Utah didnt have much to do this past off season following their run to the Western Conference finals. The main issues for the Jazz this summer had been to find reliable point guard depth, continue to develop their young players (Deron Williams
, Paul Millsap
, and Ronnie Brewer
) and to come to some type of resolution with disgruntled star Andrei Kirilenko
The first two items on the agenda have been taken care of with relatively little effort or fanfare on Utahs behalf. Veteran guards Jason Hart
and Ronnie Price
provide defense and scoring ability respectively behind Williams. Neither player is spectacular, but should help to provide some quality minutes as situational subs, even if losing Derek Fisher
has to hurt to some extent.
Reports out of Jazz training camp speak to the work ethic and competitive instincts of youngsters Williams, Millsap, and Brewer. Williams raised his level of play to near All Star status last season and is now firmly entrenched as the floor general of the Jazz. Millsap was one of the surprise rookies of last season, the best player at the Rocky Mountain Revue, and has continued to work on his game as he becomes a fixture in the Jazz rotation. Brewer was seldom used last season, but has come on strong in training camp and could challenge the incumbent Gordan Giricek
(who was temporarily rumored to be exploring a buyout) for minutes this season.
The Kirilenko situation has been one of the biggest soap operas of the offseason. Aside from the Knicks legal fiasco and the arrival of KG in Boston, AK 47s unhappiness has been big news. At one point Kirilenko even discussed foregoing his contract and staying in Russia. But apparently a long talk with owner Larry Miller
has helped clear the air and his kinship with new Jazz staff member Jeff Hornacek
may help to ease his mind as well. This is a situation that will need to be monitored as the season moves on, though.
A productive Kirilenko makes Utah a title contending team for sure, but the club may very well be there with or without a top-end season from their mercurial star. Depth Chart:
[c]courtesy of Synergy Sports Tech: Figure represents NBA offensive percentile rank[/c]Strengths:
Utah has great balance of production as well as a fairly deep rotation of players who maintain the offensive integrity of the Jazz attack. The teams biggest assets are its stellar backcourt/frontcourt strength, which makes the team so formidable. Mehmet Okur
received big money with not much of a proven track record a few offseasons ago, but has become one of the top centers in the league. His ability to score efficiently from the post and the perimeter makes him a versatile complement to the offense, which helps coach Sloan implement multiple different lineups.
The emergence of Williams as a top-end point guard is what will solidify Utah as a title contender for years to come. Williams has all the leadership qualities you could ask for from a point-- toughness, vocal nature, and a sense of clutch play. Williams will take tough shots and isnt afraid to step up his game and take over when the team seems to be slipping.
Its Carlos Boozer
who really brings it all together for this team. Boozers contract was beginning to look like an albatross with injuries piling up over the first two seasons in Utah, but now that things have worked out, hes become a top power forward.
Boozers game is eerily similar to former Jazz great Karl Malone
. Boozer is great in the post, has outstanding hands, can hit the 17 footer with ease and makes smart basket cuts as well as intelligent passes. Williams and Boozer may be considered a poor mans Stockton and Malone, but both are stars that will have a chance to give this team something neither of the later players accomplished-a ring. Weaknesses:
Utah has a couple of areas to work on, but the team is more in tweaking mode than they are searching for building of a foundation. Okur, Boozer, and Williams are young and playing at an All-Star level, so the future should have a large window.
One of the major areas for improvement is defensive play out of the frontcourt. As good as Boozer and Okur have been for the offense, the team is almost entirely reliant on Kirilenko for paint protection. Okur will be physical at times, but neither he nor Boozer are great at defensive rotations or intimidating with shot-blockingdue to their average athletic ability.
That once again brings up the value of Kirilenko and on a number of fronts. Kirilenkos interior defense can be game-changing at times, especially on weakside or trailing blocks. He has the ability to lock down on both power forwards and small forwards on-ball as well.
The Jazz need Kirilenko to get his head on straight and adjust to not having the ball in his hands the way he did earlier in his career. His passing skills are exceptional for a player his size, but with Williams in the fold, hes got to re-invent himself as an off-ball contributor who captains the defense.
The rest of the wing depth is in transition to some degree. Matt Harpring
is a bulldog of a player, but hes aging and injuries have taken something out of him. Gordan Giricek
has seemed to be a place-holder for this team since the day he arrived. The team needs some more development from their wing position players, especially defensively, in order take another step forward. Outlook:
Utah is the pre-imminent up-and-coming team in the Western Conference without a doubt. Steady development as a unit should see the team better able to execute when next they face San Antonio.
The Jazz have a couple of very promising young players to help bolster their team in the upcoming seasons. Williams has arrived, but Brewer and Morris Almond
could add something nice to the mix over the next 2-3 seasons.
As Williams matures and is able to execute more efficiently and keep the overall team flow going, the Jazz offense will be better equipped to attack top-level defensive pressure. Mehmet Okur
was really affected by the playoff defense he faced, and as good as Williams was as an individual, he got caught pounding the ball and thinking through valuable shot-clock seconds a little too often to beat the Spurs.
Expect this team to take another step forward and function at a higher level during the regular season. They are just a step away from being able to challenge the Suns, Mavs, and Spurs in a seven game series, and a resurgent Kirilenko could really make things interesting come June.