11 3pt) in the two wins. That's a pretty remarkable contrast.
In the spirit of full disclosure, Miles was hardly the only Jazz player who stepped up his game in Utah's victories. But I can confidently say that no other player performed so poorly in the losses.
As CJ Miles goes, so go the Jazz… At least after four games.
It's Just Two Games
October 30, 2010 -
The Cleveland Cavaliers posted the NBA’s best record last season at 61-21. Ironically, they started out by losing their first two games. The 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks finished with a league-best 67-15 record. They began that season with 4 consecutive losses—including a 31-point jack-stomping by the Rockets and an 18-point beat down by (of all teams) the LA Clippers.
So what’s my point? Utah’s lopsided losses to Denver and Phoenix are no reason to hit the panic button.
I’ll admit, I was pretty bummed after both of those games. It’s definitely not the way I wanted – or anticipated – the Jazz to start the season, particularly after watching them go 8-0 in the preseason. However, prior to the surprising preseason win-streak, my expectations were a little more in line with reality.
The Jazz are a remade team this season, with six new rotation players – two of which are starters. They need time to learn the system and get in sync with each other. It will happen. I still have faith in this team, and I am not ready to back off my prediction of a 55-win season. I won’t be surprised if they hover around .500 for the first 10-15 games before things really start to click. After that, watch out.
Utah Jazz Season Preview 2010-11
October 25, 2010 -
With the Jazz set to begin playing games that actually count on Wednesday, it’s time for my annual season preview. Heading into last year, I wasn’t feeling much optimism. I expected more of the same: a good-but-not-great regular season followed by an early playoff exit. I officially predicted Utah would win 54 games, earn a 4th seed in the West, and lose easily to the Lakers in the 2nd round. The Jazz simply didn’t have a championship-caliber roster. That fact had been evident to me for quite some time.
My forecast was eerily accurate. Utah won 53 games, landed the 5th seed in the Western Conference (actually tied for 4th), and was unceremoniously swept by LA in the conference semis. Despite the fact they finished only 2 regular-season wins short of the 2nd seed in the uber-competitive West and managed to upset the heavily favored Nuggets (my second most-hated team behind the loathsome Lakers) in the opening round of the playoffs, the Jazz never really looked like a title contender.
Heading into the 2010-11 season, my mood is completely transformed. Considering how many key players the Jazz lost this summer, optimism is somewhat of an unexpected emotion. Three months ago I was ready to give up on Utah’s front office, calling them complacent and content with mediocrity. Now I’m signing their praises.
Let’s start with a statistical recap of last season, followed by my 2010-11 projections:
2009-10 Record: 53-29 (1st-tie in Northwest Division; 4th-tie in Western Conference; Lost in 2nd round of playoffs)
2009-10 Statistical Leaders:
Points: Carlos Boozer (19.5)
Rebounds: Carlos Boozer (11.2)
Assists: Deron Williams (10.5)
Steals: Andrei Kirilenko (1.43)
Blocks: Andrei Kirilenko (1.22)
FG%: Carlos Boozer (56.2%)
3Pt%: Kyle Korver (53.6%)
FT%: Wesley Matthews (82.9%)
Key Additions: Al Jefferson (trade), Raja Bell (free agent), Earl Watson (free agent), Francisco Elson (free agent), Gordon Hayward (1st-round pick), Jeremy Evans (2nd-round pick)
Key Subtractions: Carlos Boozer (free agency), Wesley Matthews (free agency), Kyle Korver (free agency), Kosta Koufos (trade), Ronnie Brewer (trade), Eric Maynor (trade)
Projected Opening Day Starting Lineup:
Deron Williams (PG), Raja Bell (SG), Andrei Kirilenko (SF), Paul Millsap (PF), Al Jefferson (C)
2010-11 Roster/Depth Chart
PG – Deron Williams, Earl Watson, Ronnie Price
SG – Raja Bell, CJ Miles
SF – Andrei Kirilenko, Gordon Hayward, Jeremy Evans
PF – Paul Millsap, Mehmet Okur
C – Al Jefferson, Kyrylo Fesenko, Francisco Elson
Point Guard – D-Will is the best in the business, and he keeps getting better. The addition of Earl Watson brings an experienced vet to man the ship while Deron gets a breather, which should take off some pressure. Utah will outclass virtually every team at this position.
Interior Scoring – The Jazz always have one of the highest FG% in the league, as their offense is designed to create layups and easy shots. Jefferson, Millsap, and Kirilenko will be a tough frontline for opposing defenses to contain.
Coaching – Despite the fact he’s regularly snubbed for COY, Sloan is a deserving hall-of-famer who demands (and usually receives) the best from his players. This year he actually has the right pieces to work with.
Home Court – There isn’t a more difficult place to play (according to NBA GMs) than Energy Solutions Arena.
Roster Flexibility – Almost every player on the Jazz roster can play multiple positions, giving Sloan the flexibility to create mismatches and exploit opponent weaknesses. The Jazz have at least five realistic options at every position:
PG – Williams, Watson, Price, Hayward, Kirilenko, Miles
SG – Bell, Miles, Price, Williams, Watson, Hayward, Kirilenko
SF – Kirilenko, Miles, Hayward, Bell, Evans
PF – Millsap, Kirilenko, Jefferson, Okur, Evans, Elson
C – Jefferson, Fesenko, Okur, Elson, Millsap
Wing scoring – Will anyone step up and provide consistent scoring from the wing? It’s been five years since a Jazz wing averaged over 14 points per game, and that was Kirilenko (who is more of a tandem forward). It’s been over 10 years since a Jazz shooting guard did it, and that was Jeff Hornacek. Utah desperately needs consistent scoring from the wing, whether from a single player or by committee.
Interior defense – While the loss of Boozer (who played defense like a 6-year-old girl) should be addition by subtraction in this area, Jefferson isn’t exactly known as a defensive stopper. He is bigger than Boozer, however, and will block and alter more shots. This was a major weakness last year but did appear improved during the preseason. Still, it’s an area of concern until proven otherwise.
Outside shooting – Particularly with Okur out to start the season, this may be a deficiency. Korver is gone (you can’t help but miss a guy who shoots over 50% from behind the arc), and so is Matthews (38% from 3). Bell and CJ will need to light it up to prevent this from becoming a glaring weakness.
CJ Miles – The Jazz lost three key wings from last season: Matthews, Korver, and Brewer. CJ isn’t the athlete Brewer was, the defender Matthews was, or the shooter Korver was. BUT, he is capable of doing all three of those things in combination better than any of the aforementioned players. Miles appears slotted for a 6th-man role this season, and Utah will need his scoring punch off the bench. If he has the breakout year Jazz fans have been waiting for…
Andrei Kirilenko – Can he stay healthy, physically and mentally? It’s tough to place a value on AK when he plays with confidence and consistency. He’s a game changer. At his best, Kirilenko paired with Williams and Jefferson gives the Jazz a “Big 3” on par with anyone but the Superfriends in Miami (and Utah has a much better supporting cast).
