Team Preview: Utah Jazz
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Utah Jazz surprised most of the basketball world by reaching the Western Conference Finals before being eliminated in five games by the champion San Antonio Spurs. The Jazz won 51 games and have two bona fide young stars in power forward Carlos Boozer and point guard Deron Williams, along with the underrated Mehmet Okur, multi-talented, yet somewhat underachieving Andrei Kirilenko, and solid contributors Gordan Giricek, Matt Harpring and Paul Millsap. With this core group, the Jazz expect to be the class of the Northwest Division but may not have enough firepower to deal with the big three in the Western Conference: San Antonio, Phoenix and Dallas.
The Jazz, like many of the other western powers, made very few moves in the offseason. Utah’s biggest loss this offseason was point guard Derek Fisher, who returned to the Lakers. They signed Jason Hart to back up Deron Williams. In the draft, the Jazz acquired guard Morris Almond – third in the nation in scoring with 26.4 ppg at Rice – with the 25th pick. Recently, there have been rumors of an Andrei Kirilenko for Shawn Marion trade, but those talks have cooled.
For the Jazz to be successful in 2007, they will need point guard Deron Williams to continue to play at an All-Star level. Williams made great strides in the 2006-07 season and had established himself as one of the elite point guards in all of basketball by the end of the year. Carlos Boozer must remain one of the top power forwards in the game, and Mehmet Okur will need to continue his strong outside shooting, something that caused a lot of matchup problems for opponents. If Andrei Kirilenko can return to his 2005-06 form, when AK-47 was one of the most feared all-around players in the game, the Jazz could have enough firepower to challenge for the Western Conference title.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Mehmet Okur is the center. He should see between 30-35 minutes a night. The rest of the minutes will be go to backup Jarron Collins, or if the Jazz go small, Paul Millsap. Kyrylo Fesenko is a project who’ll get almost no time.
Carlos Boozer will man power forward. Last season, he averaged almost 35 minutes a game; we don’t see that changing much. Backing up Boozer is second-year man Paul Millsap, who should get a total of around 20 minutes a night. Andrei Kirilenko is still the starting small forward. After playing a career-high 37.4 minutes per game in the 2005-06 season, Kirilenko’s minutes dropped to just fewer than 30 in 2006-2007. We see that trend continuing as long if Kirilenko continues to struggle. Matt Harpring is the primary backup, but can play other positions as well. Expect about 25 minutes of total time for Harpring.
The backcourt is set with Deron Williams at the point and Gordan Giricek at the two. Williams may be the most important player for the Jazz, so don’t be surprised to see him log close to 40 minutes a night. Jason Hart will get the majority of the backup minutes. Expect Giricek him to garner about 25 minutes a game at shooting guard while Ronnie Brewer and rookie Morris Almond get the rest. Brewer can also play small forward. Guards Ronnie Price and C.J. Miles should see limited action.
* Mehmet Okur – UTA [C]: Okur is by far the best three-point shooter that qualifies at the center position, netting 1.6 per game last season on 38.4 percent shooting. He is also a solid scorer (17.6 ppg) and decent rebounder (7.2 rpg). His biggest strength is also his biggest weakness – because his game is on the perimeter, his shooting percentage is on the low end for a center (46.2 percent) and he’s not a shot blocker (0.4 bpg). That being said, Okur’s benefits far outweigh his deficiencies, and he makes a nice addition to any fantasy lineup.
Jarron Collins – UTA [C]: Collins is an old-school center. He plays near the basket but has very limited offensive skills. He averaged just more than two shots per game and does not get the minutes to help a fantasy roster.
Kyrylo Fesenko – UTA [PF,C]: Fesenko comes to the Jazz roster after two years in the Ukrainian Super League. He is known as an aggressive rebounder and shot-blocker who likes to play on the perimeter; however, he’s considered to be a project. If Fesenko is on the roster by the time the regular season starts, expect him to be the last man off the bench.
* Carlos Boozer – UTA [PF]: What Boozer does well, he does very, very well. He shoots a great percentage from the floor (56.1 percent). He finished fourth in the NBA in rebounding at 11.7 rpg. He averaged nearly 21 points per game last season and provided three assists per game, not a bad total for his position. But his game has major holes. He does not block shots (0.2 bpg), and is a below average free throw shooter (68.5 percent). He also has an extensive injury history -- he played in 74 games last season, but just 88 games in 2004-05 and 2005-06 combined. Those holes knock him out of the top tier of fantasy power forwards.
Paul Millsap – UTA [SF,PF]: Millsap is an undersized, hard working, overachiever. He does not get enough minutes to make a major fantasy impact, but he is one of the better per minute rebounders in the NBA. In his rookie season, Millsap averaged 5.2 rpg in just 18 minutes and was second on the Jazz in blocks per game (0.9 bpg), and netted a solid 6.9 ppg on 52.5 percent shooting. If an injury or trade moves Millsap into a more prominent role, he has the potential to put up a double-double every night.
Matt Harpring – UTA [SG,SF]: Harpring continues to be Utah’s most dependable bench player, posting comparable numbers to Kirilenko in nearly every fantasy category (save for blocks and assists). Harpring is a hard-nosed player who brings it every night. If Kirilenko continues to struggle, don’t be surprised to see Harpring get more of Kirilenko’s minutes.
Ronnie Brewer – UTA [SG,SF]: Brewer played in 56 games as a rookie, averaging 12.6 minutes per game. He’s a very quick wing player that can play either shooting guard or small forward; the Jazz hope that he can improve enough in his second year to provide depth at both positions. He is already proving to be a valuable defensive player, posting averages of 0.6 steals per game in his 12.6 minutes while shooting a nice percentage (52.8 percent) from the field. Look for Brewer’s minutes to increase this season. While he may not garner fantasy attention this season, Brewer has the potential to develop into a solid player.
Jason Hart – UTA [PG]: Hart brings quality depth to the point guard position. He played extremely well late last season for the Clippers. In 22 starts, he averaged nine points, four assists and almost two steals per game. Hart’s main role will be the run the offense while Williams rests, and he is very capable of doing so given his almost 3-to-1 career assist-to-turnover ratio.
* Gordan Giricek – UTA [SG]: Giricek will step into the starting shooting guard position. He is a capable scorer, averaging over10 ppg in his career, despite playing less than 25 minutes. He’s also shot almost 37 percent for his career from the three-point line. For fantasy owners, though, that’s about it. He won’t board or generate assists, steals or blocks. Even if his minutes are extended, Giricek does not have any other skills that project him to be of value on a fantasy roster.
Morris Almond – UTA [SF,PF]: Almond’s resume boasts of his status as the third leading scorer in college basketball in the 2006-07 season. A scorer who does a good job coming off the screen and roll, Almond also rebounds well for his size, but his defense – particularly his footwork and positioning – needs some improvement. He should get some minutes, but on this team he’s not expected to contribute enough to merit fantasy attention.
Ronnie Price – UTA [PG,SG]: Price comes to the Jazz from the Kings after averaging 8.2 mpg in two years. He is seen as primarily the third point guard who may get mop-up duty. Price is not known as a scorer or great shooter, averaging just 38.3 percent from the floor in his NBA career.
C.J. Miles – UTA [SG]: Miles is a free agent who started 13 games for the Jazz last season. He had limited production in his 10 minutes per game and averaged just 2.7 points on 34.5 percent shooting.