UTAH JAZZ PREVIEW 2011
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The last two years have been filled with changes for the Utah Jazz. The unexpected resignation of long-time head coach Jerry Sloan in February was the biggest. One of Sloan’s former players, Tyrone Corbin, stepped in to finish coaching the 2010-11 season and will now be coach the Jazz again this season. After Sloan’s resignation, Deron Williams, the Jazz’s point guard for the previous five-and-a-half years, was shipped off to New Jersey in a big trade that brought Devin Harris and Derrick Favors over to the Jazz. Harris is a score-first point guard who immediately took over as the starter, and joined a crew including Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap to form a powerful All-Star-level troika. The Jazz have a formidable and deep frontcourt, but depth and experience are lacking at the guard and small forward positions. Young players like Gordon Hayward and C.J. Miles will be asked on to carry the scoring load at times. Last season, despite a 27-13 start, the Jazz fell to 39-43 and missed the playoffs. Their 8-20 record in the last 28 games was disappointing, but hopefully it will give them the incentive and valuable experience to start quick and make a playoff run in the shortened 2011-12 season.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
The Jazz should have a nice interior rotation of Jefferson, Millsap and Favors. Jefferson and Millsap should both see close to 40 minutes a game, and Favors should spell them both and could see 20 minutes a game. The other big men, Mehmet Okur and Enes Kanter, will likely both see around 10 minutes a night through the majority of the season, primarily at the center position. When either Okur or Kanter are on the floor, Millsap could possibly see minutes at the small forward position. This will take minutes away from the two young promising swingmen, Miles and Hayward. Miles is a versatile player who will play multiple positions throughout the season. He should be the starting small forward at the beginning of the season, and should see his average minutes per game increase to over 30. Hayward will constantly battle Miles for minutes at small forward and also Raja Bell at shooting guard. After showing his potential at the end of last season, Hayward should average around 25 minutes a game. Bell should begin the season as the starting two guard, but his grasp on the starting spot could be short-lived. Look for the Bell’s minutes at shooting guard to be cut down to about 25 each game, with several players seeing time at that position. Newly-drafted Alec Burks should be another player getting some playing time at shooting guard. Harris is going to be the starting point guard and will see about 40 minutes per game. Jamal Tinsley, now 33, is returning to the NBA to provide depth at the point guard position for the Jazz. He and Earl Watson will likely not have much fantasy value, as each will get about 5-10 minutes per game.
Al Jefferson: Jefferson may have started and ended last season poorly, but he was a monster in between. He surpassed his previous career-high in minutes played, and he could do that once again this season. He should be the premier player inside for the Jazz in 2011-12. Jefferson nearly averaged a double-double (18.6 points, 9.7 rebounds) last season and should have plenty of opportunity to surpass those averages this season.
Enes Kanter: The Utah Jazz selected the Turkish basketball player with third pick in the 2011 draft. He has a lot of potential – he reminds most NBA analysts of another foreign center, Marc Gasol.
Mehmet Okur: The days of Okur being an All-Star are long gone, and his days as a starting center may have also disappeared. Last year was spent overcoming several serious injuries as he played in just 13 games. He might not see enough time on the court this season to justify a spot on a fantasy roster.
Paul Millsap: Millsap is coming off the best year of his five-year career, averaging 17.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He has played in 398 of Utah’s last 410 games and could be a centerpiece for the future. People close to Millsap say he has spent the long offseason getting in shape and fine tuning his game. He is possibly the most versatile player on the roster and could see time at three different positions. We expect him to put up numbers this season that are equivalent to last.
C.J. Miles: This could be the year that Miles steps into the Jazz’s starting lineup and stays there. He showed flashes of being a big-time scorer throughout last season. He is a streaky player who can shoot the ball and drive to the hoop well. He wants to start for the Jazz, but he has plenty of competition from younger players at both the two and three positions. The Jazz will need scoring at the wing position and Miles might be the player they rely on most.
Derrick Favors: Along with Devin Harris, Favors was the other part in the blockbuster trade that sent Deron Williams packing. He is a young (20) and athletic power forward who got some extra playing time toward the end of last year and boosted his averages to 8.2 points and 5.2 rebounds a game. He is likely to be the first forward off the bench for the Jazz and could show some impressive numbers for a reserve player this season.
Jeremy Evans: Jeremy Evans is entering his second year and he is unlikely to see much more time on the court than he did last year. This should be another year of development and watching from the bench the majority of time.
Devin Harris: Harris was a part of the blockbuster trade in the middle of last season that sent Deron Williams to New Jersey. He is a quick and rangy guard who usually looks to score first. He has been through many changes in his seven-year career and hopefully he has finally found a home as the starting point guard in Utah. If Harris can stay healthy, he could be the key to whether the Jazz make a playoff run or fall back to having a sub-.500 record.
Raja Bell: Bell will be starting this season at the age of 35. His game dropped off tremendously last season. He should battle younger players for both the starting spot and overall minutes at the shooting guard position. His value is more in his experience and sharp shooting at this point of his career. There would be no surprise to see him coming off the bench by the second half of this shortened season.
Gordon Hayward: At 6-8, Hayward will likely be splitting time at both shooting guard and small forward in the 2011-12 season. He started many of the games in the second half of his rookie season and played very well. He may begin his sophomore campaign continuing to come off the bench as a versatile sixth man, but as he develops, he could slide into a starting spot at either the two or three position.
Alec Burks: The 12th pick in the 2011 draft, Burks is an athletic shooting guard out of Colorado. He is very quick, with explosiveness that helps him finish around the rim. Although he has a decent mid-range game, he is not particularly skilled from the outside. He shot better than 50 percent from the field during his collegiate career, but was below 30 percent in three-point shooting.
Earl Watson: Earl Watson is returning for his second season as the backup point guard for the Jazz. He has an ability to score, but is primarily a ball handler who facilitates the offense. He could realistically average as many assists as he does points. He could see a drastic increase in minutes per game if Harris goes down at any time with an injury.
Jamaal Tinsley: Tinsley is attempting to make a comeback into the NBA after playing in the D-league for a year. He is 33 years old and has had a history of off-the-court problems. He may still be able to contribute as the third point guard for the Jazz.
Gordon Hayward: The Jazz are hoping that Hayward will continue the momentum that he had going towards the end of his rookie season. He averaged 9.1 points and 25.8 minutes after the All-Star break. It appears as if he spent the off season getting bigger and stronger, and could get plenty of playing time at both the two and three positions this season. The ninth pick in the draft last year, Hayward’s play has drawn praise from both teammates and players around the league, such as Kobe Bryant. He is a well-rounded ball player who could soon be filling up the stat sheet for both the Jazz and fantasy owners on a regular basis.
Mehmet Okur: Okur played in just 13 games last season after coming off a devastating Achilles injury. So far in training camp it appears as if he’s once again healthy, but with the Jazz having such a deep frontcourt this season, don’t expect Okur to average much beyond the 13 minutes a game he averaged last season. If some of the young talent does not pan out as expected this season, he could play a significant role on the team, but it is likely that his days of reaching his career averages of 13.7 points and 7.1 rebounds will be rare.