Mehmet Okur – When and how well will he come back from that Achilles injury? If truly healthy, Memo could be an outstanding weapon off the bench at either the 4 or 5 spot.
This is the part where I gaze into my crystal ball (which happens to be a fish bowl that really needs cleaning) and predict individual performances for the season:
Deron Williams established himself as the top PG in the league last season, and he’ll keep that title this year. While his Team-USA buddies whine for trades and collude to join forces in big markets, Deron will quietly deliver an MVP-caliber performance.
Al Jefferson received a guarantee when he came to Utah that Deron Williams would make him an all-star. That promise will be fulfilled in February when Big Al is named an all-star reserve by the coaches. Jefferson will take a few months to achieve peak performance, but he’ll be a regular 20/10 machine by 2011.
Paul Millsap won’t improve much statistically from last season, but he will continue his progression as a player. Sap will be the perfect complement to Jefferson, bringing consistent hustle, energy, and toughness to the front line.
Andrei Kirilenko will have his best season since 2005-06. Though he won’t match his statistical totals from that year, he will have an invaluable impact on games and be a major catalyst to Utah’s success. Despite the potential trade value of his expiring contract, AK will finish the season a Jazzman.
Raja Bell will benefit the team with intangibles as much as he does with his defense and outside shooting. Similar to AK, his stats won’t convey the full value of his presence. Raja’s attitude will help revive the culture of toughness from Jazz teams of the past that seemed to have disappeared in recent seasons.
Mehmet Okur will struggle a little bit and probably have his worst statistical year in a Jazz uniform. Part of this will be due to his injury, and part will be due to a lack of minutes created by the play of Jefferson, Millsap, Kirilenko, and even Fesenko. Still, he will be a valuable contributor off the bench and will win a few games for the Jazz with his clutch shooting.
CJ Miles will finally almost become the player Jazz fans have been hoping he would become since he was drafted straight out of high school five years ago. Though nothing to generate all-star chatter, CJ will have something that could qualify as a breakout year. He won’t, however, deliver quite the needed consistency to make the Jazz true title contenders.
Gordon Hayward will look like a ROY candidate one game and a D-Leaguer the next. Still, Gordon will make a meaningful contribution throughout the season and validate Utah’s decision to make him the 9th pick in the draft (can’t believe I actually said that).
Earl Watson will start slow but finish strong. He will have some fans clamoring for Price early on, but by the all-star break Watson will be the best back-up PG in Utah since Howard Eisley (on his first tour of duty) played behind Stockton.
Kyrylo Fesenko will continue to drive Sloan nuts and remind Jazz fans of a more-athletic Ostertag by looking brilliant one night and failing to show up the next. Even so, Fess will have by far his beast season to date and will be a key cog in the second unit.
Francisco Elson will make KOC look smart. He will more than earn his vet-minimum salary by providing defense, rebounding, and toughness in limited minutes. In fact, he’ll become a fan favorite by getting under the skin of opposing players—something he managed to do twice in the preseason despite only playing in two games.
Ronnie Price will make Sloan wish he had more minutes to dole out. His playing time will be hampered by the presence of Watson, but Price will still find a way to contribute, bringing energy and hustle.
Jeremy Evans will once again make KOC and the Jazz scouting department appear brilliant. This 2nd-round gem will spend time in Orem but will actually work his way into some minutes as the season progresses. Portland is probably already preparing a toxic contract offer for him when he becomes a restricted free agent.
Putting It All Together
Three months ago I never would have imagined saying this, but this Jazz team could actually contend for a title. I didn’t like the roster composition of last year’s team. They were too small, too soft, and didn’t have the right chemistry. Hate to single anyone out, but Utah simply was not going to win on the delicate back of Carlos Boozer.
Following a masterfully orchestrated offseason by Kevin O’Connor, Utah now has the pieces in place to be a legitimate title contender. BUT (and this is a Charles Barkley-sized but), it will take everyone staying healthy and playing up their potential to make it happen. Realistically, I think the Jazz are still a couple of years away.
Based on where the “experts” are predicting them to finish, however, they'll be a lot closer than most people think this season.
Projected 2010-11 Record: 55-27
(1st in Northwest division, 2nd in Western Conference, lose to Lakers in Western Conference Finals)
Do Preseason Wins Mean Anything?
October 20, 2010 -
I’ve never been one to put much stock in preseason results. These games are less about winning and more about fine-tuning rosters, evaluating young players, and experimenting with lineup combinations. Starters rarely play more than 30 minutes, and the best players are rarely on the floor at the end, even in close games.
That said, with last night's victory over the Lakers the Jazz are now 7-0 in the preseason, with 5 of those victories coming on the road and 6 coming against 2009-10 playoff teams. That’s gotta count for something, right?
Turns out there is a positive correlation (rated at 0.4 for you stats geeks) between preseason wins and regular-season performance. Since 2004-05, teams that post a winning record in the preseason have made the playoffs 65% of the time, whereas only 38% of teams with a losing preseason record made the postseason. Taking it a step further, every team that has gone undefeated or had only one loss during the preseason made the playoffs. Only one team, the 2007-08 Cavs, earned a playoffs berth after posting one win or less in the preseason.
While I’m encouraged by those statistics, I’m much more excited by the way the new-look Jazz have played than the fact that they have yet to lose. For example:
- I’m excited that Al Jefferson was able to frustrate (if not dominate) Pau Gasol at both ends of the court -- something Boozer could never dream of doing
- I’m excited that Andrei Kirilenko is playing with more confidence than I’ve seen from him in years
- I’m excited that baby-faced Gordon Hayward dropped 26 points on the Lakers (primarily against their starters) while showing off an array of all-around skills
- I’m excited that CJ Miles is embracing his new 6th-man role and providing a much-needed scoring punch off the bench
- I’m excited that Fesenko looks fitter, faster, and more focused than I've ever seen
- I’m excited that Jeremy Evans -- who can jump out of the gym -- is playing light years beyond my wildest expectations and could actually work his way into the rotation this season
- I’m excited that team defense seems to be improving as the preseason progresses
I could actually keep going, and that’s a testament to how good this team has looked. All these positive observations mean much more to me than an undefeated preseason record.
Still, I’d much be 7-0 than 0-7.
Jazz-Suns Preseason Impressions
October 15, 2010 -
I came home from work yesterday to a pleasant surprise: The Jazz/Suns preseason game was televised (in HD) on League Pass. This was my first opportunity to actually watch the new-look team (referring both to the uniforms and the new players), so needless to say I was excited.
