The 2nd game of this Western swing, and things couldn’t be tougher. The Raptors very well could have been 3-0 heading into Utah tonight, but dems da breaks. On Monday, the Raptors lost a heart breaker to Sacramento where they played a pretty solid game, but lost composure at the end. That doesn’t set a good precedent for the Jazz game; a team that has been nothing but composed for as long as I can remember.
I got a chance to chat in with Spencer Hall from Salt City Hoops about the Jazz and some of the changes the team has made in the last year:
We always knew that Millsap would be a beast when given a chance. What does it mean for the Jazz that they will get similar production as Boozer without the shortened seasons because of injury? You guys were able to pick up Al Jefferson for a song. How is the pairing with Millsap working out? Does this make Okur a trade candidate (he’s expensive for someone playing limited minutes off the bench)?
The Millsap Corollary has been a favorite topic for the stat-head community. When Boozer left for Chicago, it was exciting to finally have a chance to see if Millsap could maintain his high PER with starter minutes or if his true genius was only effective as an energy guy matched up against then opposing second unit.
The arrival of Al Jefferson, however, threw a wrench in the test. With Jefferson playing the traditional center spot and doing work on the low block (rather than playing alongside Mehmet Okur, who floats out to 3-point territory), Millsap has been free to pick up scraps and show off a midrange game. He still gets to play the role of energy guy without the burden of being the focus of the offense.
So, instead of replacing Boozer with Millsap, the Jazz have countered with the two-headed monster of Jeffer-sap. It took a few games to figure out, but if the nearly flawless performance against the OKC Thunder on Sunday is any indication, the Jazz will be an offensive force to be reckoned with.
The Jazz now have the luxury to allow Okur to ease back in when he returns from a devastating ruptured achilles tendon last season. He won’t be back until December at the earliest, and probably not until January, but his unique offensive game won’t require him to do much work inside to be effective. All that to say, I don’t see Okur becoming trade bait upon his return. He’ll be an important weapon for the Jazz down the stretch.
The Jazz lost two sharp shooters in Korver and Matthews; what’s the plan to replace that production from the perimeter?
The Kyle Korver era in Utah only happened on paper. Jazz assistant Phil Johnson once commented that they could roll Korver out on the floor in a wheelchair and people would still respect his ability to shoot. His mere presence spread the floor. But that’s just the problem. The Jazz only used him as a decoy (and jersey salesman) and never really let him unleash his crazy shooting ability.
In the first two games of the season, opponents packed the lane and dared the Jazz to shoot. We’ve seen what it looks like when Raja Bell and CJ Miles are bricking shot after shot and it isn’t pretty. On the other hand, it’s beautiful thing when everything is falling, like it was in OKC. Unfortunately, that’s how I see the season going: Live by the midrange game, die by the midrange game.
Even more important than the 3-point shooting of Matthews and Korver, though, was their ability to finish layups. The Jazz offense is designed to get players open looks at the rim. The only teams that have struggled in the Jerry Sloan era have been the ones that couldn’t hit their layups and short runners. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this weakness.
Sloan’s been coaching the Jazz as long as I’ve been watching NBA. A big part of playing for the Jazz is being in his system; what happens when he finally hangs it up?
Speaking of Sloan, it’s hard to imagine the Jazz sideline without him there. He’s healthy, he’s sharp, he has the unwavering support of the ownership and the front office, and the players all seem to love playing for him. I think he stays at least another five years, and I’ve said before that I won’t be surprised to see him stay for ten more. It’s his job as long as he wants it.
That being said, owner Greg Miller has echoed what his father said about succession; that long-time assistant (and former NBA Coach of the Year) Phil Johnson will have the chance to take over if he chooses to do so. Most people think, however, that when Sloan hangs it up, Johnson will follow.
I’d rank Deron Williams as the best point guard in the league, if for no other reason than he is much more durable than Chris Paul; thoughts?
I’m honestly completely bored by the DWill-CP3 comparisons. Deron Williams and Chris Paul both make me love the game, but it just seems like apples and oranges. And we may all be missing the point completely: Rajon Rondo is doing ridiculous things in Boston despite any semblance of a jump shot.
That being said, I love DWill for this Jazz team. His ability to pass or score, as well as the durability you mentioned, make him a very special player, and I definitely wouldn’t trade him for either CP3 or Rondo.
