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Team Previews: 2008 Utah Jazz Preview

John Clemeno

John Clemeno

John Clemeno writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.


UTAH JAZZ
By John Clemeno
RotoWire Writer



STATE OF THE FRANCHISE



The Jazz shook off a sluggish start to the season (17-16 through December), worked their half-court game brilliantly behind point guard Deron Williams, and added a legitimate 3-point threat in Kyle Korver to go 37-12 the rest of the way and capture the Northwest Division title. Losing to the Lakers in the conference semi-finals was certainly a disappointment, especially on their home court where they were nearly unbeatable last year. But like Utah coach Jerry Sloan, this is a tough and resilient bunch. They will be back in 2008-09 with pretty much the same crew that brought them last season.


The Jazz are led by Williams, who is turning into one of the top point guards in the league. And he gets to work with the same starting five that began and finished last season, which means there’s no need to integrate new talent on the fly. After Sloan and Andrei Kirilenko patched up their falling out prior to the season, the Jazz became a cohesive team with very good on-court chemistry.


The biggest concern for the Jazz will be preparing for their immediate future. Lest this team gets too old, like Detroit, Utah should begin to develop younger and cheaper talent ready to step in, and start looking for a more productive backup center than Jarron Collins. Considering that Carlos Boozer can opt out of his contract after the season, the organization will need to give more run to guys like Paul Millsap and Morris Almond.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION



On a team that’s had the same coach for 20 seasons, nothing much changes from year-to-year. So there should be no surprise that the Jazz return the same starting five that finished last season. Some new faces coming off the bench might crack coach Jerry Sloan’s rotation, but the top eight rotation guys return in 2008-09.


The team leader is point guard Deron Williams, who plays over 35 minutes a night. He’ll be backed up by Brevin Knight, who was acquired in a trade from the Clippers for Jason Hart. Knight’s been in a position to contribute for fantasy teams the past few seasons, but he won’t be getting enough minutes with the Jazz. The team’s leading scorer, Carlos Boozer, should get about 35 minutes at power forward. The very efficient Paul Millsap will back him up. Millsap’s per-36-minute numbers (13.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg) are nice, but he’s stymied by Boozer and is limited to under 20 minutes a game. Another 30-minute-plus guy, Mehmet Okur, joins Boozer in the front court with veteran Jarron Collins and Boozer getting minutes when Okur is out. Andrei Kirilenko starts at small forward with Matt Harpring and Kyle Korver behind him, depending on what Sloan needs at the time.


Shooting guard is the position of most volatility and depth, but Ronnie Brewer is still the starter and should get 25-30 minutes a night. Harpring and Korver were used at the two last season, with C.J. Miles picking up anything that was left. However, look for 2007 first-round pick and scoring machine Morris Almond to get more opportunities this year.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS



Center



Mehmet Okur: Okur was slow out of the gate last season, but finished with 17.0 ppg and 10.3 rpg on 48 percent shooting after the All-Star break. Consistency and focus have always been a concern with Okur, who has been a full-time job for coach Jerry Sloan. He doesn’t play much with his back to the basket, instead using his ability to hit mid-range and three-point shots to his advantage. That also creates room for Utah’s real low-post threat, Carlos Boozer. Okur makes his free throws and was one of a handful of centers to average more than two assists per game. Okur isn’t gifted with great athleticism, and he lacks the lateral quickness to be considered a good defender. While that always runs him afoul of coach Sloan, it doesn’t typically cost him playing time – Okur averages 32.6 mpg with the Jazz. And Okur has been fairly durable the past few seasons – he missed a stretch last season because of a shoulder injury, but entered the year having missed just two games in his previous three years.



Jarron Collins: Collins has been with the Jazz and head coach Jerry Sloan for seven years now and the coach knows exactly what he’s getting from Collins. He’ll set the screens, hit the boards and won’t do too much with the ball in his hands. With Carlos Boozer healthy again and Mehmet Okur established at center, Collins has averaged just 10.6 minutes per game over the last two seasons.