After watching the game, I’m still excited.
Recognizing that a single preseason game is hardly a valid sample size, here’s my analysis, player by player, of what I saw last night.
Let's start with the new guys:
Al Jefferson: I have officially added Minnesota GM David Kahn to my Christmas card list for the absolute gift he gave us this summer. Jefferson is a beast. Watching him go to work in the post was a thing of beauty. It’s so nice to have a player you can throw the ball into and expect him to score. His footwork, ball fakes, and touch around the basket are superb. Without a double team, he scored at almost every opportunity.
I was surprised at the fluidity of his mid-range shot. His passing, believed to be one of his weaknesses, looked solid to me. He had 3 assists, including a beauty to a cutting Millsap for a layup.
I was literally giddy after witnessing Jefferson’s performance. I know it’s just the preseason, but he was unstoppable in the post. Once he gets a little more comfortable in the system, I could see him averaging 25 points per game. Yes, he looked that good. Carlos Boozer will not be missed. Period.
Gordon Hayward: On the one hand, he definitely looked like a rookie. On the other hand, he showed me enough positives to make me feel he will turn into a legit player. I’m just not sure how long it will take.
He wasn’t abused on defense the way I feared he might be. On offense, his shot wasn’t falling and he clearly struggled to finish through contact. He seemed to be thinking too much and probably still has some nerves. He did, however, show some great court vision and passing skills. The ball doesn’t stop when it comes to him. He seems to understand the offense already, which is a great sign. I’m still not convinced the Jazz made the right pick, but I’m also not convinced they didn’t.
Jeremy Evans: Holy freakin’ pogo stick! This kid can jump. High. Evans was probably the player I was most excited to watch after reading about his freakish athleticism. He didn’t disappoint. The guy is just instant energy. While I originally expected Evans to spend the year with the Flash (if he even made the final roster), I now think he may crack the rotation at some point. Last night he had 12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 assist… in only 13 minutes. He needs polish and he needs muscle, but this kid has a bright future. KOC found another 2nd-round steal.
Earl Watson: I was thrilled when the Jazz signed him. He didn’t show me much last night, although he did have 4 assists with no turnovers. It will take a while for him to get comfortable, but I think he’ll be a solid backup for Deron. I love his intensity on defense.
Raja Bell: Good to have him back in a Jazz uniform. Didn’t do much statistically, but you can tell he just fits on this team.
Now for the incumbents:
Deron Williams: He was solid but not spectacular. You can tell he has another gear that he simply hasn’t engaged yet because there is no reason to. His play was a little sloppy, but his brilliance still shone through at times. I expect an MVP-caliber year from him.
Andrei Kirilenko: What is up with the hair? A few more inches and he’ll have the full Fabio. Aside from that, he looked good. Nothing we haven’t seen before. He does so many things that don’t show up in the box score, and last night was no exception.
Paul Millsap: He had a solid game. Didn’t have a particularly eye-popping stat line, but he looked good. While Jefferson’s presence will probably hurt his stats a little, I think their games will actually complement each other pretty well.
Kyrylo Fesenko: Fess actually looks quite a bit better to me. I heard he dropped 20 pounds, and it really shows with his improved mobility. He is amazingly quick and agile for a player his size. He still makes boneheaded mistakes, but this performance gave me hope that he may actually have a breakout season.
CJ Miles: He looked OK. Not a great game, but definitely not a poor one. He was 2 for 2 from behind the arc, so that’s a bonus. I may have my expectations a little too high for CJ, mostly because I think the Jazz will really need him this year. I hope he finds his groove quickly.
Ronnie Price: Barely played and didn’t take a shot. I think we know what to expect from him by now.
Everybody Else (Gaines, Jeffers, Thompson, Nichols): These four are competing for what will likely be a single, final roster spot. None of them particularly stood out last night. Gaines is a long shot simply because Utah already has 3 PGs with guaranteed contracts (Williams, Price, Watson). Jeffers plays hard but is undersized (I think he got his shot blocked 3 or 4 times). I didn’t really get much of a feel either way for Thompson or Nichols, so I have no opinion yet as to whom I prefer.
In summary, I was pretty impressed with the team as a whole. They still have rough edges as would be expected with so many new faces. Still, something just feels good about this group. Can’t wait to watch more of them and see how accurate my first impressions prove to be.
From Offseason to Preseason
October 6, 2010 -
Kevin O’Connor did his job. Now it’s Jerry Sloan’s turn.
Following one of the busiest offseasons in team history, the Utah Jazz are now officially in preseason mode. Sloan has the not-insignificant task of integrating a plethora (can’t ever use that word without thinking of El Guapo on The Three Amigos) of new faces, most of whom will be expected to contribute in a big way. This was by no stretch of the imagination a typical Jazz summer.
To put things in perspective, it’s entirely possible that Deron Williams will be the only Jazz player to start the first game of both the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons. That’s big change, especially for a conservative franchise like Utah. You have to go back five years (Deron’s rookie season) to find the last time 3 starters changed from one season to the next. The Jazz have never changed 4 starters over one season in my 20+ years as a fan.
To put it lightly, Sloan has his work cut out for him.
That said, this may end up being one of his easier coaching years in recent history. Why, you ask? Because looking at this roster, I see more toughness and fewer egos. I see guys who are committed to working hard and getting better. I see guys who actually want to be on this team and seem to genuinely like each other. Music to Jerry's ears.
(I also see more size and athleticism than I ever recall seeing on a Utah team, but I’ll save that for another post.)
It can be tough to separate fact from fiction in the world of blogs and internet bulletin boards, but from everything I gather, this team seems to be on the same page. The new guys are all saying the right things, and the “inside” scoop is that all the players are particularly high on Jefferson, Hayward, and 2nd-round pick, Jeremy Evans.
I’m not ready to make my season predictions yet (I’ll wait to watch a few preseason games before doing that), but I’m feeling optimistic. Jerry has a big job to do, but I think he’ll do it well. And I think he’ll enjoy it.
Utah Jazz Offseason Grade
September 24, 2010 -
At one point during the first part of July, the Jazz appeared headed for disaster. They had lost four key contributors from the team that began the 2009-10 season (Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, and Eric Maynor) and got no one back in return. Thanks to the Portland Trailblazers, who seem to have made it their mission to offer oversized, front-loaded contracts to all of Utah’s restricted free agents, the Jazz were on the verge of losing a fifth (Wesley Matthews). To make matters worse, Utah was still over the salary cap and therefore didn’t have the means to pursue any marquee free agents from other teams. The future looked bleak, raising fears that Deron Williams would soon want out. The logical next steps were for Sloan to announce his retirement, Nuskin to drop their sponsorship of the Jazz Dancers, and the ESA scoreboard to crash down on center court.
