Coach: Jerry Sloan
2008-09 Record: 48-34
Pythagorean Record for 08-09: 48-34
Offensive Rating: 110.1 (8th in the league)
Defensive Rating: 107.3 (10th)
Possessions per 48: 93.1 (9th)
|Offensive||50.4 (9th)||.136 (21st)||.282 (5th)||.274 (2nd)|
|Defensive||50.5 (18th)||.150 (2nd)||.727 (21st)||.262 (26th)|
Roster (Red indicates new acquisition, Blue indicates rookie) Click to enlarge
I think we’re going to see a sensational season out of Deron Williams, and he should finally make the All-Star team. He was significantly better in the second half of last year, scoring 5.6 more points per game (16.1 to 21.7) with a better shooting percentage (43.9% to 48.9%) once he finally shook off his injury. He’s not a transcendent superstar of the Lebron, Kobe, Paul variety, but he’s an elite point guard who does almost everything well. With his size, strength and shooting ability, he’s kind of like Chauncey Billups, only he’s more explosive and is a better assist man.
How Carlos Boozer plays this year is going to be a huge factor in what happens with the Jazz this season. The team would love to see him return strong from injury for two reasons. One, he makes them a better team offensively (as good as Paul Millsap is, he’s not as good as a healthy Boozer). Two, he’s worth more in a trade if he plays well. It’s no secret that Utah would love to trade Boozer, and if he plays well enough to open the season, that will boost his trade value. When he is on the court for the Jazz, Boozer is a really effective scorer in the post, mostly because of two really fundamentally sound aspects of his game. He has a beautiful, high-arcing jumper that he uses in the mid-range, or making short turnaround Js in the post. He also has the ability to finish equally well with either hand, something few big men can do. That makes him a very efficient finisher, despite the fact that he doesn’t have great size or athleticism. He may be a bit of a handful off the court at times, but he’s definitely a force on it.
Of course, the reason the Jazz are so eager to part with Boozer is because they have Paul Millsap waiting in the wings to replace him. Millsap isn’t as good as Boozer, but he’s not much worse, and he is much younger and much cheaper. The best way to describe Millsap is “bull in a china shop”. He’s not a guy you’d call “skilled,” but he’s really strong, and is constantly in motion. He gets most of his points in the flow of the offense, off of cuts or offensive rebounds, which means you don’t have to call a lot of plays for him. When he does get the ball, there’s nothing fancy going on. He’s going to bull his way to the rim and look for contact. Defensively, he has a similar approach. He’s strong enough to push guys out of post position, and he’s very aggressive going for steals and blocks. That aggressive play helps him make up for his size disadvantage, but it also tends to get him in foul trouble (he had the second-highest foul rate among players who played at least 2000 minutes), and he’s going to have to be a bit more careful if he’s going to be the starting power forward in the future.
The other reason trading Boozer makes sense is because it opens up time for Andrei Kirilenko to play some power forward. Kirilenko can play the wing, but he’s much better in the frontcourt, where his poor three-point shooting isn’t as big a downside. Wherever he plays, AK47 has value because of his defense. While he isn’t the dominant defensive force he once was, Kirilenko is still the one defender on this team that can really change a game on his own. He has the length and instincts to disrupt passing lanes and block shots from the weakside, and he’s also a very capable one-on-one defender. In fact, he had by far the highest +/- score of anyone on the team, owing mostly to the fact that the defense was 6.5 points better with him on the court. He’s getting older, and the steady drop in his block rates is troubling, but he’s a versatile offensive player, and can play multiple positions, and that makes him very valuable to this squad.
I think the Jazz need to trade Mehmet Okur. I know he’s a very good offensive player, and he fits perfectly in this offense. His ability to knock down jumpers off the pick-and-pop is a big piece of their system. However, he’s an abysmal defender. He’s a 7-footer who doesn’t block shots, doesn’t rebound well, and isn’t a good pick-and-roll defender. If Utah wants to win a title, they have to be a better defensive team, and that’s not going to happen with Okur as their center. With a viable replacement in Kosta Koufos, If I were the Jazz I’d go ahead and move Okur now while he still has value.
X-Factor: Kosta Koufos – I know, a second-year player who will start the year as the team’s fourth big man isn’t really a typical X-Factor choice. However, as I said above, the Jazz need a center who can play defense and defend the rim, and Koufos has that potential. His first season went under-the-radar because he played so few minutes in the crowded Utah frontcourt, but he actually posted impressive numbers for a 19-year-old rookie. Koufos is a really skilled big man who shows a lot of promise on both ends of the floor. His block rate last year was higher than anyone in Utah’s regular rotation, and his rebound rate ranked only behind Millsap and Boozer. Offensively, he has an excellent shooting touch and, surprisingly for a young big man, he had a very low turnover rate. Koufos may not get a lot of minutes this year (though he should get more if Boozer is traded), but I think they’d be well served to give him a chance, since he’s got a skillset that Utah desperately needs.
Two years ago, Utah had the second-best point differential in the West, with the differential of a 59-win team. Last year, with Carlos Boozer hurt and Deron Williams missing 14 games, they were a 48-win team. The roster this year is basically the exact same as it’s been for the last two years, so if they stay healthy there’s no real reason why they can’t be a 55-60 win team again. Everyone is back, and you could argue that they’re even deeper than before with the improvement of Millsap and adding Koufos and Eric Maynor in the draft. They have the tools to be a great offensive team, and they were very solid defensively last year. They aren’t an elite contender, but they certainly have the talent to be a dangerous team. The problem is that the Jazz really want to get rid of Boozer’s contract, since they’re over the luxury tax, and he isn’t sticking around past this season. If they get off to a slow start, or they get an offer they like, Boozer is likely gone, and they’re not nearly as dangerous without him. That makes picking Utah a tricky proposition. Ultimately, they have enough weapons to be a pretty good team, whether or not Boozer is there, but even with Boozer they don’t have the defensive ability to be a real contender.