Kyrylo Fesenko: Fesenko bounced back and forth between the D-League and the Jazz last season, but never saw much action in the NBA. He’s a shot-blocker and rebounder at the position, but is still too green for extended minutes. With the Jazz being an elite team in the Western Conference, Fesenko’s development becomes a lesser priority.


Kosta Koufos: Koufos came out after his freshman year at Ohio State, but really needed more seasoning before entering the NBA. He’s got a nice finesse game at center, but needs to develop more variety in close and doesn’t have a power post game. He’ll need to learn that part of the game in the D-League, which is where he’ll be calling home this year.


Ante Tomic: Tomic has a nice set of moves in the low post, but doesn’t play up to his 7-2 size. His body is still very thin and as such he doesn’t do a lot of the heavy lifting that’s so often required from the position. With a glut of centers on the roster, Utah can keep Tomic in the D-League if he makes the team.

Forward



Carlos Boozer: Boozer followed up his breakout 2006-07 campaign with another huge effort last year, starting a career-high 81 games and posting a career-high 21.1 ppg on 54.7-percent shooting from the field. Boozer and Deron Williams have combined to form a latter-day Karl Malone/John Stockton combo on offense, with Boozer’s great strength and deceptive quickness around the rim leading to a lot of easy lay-ups. While health was once a big question for Boozer (80 missed games from 2004 – 06), he has now missed only nine games in the last two seasons combined. Not known for his defense or his passing, Boozer rounded out his game a bit last season with a career-best 1.2 steals per game while also keeping his assists up near three per game, which make them both categories of interest for a big man. As the defection of quality Western big men to the East continues (Elton Brand this season following Kevin Garnett, Shawn Marion and Zach Randolph last season), Boozer’s now one of the top remaining power forwards in the Western Conference.



Paul Millsap: Millsap enters an interesting year. He’s been a good producer in limited minutes and is entering the final year of his contract. It would seem he’s a ripe candidate to be plucked by another team next summer. However, the Jazz face the distinct possibility of Carlos Boozer opting out of his contract. There have been several rumors circulating about Boozer looking to play for Miami in 2009. Millsap’s got great rebounding skills and can outwork opponents to get scoring opportunities. The problem is that as long as Boozer is around, he’ll never get more than 20 minutes a night.


Andrei Kirilenko: A couple of years ago, Kirilenko was a unique player who contributed to every category and would have been worthy of a first-round pick if not for recurrent health problems. His main claim to fame was his defense – Kirilenko used his long 6-9 frame to contribute almost five combined steals/blocks every season. But two seasons ago he moved to small forward full-time and seemed to lose half-a-step of foot-speed, a combination that pulled him away from the rim (fewer blocks) and forced him to concentrate on guarding the more athletic wings instead of playing the passing lanes (fewer steals). Kirilenko’s combined 2.7 steals/blocks last season represented a career low and marked the third year in a row that his total declined. He played a bit better on offense last season, getting his scoring average back to double-digits (11.0 ppg), his assists up to 4.0 per game and his field-goal percentage up to a career-high 50.6 percent. But those numbers are still pedestrian, and without his anchoring defensive stats, Kirilenko is no longer the unique player he once was.



Matt Harpring: The knee surgeries over the years have reduced Harpring to a less-than 20-minute a night player. Harpring has been used as a backup swingman at the two and three, but will have more competition for that playing time. He’s been a very good contributor off the bench, but with less playing time, there’s no spot for him on a fantasy roster.


Kyle Korver: Korver came over from Philadelphia and helped the Jazz improve as a threat from 3-point range. He’s a superb perimeter shooter and, when restricted to that role and not asked to do more, can be a very effective player. He played fewer minutes per game in Utah than he did in Philadelphia, but scored just as many points and shot better. The Jazz will continue to use him in a similar fashion this year. And if Matt Harpring’s playing time is reduced, Korver could get more playing time but we also expect C.J. Miles and Morris Almond to pick up any available minutes.