Just as the last glimmers of hope were flickering out, Kevin O’Connor ducked into a phone booth, exchanged his suit for some purple and green tights, and emerged as Super GM. (OK, that was lame, but KOC really did pull off a minor miracle when all seemed lost.) Over the remainder of the summer, the Jazz did more than just salvage their offseason—they somehow managed to actually improve their roster over last year.
It all started with a move that reminded me of the Lakers’ infamous “trade” with Memphis to acquire Pau Gasol for a ham sandwich and a bag of stale chips (about which I’ve always wondered who in the LA front office had incriminating photos of whom in the Memphis front office). The Jazz managed to steal Al Jefferson from Minnesota for Kosta Koufos, 2 protected 1st round draft picks, and a trade exception. Sucks to be a T-Wolves fan.
Jefferson is a beast. While it may take him a while to get comfortable with the new system, he should eventually have no trouble replacing Boozer’s scoring and rebounding. Plus he’s bigger and younger. This was a clear upgrade.
Next, the Jazz brought back Raja Bell on a free agent contract. Bell should be able to replace Matthews production for about a third of the price. He also brings leadership and toughness that the Jazz have been lacking in recent years.
After trading for Jefferson and signing Bell, I fully expected the Jazz to round out their roster with rookies and D-leaguers just to keep the tax bill to a minimum. But KOC wasn’t finished. First, he signed 7-footer Francisco Elson who will give the Jazz additional size and athleticism behind Jefferson at center. I don’t expect too much from Elson, but with Okur likely to miss the first part of the season, this was an important signing.
Finally, the Jazz shored up another weakness by signing Earl Watson to backup Williams at the point. I was actually thrilled with this move. Watson is a tough defender and can run an offense effectively. Though he won’t see much playing time behind Williams, he gives the Jazz exactly what they need—a savvy vet to prevent the game from slipping away while Deron gets a breather.
In my 20+ years as a Jazz fan, I don’t ever recall a roster makeover quite this drastic. I’ve been screaming for Utah to make some moves for a few years now, and they finally did it. I really like this team on paper. The Jazz definitely got bigger and tougher. The biggest question is how well will they jell together?
Training camp starts next week, so we'll find out soon enough. If this group can develop the right chemistry, they could really make some noise.
Additions: Al Jefferson (trade), Raja Bell (FA), Francisco Elson (FA), Earl Watson (FA), Gordon Hayward (draft), Jeremy Evans (draft)
Subtractions: Carlos Boozer (FA - Chicago), Wesley Matthews (FA - Portland), Kyle Korver (FA - Chicago), Ronnie Brewer (trade – Memphis), Eric Maynor (trade – OKC), Kosta Koufos (trade – Minny)
Offseason Grade: A-minus. They certainly exceeded my expectations and made the most of a potentially devastating situation. Had the Jazz managed to keep Wesley Matthews, they would have earned an A.
Jazz Aren't Title Contenders...Yet
August 2, 2010 -
I was just about ready to throw in the towel on the Jazz front office, declaring them content to mire in mediocrity and unwilling to take the risks necessary to build a true title contender. Supporting my case was a mound of evidence compiled over the past 18 months in the form of trades that never happened, deals that occurred simply for financial reasons, and free agents lost for seemingly nothing.
The last month has changed things considerably and proven that Greg Miller is indeed committed to more than just frugality. He wants to win, and as a fan, that’s what I needed to know.
Trading for “Big Al” Jefferson and signing Raja Bell was a huge step in the right direction, but I’m not yet ready to declare the Jazz title contenders. Here is my assessment on the current team needs:
- Post defender / shot blocker (Can that be Fess?)
- Backup PG (If only we still had Eric Maynor…)
- Outside shooting (Can CJ step up? Is Hayward ready to replace Korver?)
- Wing scoring (Still looking for Hornacek’s replacement after all these years)
Here's how I see the minutes shaking out to start the season with the current roster (and assuming Memo is still injured):
DWill (38), Price (10)
Bell (32), CJ (16)
AK (24), CJ (12), Hayward (12)
Millsap (36), AK (12)
Jefferson (36), Fess (12)
That’s not a bad looking lineup. Depending on the team chemistry and whether or not individual guys play to their potential, they could be as good as most anyone in the West. Still, I think the Jazz could become the primary contender to the Lakers with one or two more moves. Let's breakdown the weaknesses:
While Jefferson should be an upgrade over Boozer, he’s definitely not known for his defense. The Jazz still lack an intimidating presence in the middle. The best solution would be for Fesenko to evolve into that player, but I don’t really expect that to happen.
The wild card here is Ante Tomic. How good do the Jazz think he will be, and will he come over for the 2011-12 season? I can see Utah being hesitant to trade for immediate help if they believe their center of the future is already in the organization and ready to contribute next year.
Price is OK, but there is usually a noticeable drop off when he comes in for Deron. I’m still sick about the Maynor trade, as the Jazz would be rock solid at the point if he were still on the team. As it stands, any extended injury to Williams would kill this team. If Utah could figure out how to add a vet like Earl Watson, they would be well served to make it happen.
On the bright side, at least Ronnie Brewer and Andrei Kirilenko can’t start together on the wings. On the not-so-bright side, Utah lost the NBA’s best 3-point shooter in Korver. Fortunately, the additions of Bell and Hayward should help ease the blow. The key here, however, is CJ Miles. He has a sweet stroke but a surprisingly low shooting percentage from behind the arc (34%). If CJ and Bell can both shoot near 40% (Bell is a career 41% 3-pt shooter), and Deron and Memo maintain their previous levels, the Jazz should be fine from the outside. Unless an obvious deal presents itself, I wouldn’t prioritize bringing in another shooter right now.
Similar to outside shooting, CJ Miles may be the key here. If he can finally have that breakout year that we’ve all been waiting for, he might become the consistent 3rd-scoring option the Jazz have been lacking since Hornacek retired. The other possibility is Kirilenko. We know he has it in him, but can he stay healthy AND focused for an entire season? I don’t have faith that either of those will happen, let alone both. With that in mind (and assuming Hayward won’t be ready to make a meaningful contribution), if the Jazz have the opportunity to acquire a top-tier wing -- even at some sacrifice -- they should strongly consider it.
The million dollar question is which of Utah’s weaknesses can be improved from within, and which will require a move or two to remedy?
As much as Utah needs a defensive post presence, swapping Boozer for Jefferson and giving more minutes to Fesenko should yield an improvement. Couple that with the potential that Ante Tomic could join the team next year, and it might not make much sense to prioritize going after another center.