Leandro Barbosa – Day-to-day [expected to play]
With Boozer no longer here they are good
PG – Jack vs Williams
So what’s the expectation here? Last game against the Thunder, the kid put up 16pts 15ast 6reb; ridiculous. Jack is coming off his worst game I’ve seen against the Kings. Jack can’t win this match-up, but what he can do is play Williams tough, stay in front of him and keep him the eff out of the lane.
The Jazz are all about getting open looks at the rim (see above), and the best way to do that is for someone to penetrate, get into the paint and draw defensive attention. D-Will is that somebody, and Jack/Calderon need to do there best not to hand the key over on a platter. I wont hold my breath.
SG – DeRozan vs Bell
Coming off a career game, DeRozan is starting to carve out his niche on this team. Whatever you may think of his progress, we can all agree that he has made nice strides. Heading into a weekend where he gets Kobe and Roy back-to-back, DeMar has the chance to make me a happy man, by pounding on Raja Bell tonight. I have hated Bell, as well as Aaron McKie, since the Toronto/Philly playoff series. He’s that player you loathe, but would love to have on your team; for me anyways.
Sadly, he’s not the player he used to be, but can still play some D, and spot-up from time to time. It won’t make up for the annoyance he’s caused me over the years, but I look forward to DeMar teabagging him.
SF – Kleiza vs Kirilenko
Full Disclosure: Kirilenko is one of my favorites in the league; something about his Russian sensibilities, and his wifes yearly pass to frolic. I also desperately tried to pick him up on waivers in my fantasy league, but had to settle on Wilson Chandler.
Kleiza has come as advertised. I never expected great offensive efficiency, but he delivers the goods. I was hoping for some more leadership from him, but there’s still quite a bit of ball to be played; I’m not too worried. He’s going to have his first real test in Kirilenko who is the jack of all trades, but king of none. He wont have to worry about getting beat off the dribble, but Kirilenko gets into the paint somehow and can knock down the open looks that Williams will be creating for him. I’m leaning to a give-and-take situation with these two. Neither will win or lose the game for their team; but I’ve been known to be wrong.
PF – Evans vs Millsap
Fantasy owners rejoice, both these cats finally got their chance to shine. Playing behind Boozer all these years, Millsap’s only teased folks with his steeze when Carlos has gone down with whatever weird injury he was afflicted with. The kid is legit though, and a beast like Evans with more offensive touch. As Spencer said, he gets to float around the perimeter, hit some jumpers and crash the boards. Evans can control him on the rebounding front, but he wont match him in the scoring department. Regardless, I’m ok with Millsap taking jumper after jumper if it means Evans keeps him out of the paint and off the glass. Still, it will be tough given Deron’s (how nice is it to have a cat who can make every player on the team better) ability to create nice scoring opportunities for his mates.
C – Bargnani vs Jefferson
I gave Cousins the edge last game, and aside from scoring 16 points in 17 minutes, and conceding two key rebounds down the stretch, Bargnani came out on top. Jefferson is a different animal on his own: he plays tough in the paint, takes good shots and crashes the boards. Interestingly enough, Bargnani’s strength on defense is man-to-man in the low blocks, and since he has some height on Big Al, he will give him a run for his money on defense. The glass is a totally different story; and Bargnani needs to pull his weight in the sense that he needs to make a much more serious effort boxing out his man. I’m good with him scoring 23+ points and Evans grabbing 14+ rebounds, but he has to keep Jefferson off the glass on the defensive end; end of story.
Would you believe me if I told you the Raptors were 9th (96.7) in defense and 7th (44.3) in rebounding in the league? Yea, I was a bit surprised until I remembered the effort they are bringing to the floor every game. It’s truly been a pleasure getting that kind of effort considering what we’ve had to put up with over the years. Colangelo has definitely shifted gears in his team building philosophy; sure these guys can still score 13th in the association (100.7), but they are getting at it.
Vegas has the Jazz as 10.5 favourites, with an over/under of 209.5…yea…if I see some fight and effort tonight, I can take a loss. The schedule wont be letting up for a while, so we will get a good sense of how committed these guys are to this whole/weird/alien team thing they’ve been doing.