STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Jazz continued to show promise last season by advancing to the Western Conference semifinals before getting swept by the eventual NBA champion Lakers. During the offseason they lost two-time All-Star Carlos Boozer and sharpshooter Kyle Korver to free agency. The two were replaced with talented young power forward Al Jefferson along with former Jazz shooting guard Raja Bell. Jefferson should continue a rich tradition of talented power forwards to play in Utah and also help at the center position, especially during the beginning of the season, while Mehmet Okur continues to recover from an Achilles injury suffered late last season. Utah again will have a deep front line with the Okur, Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Andrei Kirilenko. The most important part of the Jazz continues to be one of the best point guards in the NBA, Deron Williams. He has been the team leader for several years now and when he plays well the Jazz are a difficult team to beat. Utah should be a good defensive team with the ability to rebound the ball well. They can drive the hole and score inside, but their offensive success will likely rest on their ability to stay healthy and consistently shoot the ball, especially from outside. Bell and first-round draft choice Gordon Hayward should be the team's main options for scoring from the outside.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
The biggest question is likely to be who will get more minutes at the starting power forward spot? The question will be irrelevant for the first half of the season as both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap should see 40 minutes a game with Mehmet Okur out due to injury. When Okur returns, the Jazz will likely ease him back to his normal 35 minutes a game. Kirilenko will be the first option off the bench for several positions and get his typical 35 minutes a game, with the occasional 40. Kyrylo Fesenko and Francisco Elson gobble up the remaining frontcourt minutes off the bench. Deron Williams will consistently play over 40 minutes a game as the only real solid option at point guard for the Jazz and the newly signed Raja Bell should start and see 35 minutes per game at shooting guard. Veteran point guard Earl Watson should see 12-15 minutes a game, while Ronnie Price should get slightly less at 10-12 minutes. The Jazz have several wing players to give minutes. C.J. Miles should see the most with 20-plus minutes a game with talented rookie Gordon Hayward getting an increasing number of minutes as the year goes on. Look for him to see 10 or 12 minutes at the beginning of the year, with up to as much as 25 by the end if he plays well.
Mehmet Okur: Okur is a former All-Star and one of the best offensive centers in the NBA. He's one of the best outside shooters on the roster and helps to spread the floor for other players to drive to the hoop. He lacks interior muscle to manage some of the bigger interior players, but still has the ability to put up some good rebounding numbers. After rupturing his Achilles tendon at the end of last year, he is unlikely to return until at least late December.
Kyrylo Fesenko: Kyrylo Fesenko is mostly around for frontcourt depth after averaging just 2.6 points and 1.8 rebounds per game last year, but he could be an interesting player to watch if Al Jefferson were to get injured.
Francisco Elson: Fransisco Elson is your typical journeyman center who has been with five teams during his seven-year career. He gives the Jazz added depth as a reserve center, but his playing time is not likely to be significant. He has averaged 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in his career.
Al Jefferson: Al Jefferson's numbers dropped off slightly last season after coming back from reconstructive surgery on his torn ACL. He averaged 17.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game after averaging more than 21 points and 11 rebounds in each of the two previous years. However, he was able to play in 76 games last year and his knee appears to be healthy. He was traded to the Jazz for two future first-round draft picks and Kosta Koufos. Jefferson should see plenty of playing time at both center and power forward and could again be a 20 and 10 player with a talented Jazz team around him.
Paul Millsap: Millsap was poised to become Utah's starting power forward until the team signed Al Jefferson, but Mehmet Okur's recovery from an injury will likely give Millsap at least a month or two in a starting role. Look for him to be a force inside and give the Jazz many double-doubles in points and rebounds.
Andrei Kirilenko: Kirilenko's minutes and production have both suffered since he slid out of the lineup and into a bench role in the last couple of seasons. However, he continues to play at an elite level when he does get into games and because of that still puts up numbers equivalent of many starters in the league. With Carlos Boozer now gone and Mehmet Okur out due to injury, Kirilenko could see added playing time and consequently increased numbers at least for the first half of the season.
Gordon Hayward: Gordon Hayward was a big-time player at Butler who the Jazz drafted this year with the ninth pick in the draft. He has the skills of a guard and the height of a power forward and should be able to play multiple positions ranging from the two to the four. His playing time could increase throughout the year as he develops.
Jeremy Evans: Evans is a rookie who is unlikely to see much playing time this year. He could see time in the D-League in order to improve his skill set. He's a thin and athletic forward who has a decent inside game.
Deron Williams: Williams is one of the best guards in the NBA and can do it all. He's a big guard who can muscle smaller point guards and has enough speed to take larger defenders to the hole off the dribble. As the Jazz's floor leader, he can pass the ball well in addition to his scoring prowess. He averaged 24.3 points and 10.2 assists in the playoffs last season. If he has any flaw at all, it is his ability to consistently hit the outside jump shot, as he shot just 37 percent on three-pointers last season. He has averaged 18-plus points and 10-plus assists in the last three years and has a chance to average 20/10 per game in the 2010-11 season.
Raja Bell: This is Bell's second go-round with Utah. He averaged double-digit scoring in six straight seasons before last, but played in just six games last year due to injury. At age 33, his outside shooting should benefit the Jazz.
C.J. Miles: C.J. Miles has shown improvement in his play each year and at times has been electric at the shooting guard position. He is a streaky player who can shoot the ball and drive to the hoop well. His athleticism allows him to stick with other wingmen and be a solid defender.
Ronnie Price: Ronnie Price was expected to be the first point guard off the bench for the Jazz until the team added Earl Watson. Price could see split minutes at both guard positions, but it likely won't be enough to make a significant impact on the stat sheet.
Earl Watson: Earl Watson is a nine-year veteran and has been a starter at times on other teams. He has an ability to score but is not the best outside shooter. He can run an offense and can put up decent numbers in both assists and steals. Look for Utah to deploy him as the first point guard off the bench.
Andrei Kirilenko: Kirilenko lost a significant amount of weight before last season to get quicker and lighter on his feet. He could get increased minutes at several positions this year, especially in important game situations. With injury and free agency leaving the Jazz front line slightly shallow in 2010-11, look for Kirilenko to be a force and potentially produce similar to the numbers he had as a starter. He is one of the best all-around players in the NBA and can put up big statistics in almost every roto-worthy category.
Raja Bell: Bell is now 33 and is coming off two years of injuries that left him playing just six games last year. He is a solid defender and shooter but lacks dominance in other areas. If he is not hitting his shot, look for other players to take significant minutes away from him. He should be the starter in the beginning of the year, but will likely be looking over his shoulder as other players could take his spot if he does not play well. Expectations have been high in the past for him to be a big-time scorer, but it he has never been able to realize those expectations with his play.