I honestly think the team’s biggest need right now is a consistent scoring threat on the wing. If Andrei Kirilenko returns to his all-star form of 6 years ago, the Jazz are an immediate title contender. There are few players in the league I would rather have than AK at his best. This is the guy who averaged over 16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists to go with nearly 3 blocks, and 2 steals per game. He was amazing to watch.
Unfortunately I don’t believe we will ever see that Andrei again, at least for any extended period. He’s still a valuable player, but the Jazz need someone more consistent to anchor the wing and provide a third scoring option behind Deron and Al.
I don’t expect the Jazz to make another move this offseason, other than to round out the roster with minimum-salary players. But I do hope they keep their eyes open for someone like an Andre Iguodala who could be available at a discount. An all-star-caliber wing like that would give the Jazz a triple threat as good as any in the league.
Raja Bell Is Back
July 22, 2010 -
I’m still bitter about losing Wesley Matthews to the Blazers, but learning that Raja Bell has decided to sign with the Jazz is a nice consolation prize. What makes it all the more sweet is the fact that in opting for Utah, Bell rejected a personal sales pitch from Kobe Bryant to join the Lakers.
If you want to know why Kobe wanted Raja on his team, just take a look at the picture. In reference to that incident, I would normally lose respect for a player who laid a clothesline on an opponent in the middle of a game. But since Bell did this to Kobe Bryant, I’m completely fine with it. In fact, I respect him more for it. (For those not familiar with the situation, Bell was heavily provoked by cheap elbows from Kobe throughout the entire series. And yes, Bell was ejected and suspended for the maneuver.)
I was sorely disappointed when Bell left the Jazz to sign with the Suns 5 years ago, and I’m thrilled to have him back now. With Matthews gone, the Jazz desperately need his defense. With Korver gone, the Jazz need his 3-point shooting. But most of all, the Jazz need his toughness. Welcome back, Raja.
Gotta hand it to Kevin O'Connor. He's taken what was shaping up to be a disastrous offseason and turned it into something pretty exciting.
A Rabbit Named Al Jefferson
July 15, 2010 -
“Greg Miller and Kevin O’Connor had better pull a serious rabbit out of their collective hat, or they stand to lose a lot of fans this season.”
I posted that quote a few days ago in reference to the mass exodus of talent the Jazz have experienced in the past 12 months. Fortunately Miller and KOC managed to pull out a 6'10" 260-lb rabbit who has the potential to more than replace the productivity lost when Boozer left for Chicago. Hallelujah! The Jazz front office actually did something positive. They renewed my hope that they just might care about more than profitability.
While this move certainly atones for the failure to trade Boozer last season, it doesn't mean that all is entirely forgiven. It also does not make the Jazz immediate title contenders (though it puts them much closer than they were just a day ago). Utah still needs to make another move or two if they want to legitimately challenge the Lakers, not to mention the new Superfriends in Miami.
At least now I'm excited again. Can't wait to see what comes next!
Front Office Wakeup Call
July 12, 2010 -
I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I really do. As a businessman, I understand the strategy and perspective that goes into many decisions that may not be apparent from an outside perspective. In short, I realize that “good” decisions may look like “bad” decisions to the uninformed.
Conversely, my business experience has also shown me that smart, informed people sometimes make extremely poor decisions.
The Jazz front office has been pursuing a stay-the-course strategy for years now. News flash: It’s not working. Actually I should clarify that. If their goal is to always be a mid-tier playoff team without any real shot at winning a title, then the strategy is working fine. If they, like most of us fans, have championship aspirations, then they need to make some changes.
When the Jazz selected Gordon Hayward with the 9th pick, I was livid. I honestly felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I have since realized that my disappointment over that draft pick was really a culmination of frustration with management’s apparent unwillingness to be aggressive and take the necessary calculated risks to become a legitimate title contender. For the Jazz, it’s all about maintaining the status quo. They put out a winning product that makes the playoffs year after year. This allows them to sell enough tickets to turn a profit. That seems to be more important than winning a championship. As a business man, I get it. As a fan, I hate it.
Prior to the 2006 NBA draft, the Jazz, after dropping to the 6th spot thanks to lousy luck with the ping pong balls, made an aggressive move to trade up to #3 so they could select Deron Williams, giving up 3 first round picks in the process. It was a gamble that paid off, and the kind of risk that championship teams have to take.
In 2008, Utah traded an expiring contract (Gordan Giricek) and a future 1st-round pick (which ended up being #23 this year) for Kyle Korver. Another calculated risk that arguably paid off. The Jazz needed outside shooting, and they got one of the best. Unfortunately injuries marred his performance somewhat, but it was still a smart move designed to make the team better.
Since that time, however, the Jazz have retreated back to the ultra-conservative approach. This has been particularly manifest in the past 12 months. Need proof?
Exhibit 1: The Jazz trade Eric Maynor and Matt Harpring to OKC for nothing more than salary cap relief.
Exhibit 2: The Jazz trade Ronnie Brewer to Memphis for a conditional future 1st-round draft pick.
Exhibit 3: The Jazz DON’T trade Carlos Boozer before the 2010 trade deadline, failing to acquire any assets in exchange for an all-star whom they were likely to lose for nothing in free agency.
Exhibit 4: Jazz have thus far failed to trade Andrei Kirilenko and his valuable soon-to-be-expiring contract.
Exhibit 5: Jazz fail to move up in the 2010 draft to acquire a potential star (i.e. Turner, Favors, Cousins) despite the fact that Philly was supposedly willing to trade the #2 pick to a team that would take Elton Brand’s contract.
Exhibit 6: The Jazz NEVER acquire 1st-round picks for cash considerations. The Dallas Mavericks bought the #25 pick (Dominique Jones, a player I would have loved to see on the Jazz) for cash.
Exhibit 7: The Jazz fail to work a sign-and-trade for Boozer, losing him to Chicago for nothing but a trade exception.
Exhibit 8: The Jazz lose Kyle Korver (who, by the way, set the NBA record for 3-pt percentage last season) to Chicago for no compensation and reportedly didn’t even make him a respectable offer.
I won’t enter this as official evidence since the jury is still out, but the Jazz also appear to be on the verge of losing Wesley Matthews for no compensation, as Portland gave him a bigger offer than Utah expected.
I don’t recall ever feeling this frustrated with the Jazz organization, and I know many others who feel the same way. If Utah doesn’t match the offer to Matthews, they will have watched 5 key contributors from last season walk away with nothing to show for it but a lower payroll. How is Deron Williams going to respond to this?
Greg Miller and Kevin O’Connor had better pull a serious rabbit out of their collective hat (wanted to use another word there), or they stand to lose a lot of fans this season. Perhaps more importantly, they stand to lose their franchise point guard in two years.
