Tag: Deron Wililams

NBA Season Preview: Utah Jazz


dwilliams_high5.jpgLast season: 53-29, they won the Northwest division and got four seed in the West. Then Mehmet Okur went down the first game of the playoffs. The Jazz still got by the Nuggets but the Lakers proved to be too much in the second round. (Which is probably exactly what happens if Okur is healthy.)

Head Coach: Jerry Sloan, who I think has been in Utah since the days of Joseph Smith, Jr.

Key Departures: Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Wes Mathews, a sense that things will be the same in Utah.

Key Additions: Al Jefferson, Raja Bell, draft pick Gordon Hayward, a sense of hope that Jefferson can make the Jazz better.

Best case scenario: Another good regular season, the team really gels in the playoffs and they make it all the way to the Western Conference finals. Then Deron Williams is so excited he announces he wants to sign an extension in Utah.

For that to happen: The second part of that is not going to happen, at least not that way. Deron Williams has not gone public the way others have this summer, but both sides can see the next contract looming as a future issue. Williams is under contract this season and next, with a player option for the third year. There are a lot of questions — including what the new CBA looks like — before we talk about Williams leaving Utah, but if he feels the franchise is not committed enough to winning next season could be about where he goes.

As for this season…

Al Jefferson is going to have to fit his game into the Jazz system. Which is no given. Jefferson got 56.8 percent of his shots last season getting the ball in the post, while only about one time a game did he set the pick in the high-screen. Jefferson shot pretty well when he did set those picks, but it is not something Minnesota used him to do often. Jefferson also did not get many points in transition, something Boozer did quite well.

The Jazz get a lot of shots at the rim — they were third in the league in shot attempts at the rim per game last season at 31.3, and they shot a very good 63.5 percent on those — but they do it more through cuts and a motion offense than traditional sets. Like a post up.

Jefferson can certainly play the Utah — err, we mean Sloan — way, but it could be an adjustment. We also have to see how Jefferson fits in once Okur returns. To start the season Jefferson will be more of an Okur replacement than a Boozer replacement.

That will mean more Paul Millsap, which is good for everyone. He’ll need to grab more boards (a strength of Boozer) and continue to score efficiently in more minutes. This is a guy who deserved a big chance and now it is here.

It’s a lot easier for Jefferson to fit in when you have Williams as your point guard. He is the perfect guard for the Jazz system — he can drive the lane, knock down the three, has great floor vision and a nearly 3-1 assist to turnover ratio. Every team game plans to stop Williams, nobody does it. So long as the Jazz have him, they will be good (which brings us back to keeping him).

Hayward has a lot expected of him as rookie, essentially having to step in and take over the Korver designated shooter role. That’s a lot to ask of a kid making a big leap in competition level. Raja Bell will bring the “threes and D” energy off the bench, but at age 34 entering his 11th season in the league you know what you are getting (and you may get a little less of it).

As always, the real X-Factor with the Jazz is Andrei Kirilenko. When he is healthy he is a game changer, a high-flying shot blocker who can drain the three. He stretches the floor, gets to the line and is generally a matchup nightmare for everyone else. But he has missed nearly a quarter of the Jazz’s games the last two seasons ad played in just two playoff games last year. Without him they are much easier to match up with along the front line — and with a big expiring contract ($17.8 million) he could be moved anyway to save money (he was almost part of the Carmelo Anthony four-team deal). Basically, the Jazz can’t count on Kirilenko to be there for them all season.

More likely the Jazz will: Be a little bit worse than they were last year but basically what they have been for a long time — good but not quite good enough. Jefferson will be close to a wash for Boozer, but Bell and Hayward will be a step back from Korver and Mathews. The Jazz will be entertaining, play pretty basketball, but not be contenders. Williams will amaze, Jefferson will be a nice fit, Kirilenko will show flashes but disappoint, Millsap will hustle, the rookies will play like rookies, Bell will be solid but not fantastic.

They will hover around the 50-win mark, maybe win in the first round (depending on matchups) then be out by the second round.

Prediction: 48-34, with a six or seven seed in the West. A tough first round matchup for someone.

Al Jefferson says Minnesota a couple years away from winning, so he likes Utah better


ajefferson.jpgThere is some talent on the Minnesota roster. Kevin Love can ball. Michael Beasley was a No. 2 overall pick for a reason. We’ll see what Wesley Johnson can bring as a rookie. We’ll watch Luke Ridnour get them the ball.

Okay, not that much talent, and it is all being assembled in a haphazard way. Which is why as much as Al Jefferson loves Minneapolis, he is happy to be playing in Utah with Deron Williams, as he told Marc Spears of Yahoo.

“They have a nice group of guys, but will have a couple more losing seasons,” Jefferson said of the T’wolves. “Minneapolis is my home away from home. I respect the fans that have supported me through the good and the bad … but when I told people I played for Minnesota, some people didn’t even know they had a team. Everybody knows about Utah. Everyone knows the Utah Jazz.

“I go from being in a Toyota to a Bentley. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Utah is without Carlos Boozer and Al Jefferson is more than happy to take those points and put them next to his name in the box score.

“The first thing [Williams] told me is he’s going to make me an All-Star,” Jefferson said. “It was music to my ears. That meant a lot. It’s a blessing. It means he is not done here. He’s an All-Star, the best point guard in the game, and I said that before I got here. I just need to have my hands ready.”

The Jazz are a good team but firmly entrenched in the middle of the West. They are not the Lakers, they are not up-and-comers like the Thunder or Trail Blazers. They don’t have the big talent making one last run like in San Antonio.

But they are good and think they could surprise some teams. And after some cold and dreary seasons in Minnesota, that chance sounds pretty good to Jefferson.

Deron Williams frustrated as Utah watches key players walk


NBA_Dwilliams_250.jpgCarlos Boozer: Gone. Kyle Korver: Gone.

Deron Williams: Still in Utah. And he is “frustrated.” In a deep Western Conference, the Jazz have gotten worse this summer, he told the Desert News (via Slam). Although he tried to put a positive spin on it.

“It was tough to see Booz (Carlos Boozer) and Kyle (Korver) go,” Williams said. “But they made business decisions and you have to live with them…

“We still have a solid team, you know,” Williams said. “Are we going to compete for a championship? That’s tough to say.

“We do have a good team,” he added. “We have some guys that I think can step up. I think Paul (Millsap) can come in and contribute. I think it’s a good opportunity for him to show people what he can really do given the opportunity, given the minutes.”

It’s especially hard to accept the Utah situation when Miami is stocked for a run. While in the West the Spurs and the Lakers made moves to get better.

The Jazz are not going to be a bad team this coming season, but they are not as deep — last year they brought Millsap off the bench, now he is going to start and there are questions about who is going to back him up. Ronnie Brewer may or may not be back.

Williams is going to have to do more. A lot more. And it will not be enough. Which is enough to frustrate anybody.