Tadija Dragicevic: Dragicevic is an extraordinary scorer from everywhere on the court, but will not have a role on the Jazz’ roster this year. He’ll probably play overseas for another couple of years and would enhance his NBA prospects by learning better rebounding and defending techniques.

Guard



Deron Williams: The only reason we can’t call Chris Paul far and away the best young point in the NBA is that Deron Williams is right there with CP3 by just about any measure. The key stat for point guards is the assist. Williams was third in the league in dimes last season, with an average of 10.5 per game – only Paul and Steve Nash had more. Williams shoots so well – over 50 percent from the floor, just under 40 percent from long-range – that the Olympic team has been using him at shooting guard. Heading into last year, the biggest knock on Williams was that he didn’t get to the line enough – but he increased his made free-throws by over 100, hitting 330 on the year (just two less than Paul). Unfortunately, Williams can’t compete with Paul and some of the other higher-ranked guards in the secondary categories – he doesn’t board particularly well (3.0 rebounds per game – less than Nate Robinson) or generate a lot of steals. But that seems like a minor complaint when looking at his near-20 points and 10-plus assists.



Brevin Knight: Knight is the most significant offseason acquisition, giving the Jazz a capable veteran backup to Deron Williams at point guard. Knight doesn’t need a lot of minutes to be effective and is a smart distributor with a low A:TO ratio (6.6 apg/2.0 tpg). He won’t get enough minutes in Utah to be worth a spot on fantasy rosters, but if given the opportunity (an injury to Deron Williams), Knight is a nightly starter.

Ronnie Brewer: Brewer is the forgotten man in Utah’s starting five. Everyone knows Deron Williams as one of the Association’s top points. Carlos Boozer is a 20-10 man. Mehmet Okur qualifies at center and hits threes, and Andrei Kirileno, just a season or two ago, was a top-10 fantasy player. Then there’s the relatively anonymous Brewer, who more than doubled his production in just about every fantasy hoop category last season, and who could emerge as a real force. In 76 games and starts, Brewer averaged 12 points – up from 4.6 his rookie year, along with 1.8 assists (from 0.4), 2.9 rebounds (from 1.3) and 1.7 steals (0.7). Even his three-point shooting improved, but when the jump is from 0.00 percent to .220, we’re talking about “atrocious” to merely “ghastly.”



C.J. Miles: How Miles stays in Utah is a mystery. He’s earned the ire of coach Jerry Sloan and the organization for not participating for their summer league teams the last two seasons. When Miles signed an offer sheet with Oklahoma City, it seemed the Jazz would allow him to walk. They didn’t. So Miles is back with the Jazz at a crowded perimeter spot that already has Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and 2007 first-round pick Morris Almond.


Ronnie Price: Price and Brevin Knight will share minutes, backing up starter Deron Williams at point guard. He can defend the position, has a year in the system, and can fill in during times of need, but will not be asked to lead for any extended amount of time.


Morris Almond: Almond can flat out score. He averaged 25.6 points in the D-League last year, including a 51-point explosion. He works screens well, can get himself open, and is an outside threat all the way out to 3-point range. Unfortunately, he’s caught in a logjam at shooting guard/small forward, where five guys are looking for limited minutes.

Sleeper:



Morris Almond: Almond was featured performer for Utah’s entry at the Las Vegas Summer League, showing a much more varied offensive game than in the past. Always a perimeter threat, Almond was attacking the rim and getting to the line often. And the coaches were impressed as he incorporated some defense in Las Vegas, which could set him apart from C.J. Miles and Kyle Korver on the wing. With the steadily declining minutes allotted to Matt Harpring, Almond may get his shot this season.

Bust:



Matt Harpring: Harping’s playing time has dropped 15 minutes per game since he averaged 33 mpg in 2004-05. Knee surgeries have taken their toll on Harpring and now he’s coming off ankle surgery. He’s still an effective player in those limited minutes, but look for the Jazz to start incorporating younger players like Morris Almond and C.J. Miles.


Article first appeared on 9/30/08