Gordon Hayward - Second Impression
July 11, 2010 -
If you read my last post, you know how I felt about the Utah Jazz drafting Gordon Hayward. Since then, I had the chance to catch a few of Utah’s games during the Orlando Summer League this past week. While I still feel the Jazz made a mistake in the draft, I did at least come away somewhat more encouraged about Hayward.
His stats weren’t exactly attention grabbing, but Hayward played solidly and efficiently. I definitely get the sense he will be a much better player when surrounded by other good players. He plays a team game that is not effectively showcased in the less-structured summer-league environment. To his credit, he didn’t resort to the selfish tactics displayed by some of his teammates and generally stayed within the offense. The unfortunate result is that he didn’t get nearly the amount of touches I would’ve hoped for from the 9th pick in the draft.
Here is my general assessment of Hayward’s performance in the three games I watched:
- Poise and confidence – He played under control and didn’t seem intimidated (despite the fact that he looks like a boy among men)
- Shooting – He definitely has a nice stroke, and he shot over 50% for the week
- Basketball IQ – He seems to have a great understanding of the game and generally made smart, team-oriented plays
- Ball Handling – He has a good handle for a 6’8” player and made a few nice moves with the ball
- Strength – He appeared physically outmatched at times
- Athleticism – I’m not sure he will be able to get to the hoop against most NBA wings
- Upside – Tough to judge this from a handful of summer league games, but I just don’t see this kid ever being more than a decent NBA role player
Of the three games I watched, I was particularly interested in Utah’s matchup with Indiana. The Pacers had the 10th pick in the draft (immediately after the Jazz) and selected Paul George, the player I had hoped the Jazz would take. This was Hayward’s worst game of the summer league. He looked totally outmatched by George, who scored 15 points, grabbed 9 rebounds, and looked every bit the part of a solid NBA prospect.
As I said, I still believe Utah made a mistake drafting Gordon Hayward with the 9th pick. While my impression of Hayward has definitely improved, I’m afraid passing on Paul George will come back to haunt the Jazz.
Gordon, PLEASE prove me wrong.
NBA Draft Shock And Awe
June 30, 2010 -
I’m writing this after having a couple of days to cool down. Had I written it right after the NBA Draft, it probably wouldn’t have made it through many content filters.
I was on a business trip in Madison, Wisconsin the night of the Draft. We were actually at dinner, and I was checking the ESPN Draft Tracker on my Blackberry. Picks 1-5 went exactly as I expected (Wall, Turner, Favors, Johnson, Cousins). I was both surprised and disappointed to see Golden State take Ekpe Udoh at #6, as I had really hoped the Jazz would land him. Greg Monroe (the other player I really wanted) went next to Detroit at #7, as expected. The Clippers then took Aminu at #8, leaving the Jazz their choice of Ed Davis, Paul George, and Luke Babbitt, with an outside shot they might take Xavier Henry or Cole Aldrich. Or so I thought.
The anticipation was killing me as I hit “refresh” again and again, waiting for Utah’s selection to show up. Finally it did. And then I wished it hadn't. One minute I'm enjoying a delicious steak. The next, I've literally lost my appetite.
Years of waiting for this draft pick, with aspirations it could yield the next Lebron James or Dwight Howard, all flowed rapidly down the drain as the name flashed back at me from my Blackberry screen.
The Jazz didn’t go with the raw but talented power forward from North Carolina. They didn’t go with the athletic wing from Fresno whom some analysts said has as much upside as anyone in the draft. They didn’t even make the “safe” pick by taking the shot-blocking center from Kansas to shore up a long-term need.
Nope. Instead, the Jazz picked Opie.
Honestly, I am still stunned. Gordon Hayward? Really? Of all the players projected to be taken within 5 or 6 spots of where the Jazz picked, he is literally the LAST guy I would have chosen. Sure, he had a great season leading the unheralded Butler Bulldogs to within a missed last-second shot of shocking Duke in the national title game. But still. The kid looks like he’s 12 years old. I’m not sure his skills will translate to the NBA. He really doesn’t fit a need for the Jazz. Did I mention that I am still stunned?
I’ve been wrong before, and I hope I’m wrong now, but I think the Jazz blew this draft. Hopefully Hayward will change my mind in Summer League.
Draft Wish List
June 5, 2010 - While I’m not entirely over my disappointment of the Jazz' lack of lottery luck, I have at least come to terms with the reality of the situation and begun to research players potentially available in the #9 range. Actually it’s probably misleading to say “begun to research” since I’ve been studying up on the top draft prospects for about 4 months now…
Yes, I’m a draft geek. I fully admit it. I take pleasure in analyzing the prospects and determining who would be the best fit for the Jazz. Naturally the players I most covet will be long gone by the time the 9th pick rolls around. But with that said, here’s my current draft board. I’ll list my top-10 players, knowing that at least 2 of them will still be on the board at #9. Plus there is always the outside chance the Jazz will trade up in the draft, so let’s take it from the top:
1. John Wall (PG, Kentucky) - You just can't pass on him with the #1 pick, even with an all-star PG already on the team. He could be a superstar. Could he and Deron coexist? At worst, you trade him for someone lower on the board + other considerations.
2. Evan Turner (SG/SF, Ohio State) – Big combo guard who would make an awesome backcourt mate for Deron. Can do everything (score, rebound, pass, defend, handle) except shoot the 3 with consistency. He could even play the point if needed.
3. Derek Favors (PF/C, Georgia Tech) - Incredible athleticism and potential on both ends of the court. Could become a dominant post player but may need some time to develop. Should actually be a better NBA player than college, especially with a PG like Deron to set him up. Not as NBA ready as the two players I rate just below him, but his potential is too much to pass up.
4. Wesley Johnson (SF, Syracuse) - Prototype SF with good size and athleticism. Good 3-pt shooter, and he averages nearly 2 blocks and 2 steals per game. More of an off-the-ball player than Turner, and therefore may actually be a better fit for the Jazz. Plus it would be cool to have a Wesley at each wing position.
5. Greg Monroe (PF/C, Georgetown) – Skilled big man with a well-rounded game and nice intangibles. Seems like he would fit well in the Jazz system and be able to contribute right away. His passing ability is outstanding for a big.
6. DeMarcus Cousins (PF/C, Kentucky) - If not for his questionable character and mental issues, he would be much higher. The guy is huge and skilled, but he’s a risky pick with bust potential. Still, his size and talent are too enticing to pass on him here.
7. Ekpe Udoh (PF/C, Baylor) – He continues to climb up mock draft boards. He has a rare combination of size, athleticism, and skills. Posted nearly identical rebounding and shot-blocking numbers to Cole Aldrich (playing in the same conference), and he shows much more promise on offense. Also reputedly a good passer.
