NBA Opinions With Malice – And All That Jazz

27 11 2007

Second in a series exploring NBA franchises that find themselves either in a good position, a cross-roads, or are finding themselves in difficulty.
Today exploring the Utah Jazz, a franchise that is experiencing a renaissance behind a familiar combination – only the names have changed.

Swimming

A power forward, blessed with physical gifts that often make him seem a man amongst boys on the hardwood, and a pass-first oriented point guard with excellent vision – both combining to be one of the best combinations in the NBA.  Sound familiar Utah?  It should… but I’m not talking about Karl Malone/John Stockton… but of Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams. 

BoozerIt all starts with Boozer.  If he’s on his game – and that’s becoming increasingly probable – he has the physical attributes to manhandle almost anyone in the game.  Whilst he may not be as good an all-round big man as Tim Duncan, he seems to be far more dismissive of weaker opponents than Duncan is.  Don’t give Carlos Boozer the respect (and double-teams) he deserves, and he will destroy you.  His hard-nosed game seems to have blossomed to a whole new level under the toughness of Jerry Sloan.  His only weakness – and an area where Duncan seems to excel – is that there are times when he seemingly goes missing… and although the frequency with which this happens is lessening, it’s still something that is a blight on his game.
Boozer is an entirely different proposition than he was in Cleveland.  When he departed the Cavaliers, it was in questionable circumstances.  But I’m not sure what they hold against him more: the way he left, or the fact that since leaving he’s become such an unstoppable force… exactly the sort of player that they currently need to play alongside Lebron.

Deron Williams is a point guard of a mold more like Baron Davis than John Stockton.  Whereas Stockton was rail-thin, whippet like, Williams is a bull, strong and hard-nosed.  And like Davis, Williams not only distributes the ball with efficiency, but scores as well – sharing the load with Boozer in that department.  Williams hasn’t quite developed the tenacious defense that Stockton had, but it’s early days yet.  If he becomes half the defender Stockton was, he’ll set the Jazz up for some good years.

SloanA common theme throughout the years at Utah has been the presence of Jerry Sloan.  Jazz owner Larry Miller has got to be included at this point, for it’s his patience that has allowed Sloan and the Jazz to stay as a partnership even tho’ post the Malone/Stockton era they’ve gone through some lean times together.  Sloan is exemplified by both sets of players: Malone/Stockton & now Boozer/Williams.  Hard-nosed… no nonsense… tough. 
The success Sloan’s enjoyed over the years (he is the 4th winningest coach of all time) has ridden on those characteristics, characteristics he instills in his teams.  At times this has lead to conflict – most notably now with Andrei Kirilenko, a player who does not appear to be thriving under Sloan’s hard-boiled approach – but without a doubt, it’s been a recipe that has worked at the Utah Jazz.

Other pieces of the equation are Mehmet Okur, who is one of the better centers in the league – and often under-estimated by opponents.  He has excellent range, and is a good free throw shooter.  Paul Millsap looks to be improving, and will give Boozer time to rest, but he’s as yet young, and susceptible to go missing at times… Ronnie Brewer appears to be a good find.  Matt Harpring?  Well… Matt Harpring is solid.

Utah’s weakness appears to be something that afflicts many teams in the NBA now.  Depth.  Certainly not an uncommon problem, but Utah shouldn’t be in this position.  The aforementioned Kirilenko is a much better player than we see now.  Only a few years ago, AK-47 was the face of the franchise, but with the rise of Boozer, Kirilenko’s stock has dropped, and he seems to lack the toughness to cope with this, to adapt and thrive playing alongside a talent like Carlos Boozer.  This cannot sit well with Sloan.

Going… going… gone?Kirilenko is playing better than last season, and the Jazz should utilize him in a trade – get either a more productive player to fill whichever slot Brewer isn’t going to play, or trade for pieces that will fit their bench better than they currently have. 
Beyond this, the main thing with Utah is that they just stay patient, something they have had no problem doing to this point.  Their best players, Boozer and Williams, are 25 and 23 years old, and the team is generally in it’s early to mid 20s.  Even Mehmet Okur who seems older is only 28.

Time shouldn’t be a factor for Utah.  They’re good now, and only going to get better.

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28 11 2007

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