8. Al-Farouq Aminu (SF, Wake Forrest) - Excellent athlete with a pretty well-rounded game. Has been compared to Luol Deng. He could make a nice eventual replacement for AK. Doesn’t fill an immediate need, but he’s too talented to leave on the board at this spot.
9. Ed Davis (PF, North Carolina) – Long and athletic with considerable upside, though he didn’t exactly dominate in college. Excellent rebounder and shot blocker. Reputedly has high bball IQ, character, and work ethic. Needs to get stronger, but he could be a nice tandem at PF with Millsap.
10. Paul George (SG/SF, Fresno State) – Fantastic athlete with great size for a wing and nice range on his shot. Potential to be a lock-down defender. Failed to dominate subpar competition in college but showed flashes of brilliance. Apparently wowed scouts with his athleticism at the combine.
I'd actually be pretty happy with any of these top-10 guys (which means I should be satisfied with the draft unless the Jazz do something stupid). My real hope is that either Greg Monroe or Ekpe Udoh slips to #9 (or the Jazz trade up a few spots to get one of them). The team has a clear need in the middle, especially considering Boozer won't be back. Either way, they need a shot blocker. With so many good PF/C types on the board, it will be a little disappointing if they don't find a way to get one.
Unlucky In Lottery
May 20, 2010 -
The Jazz have the 9th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. While that should be exciting considering the fact that they would normally be picking in the early 20s, I can’t help feeling a little like a kid on Christmas who tears open a package with great anticipation only to find a new sweater instead of the toy he really wanted. I should be grateful, but I’m just not.
I’ve been waiting for that unprotected New York draft pick for years, hoping it would eventually yield a future superstar. Thanks to a lack of lottery luck, the odds of that happening now are in roughly the same range as Jerry Sloan becoming a contestant on Dancing with the Stars.
I’ve decided to express my frustration in the form of thank you notes to the parties I feel are most responsible:
The Knicks – Thanks for winning a bunch of games down the stretch you had no business winning. You trade away half your roster to clear cap space for free agency this summer, yet you still manage to win. It’s a safe bet you would have gone into complete tank mode if the Jazz didn’t own your 1st-round pick.
The Wizards and Sixers – Thanks for completely tanking the last few months of your seasons and finishing with a worse record than the lowly Knicks despite the fact you have much better players.
Lottery Karma – Thanks for rewarding the Wizards and Sixers for tanking their seasons and failing to reward the Jazz despite the fact that you moved them down two spots the last time they stood to land a high pick. You suck at justice.
The Atlanta Hawks – Thanks for being the only team with a winning record to lose to the Knicks not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES! Had you done your job, the Jazz pick would have picked no worse than 6th.
The NBA Draft is coming up on June 24th. Once I get over my self-pity about the Jazz missing out on a top-3 pick, I'll try to rank my draft prospects and create my wish list of players who may still be around at #9.
Summing Up The Season
May 15, 2010 -
Things got busy and I stopped posting for a while. Admittedly some of that stemmed from disillusionment, and I’ll get into that in a minute. Long story short, I’m back. Not sure how often I'll be posting, but we'll see how it goes.
I may just have a second career at the Psychic Friends Network. A quick review of my 2009-10 season preview article from last October proved that my predictions were pretty much right on the money. I forecasted a 54-28 record, good for 2nd in the Northwest, 4th in the West, with the Jazz losing to the Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals. In reality, the Jazz finished with a 53-29 record, good for 2nd in the Northwest Division and 5th in the West (they actually matched Denver for the 4th-best record but lost the head-to-head tie breaker). And yes, they lost to the hated Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals.
While I'm admittedly pretty impressed with my prophetic skills, the spirit of my prediction is where my disillusionment comes in. I knew before the season even started the Jazz would post a decent record but would not be legitimate title contenders unless they made some roster moves. They did make moves (trading away young talent like Maynor and Brewer for little more than cap relief), but obviously not the kind I was hoping for. The Jazz had a decent season and were right there in the mix in the West, but they had no shot at getting past the Lakers (though I did expect them to win at least one game…) Frustrating to say the least. At least they sent the Nuggets packing in the first round. That was a nice consolation prize.
In summary, this season was a disappointment. The Jazz played it conservative, as usual. And they were good but not great, as usual.
Here are my positives and negatives for the year:
Deron Williams – He became the best point guard in the NBA this season. He just keeps getting better.
Paul Millsap – He made the Jazz look smart for matching his contract. His stats were held down by Boozer’s continued presence, but Sap had a strong year and continues to grow as a player.
Wesley Matthews – Where did this kid come from? I still can’t believe he was undrafted. I hope he stays a Jazzman for a long time.
CJ Miles – He stepped it up big time in the playoffs. CJ has teased us before, but hopefully this is truly a sign of things to come next season.
Carlos Boozer – He actually played well and rose above the ugliness of the previous offseason, but he missed the regular season finale – the game that could have propelled the Jazz to the 3rd seed and allowed them to avoid the Lakers until the conference finals. Typical Booz. The real negative is that the Jazz failed to trade him and get something of value in return. Now they will lose him for nothing this summer.
Andrei Kirilenko – He was having his best season in years until he got hurt. Seems like if his body is healthy, his mind isn’t, and vice versa. He just can’t get it together consistently, which is a huge shame.
Eric Maynor – I’m still sick the Jazz traded him, especially since they did nothing but pocket the money they saved. That kid will be good.
Kosta Koufos – I expected a breakout year from him, but it didn’t happen. Not sure if he’s going to make it.
Kyrylo Fesenko – He made an impact in the Denver series, but he still doesn’t really seem to get it. He has all the physical tools but seems to lack the mental capacity to be a good NBA player. He’ll probably get one more chance to get it together.
Bye Bye Brewer
February 19, 2010 -
When I said the Jazz needed to make a deal, this was not what I had in mind. Shortly before Wednesday’s trade deadline, Utah shipped Ronnie Brewer off to Memphis for a protected 2011 1st round pick. Yup, another salary dump. I guess they answered my question as to whether they would be buyers or sellers in this market.
Before I go any further, I want to say that I actually don’t mind this trade. While I’ve always liked Brewer, he wasn’t having a particularly strong year. Most of us were expecting him to take another step forward in his progression this season, but if anything he seems to have gone backwards. The Jazz also had a logjam of players at the wing positions with Kirilenko, Korver, Miles, and Matthews all competing with Brewer for minutes. Particularly with the way Matthews has exceeded expectations, Brewer won’t be that difficult to replace...at least on the court. Ronnie was apparently well liked by his teammates, and I just hope this trade doesn’t do anything to adversely impact team chemistry.
The real reason I don’t mind this trade is that the Jazz likely would not have been able to keep Brewer this summer anyway. With so many teams projected to have cap space, Ronnie would have most surely received an offer that Utah would be unable (or unwilling) to match. With that in mind, they did well to get a 1st-round pick for him rather than watching him walk away for no compensation.
While I don’t mind this trade, I’m upset that it was the only move Utah made. I believe the Jazz missed a golden opportunity to improve their team, and that will be the topic of my next article.
I’ll miss Brewer. Aside from the fact that he couldn’t shoot to save his life, he was a fun player to watch. I wish him all the best in Memphis.
Andrei Kirilenko, Where Have You Been?
February 3, 2010 -
I thought we’d never see you again. That guy who looks like you – the one who has been wearing your uniform and cashing your enormous paychecks for the past few seasons – had really worn out his welcome. I was getting sick of his antics. It’s not that he did anything blatantly wrong; he just wasn’t the guy who earned a max contract extension five years ago. Not even close. He didn’t play with the same energy, passion, or plain joy that you did before you disappeared.
Anyway, I don’t know where you’ve been hiding out since 2006, but it sure is nice to have you back.
With tonight’s victory over Portland, the Jazz have now won 11 of their previous 12 games, and Kirilenko’s play is probably the single-biggest reason why. Over that stretch he averaged 14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 1.5 blocks while shooting an impressively efficient 62% from the field. It’s been a while since he has put up numbers like that for any consistent period of time.
But AK has been even more impressive in the last 7 games (all Jazz victories), during which he averaged 18 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, and shot an absolutely ridiculous 72% from the field. He’s also back to doing a bunch of things that don’t show up in the stat sheet (deflections, altered shots, etc) but make the Jazz a much more difficult team to beat.
Perhaps most importantly, he looks like he’s having fun out there. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that from him, and it’s a welcomed sight.
Not too many weeks ago, I was just about ready to give up on this season. The Jazz were underachieving, and they honestly weren’t much fun to watch. I’m not quite sure what got Kirilenko and the rest of the team back on track, but I sure hope they can stay there.
Welcome back, Andrei. Please stick around this time.
Buyers or Sellers?
January 21, 2009 -
Fact: More millionaires are made during a recession than at any other time. Why? Because resources (stocks, real estate, materials, labor, etc.) are typically available at discounted prices, and those willing to take calculated risks have the potential to reap significant rewards.
Now replace “millionaire” with “title contender,” and let’s talk about the NBA. The weak economy has put a number of teams into a difficult financial position, so much so that premium talent is available at a discount. Other teams with deeper pockets are clearly looking to take advantage of the potential fire sales offered by their cash-strapped counterparts.
The Utah Jazz are at a major crossroads right now. The young team with a promising future that reached the Western Conference Finals in 2007 has actually regressed each season since. Greg Miller and the rest of the front office must decide whether they are gong to be buyers or seller in this market.
The Maynor/Harpring “trade” was a strong indication the Jazz are looking to sell. They gave up a promising young player for nothing more than financial relief. Considering how far above the luxury tax line the Jazz were, it’s easy to understand why management felt this was a necessary move. To a fan, however, it sends the message that winning is not the top priority. And fans are the ones who buy the tickets, memorabilia, etc that generate revenue. Alienate the fans, and you lose money.
The NBA is a business. I get that. But as with any business, focusing on short-term cost cutting can end up hurting your long-term profit potential. Conversely, absorbing some short-term risk/pain can pay huge dividends down the road. If you stop investing in the future of your business, the competition will eat you alive. The best thing the Jazz can do right now from both a basketball and a financial perspective is to buy aggressively.
The Jazz have an impressive collection of tradable assets in the form of all-star talent, expiring contracts, young players with upside, and even an unprotected 1st-round pick (likely to be in the top 10). They also have a number of roster defects they need to address. Only the most optimistic fan could believe that this team as currently constituted will ever win a title. One or two aggressive deals, however, could position Utah as a championship contender for at least the next three years.
A winning team is good for the bottom line.
Perhaps most importantly, the Jazz may be able to convince a certain Olympic point guard they are committed to winning so he doesn’t skip town three years from now. In case you're reading, Greg, his departure would be extraordinarily bad for the bottom line.
(P.S. I’m still working on my list of potential trades, but I’ve already come up with numerous “realistic” deals that would make the Jazz better.)
Jazz Need To Make A Deal
January 14, 2009 -
When asked about the potential of the Jazz making a trade before the February deadline, Jerry Sloan recently said, “I’d rather keep guys together so you have better continuity.” While that sentiment is understandable and may actually be the best course of action much of the time, it feels a little narrow-minded at the moment. The problem here is the core of this Jazz team has now been together for four seasons...and they seem to be getting worse every year.
Continuity is great if you’re winning. The Jazz are not (at least not enough).
Albert Einstein once said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." The Jazz organization may not have received a clinical diagnosis yet, but the neighbors are beginning to point and whisper.
So who to trade? Honestly, for the right deal I would part with anyone on the roster aside from Deron Williams. With any trade, however, I would expect Carlos Boozer to be the centerpiece.
Many NBA analysts feel the Jazz will keep Boozer for the remainder of the season. That would be an enormous mistake, in my humble opinion. Follow my logic here:
1. The Jazz have no shot at winning the NBA title this season. In fact they’re not even in the playoff picture right now.
2. Carlos Boozer will be gone this summer. The Jazz can’t afford to pay him what he wants, and unlike this past summer, there will be a number of interested teams with the cap room to sign him.
3. It would be incredibly short-sighted to keep a player you know isn’t part of the team’s future just to potentially win a few more games this season. If the Jazz were legitimate title contenders, it would be a different story.
4. Even if they can’t get fair market value for Boozer, the Jazz would be better off receiving some kind of asset in return rather than losing an all-star for nothing.
I refuse to accept excuses from Utah’s front office that they can’t find a trade for Boozer that makes sense. I’ve heard the argument from some fans that no team will give up anything of value for Boozer when they know they could just sign him as an unrestricted free agent this summer. Again, I don't buy it. The team that traded for Boozer would have his Bird rights and be able to offer him more money and a longer contract than any other team. At worst, they would have the ability to make a sign-and-trade or free up cap room to go after another free agent.
Rod Thorne, GM of the New Jersey Nets, recently said, "if you make a deal for an expiring free agent of the major variety, you’d have to feel your chances were very good to re-sign that player." Interesting comment, as I believe New Jersey could be a legitimate trading partner. I don't know Boozer personally, but he certainly seems to be motivate by money. Pay him, and he'll sign.
I could probably come up with at least 30 “realistic” potential Boozer trades that I would willingly accept. In fact I'll try to make good on that in my next post.