The Jazz regular season is already a quarter done. It is time to pass out first quarter grades to Jazz players, coaches, and management.
Deron Williams—Williams is playing like an All-Star, again. It is hard to think that Williams has yet to go to an All-Star game in his career. From the initial balloting it appears that Williams won’t be starting in the All-Star game, but if he continues to plays at this level there will be no way to keep him off another team.
When the game is on the line you want the ball in the hands of Deron Williams. He has been able to take an important next step this season. This season Williams is able to take over games. He is able to put the Jazz on his back for long stretches of the game, and produce wins. This year’s team is Deron Williams’ team. The Jazz will only go as far as Williams is able to take them this season.
Williams is the best player on the Jazz, and might be the best point guard in the NBA right now.
Wesley Matthews—The rookie who is playing like a veteran. This season Matthews has been able to plug holes, and defend bigger known NBA players. Since his insertion into the starting lineup the Jazz are 11-5.
Matthews is still a rookie and will make some serious rookie mistakes on the court. The difference is Matthews will recover and respond better to his mistakes compared to other rookies. He isn’t afraid to guard anyone in the league, and he is very good at doing the little things to help his teammates while he is on the court.
It is still amazing that Matthews went undrafted, and that he was basically gifted to the Jazz when they were in need of a steady two guard.
He has exceeded every expectation placed upon him when the Jazz invited him to training camp. Yet, he is still a rookie, and he is still learning and making mistakes.
Ronnie Brewer—His new nickname really should be “Mr. Baseline.” Brewer is an artist in the Jazz offense at working the baseline and finishing around the hoop.
His defense has also improved this season which is a real surprise. Last season Brewer was able to increase his number of steal per game; however, Brewer struggled to stay on his feet and play physical defense against bigger players. This season Brewer is not only playing strong off the ball defense, but he is able to play physical defense and rebound the basketball.
The part of his game which is still lacking is consistency with his mid-to-long range jump shot. There were multiple times last season and this season when teams would simply dare Brewer to take shots.
When Brewer’s game is going, the Jazz are very tough to beat. Yet, Brewer has the same holes in his game this season as last season. He lacks consistency from the free throw line and his outside jump shot.
Carlos Boozer—Boozer after a terrible start has now turned on beast mode. He was named Western Conference Player of the Week. He is averaging 20.1 points and 11.1 rebounds a game. He is also shooting 54.9% from the field this season, which is over his career average.
He is doing everything on the court he can to not only get back in the good graces of Jazz fans, but also to ensure a big free agent contract at the end of the year.
While there has been some token gestures by both Carlos Boozer and the Utah Jazz front office it seems clear Carlos Boozer is on his way out of Utah at the end of the season. Carlos Boozer is going to want too much money, and the Utah Jazz simply can’t pay him to stay. Nor do the Jazz really want him to stay for that matter.
Utah has invested in Paul Millsap, and they are going to have a high lottery pick which they will most likely use on a young power forward.
This means that the best thing Utah can do is to start shopping around Carlos Boozer now that his trade value has increased. He is going to be an All-Star this season, and he is going to produce for whatever team he is on, because it is his contract year. This will be the best opportunity for the Jazz to move Boozer, and get equal value back for him.
If the Jazz were to move Boozer now it would give the team time to acclimate to the new player in the rotation.
The Jazz can be a very good team, this season, with Boozer on the roster; however, the Jazz could be a better team, in the long-term, if they were to get equal value for Boozer through a trade.
Like him or hate him Boozer is an All-Star this season, and he is one of the major reasons the Jazz were able to rebound from a slow start. Boozer is trying to prove he is an elite post player in the NBA this season. He really needs to stay healthy to prove to teams he can make it through an entire NBA season.
Mehmet Okur—Moneyman has been making it rain from beyond the three point line this season. Okur is shooting 42.9% from behind the arc this season, which is well above his career average. Yet, Okur’s minutes are down from where they are in the past.
Fewer minutes for Okur wouldn’t be surprising if he was still finishing games for the Jazz. Sloan has elected to not finish games with Okur and rather end the majority of the games this season with Millsap and Boozer on the court.
This is odd considering Okur’s attribute of being a big-time clutch shooter at the end of games. What is keeping Okur off the court for the Jazz is the fact that Boozer needs to be on the court. There has been a problem with the Jazz’s defense whenever both Okur and Boozer are on the court at the same time.
Both Okur and Boozer aren’t great defenders, but each can play well when they are surrounded with another good post defender (normally Kirilenko or Millsap). The problem is when both Okur and Boozer are on the court it is the same as giving the green light to teams to penetrate and score in the paint against the Jazz. Neither will rotate on defense, and both play defense too much with their hands and not enough with their feet. This means they will swipe at the ball, and that leads to teams scoring easy points from the free throw line.
With Boozer playing so well the past few weeks there really isn’t a reason for the Jazz to elect to finish with Okur at the end of games.
Okur’s season did get off to a rocky start when he injured himself on basically the first defensive play of the Jazz season trying to take a charge. Memo is such an iron horse of a player it is hard to tell exactly how those early nagging injuries have been affecting his play this season.
Memo is still hitting big shots for the Jazz, but he is still lacking the ability to play on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court.
Paul Millsap—Millsap got paid in the offseason and it seems to be affecting his game. Millsap isn’t dogging it like many other NBA players after they receive big contracts; rather Millsap seems to be pushing himself too much during games.
Millsap has gotten off to a slow start this season because he has been pressing to prove on the court he is deserving of the new contract he received. The stat which is way down for Millsap is his rebounding. His ability to rebound the ball is what got him drafted, and got him a large contract from the Jazz.
As the seasons progressed and Millsap has relaxed his numbers have improved, although not to same level as last season.
Millsap has been picking up dumb fouls and his rebounding numbers are down. Hopefully he will improve and return to form as the season progresses.
Andrei Kirilenko—Andrei got off to a great start at the beginning of this season. He started to hit his jump shot like the Andrei of old, and his over/under numbers are among the best on the Jazz.
What has plagued Andrei during his entire tenure with the Jazz continues this season. While he is one of the best players on the Jazz with the ball in his hands, he is also the worst player on the Jazz at taking ill-advised shots.
This Jeykll and Hyde mentality which Kirilenko has is one of the most frustrating things about being a Jazz fan. Kirilenko has the ability to control the game on both sides of the court without taking a shot. Yet, Kirilenko seems determined to play outside of the Jazz offense and defense at times.
Andrei really did get off to a great start this season. He has been active and his shooting has improved. Injuries have hurt his chances to return to an All-Star level of play. It still remains to be seen if AK can play his active style of basketball and be effective with an injury. The simple fact still remains: The Jazz are a better team when Kirilenko is on the court.
CJ Miles—He came into this season in the best shape of his life. Then he was injured early in the pre-season. CJ even after the injury still looks to be in better shape this season compared to where he was last season. He looks more muscular, and he is able to play more physical defense.
CJ has a very good shot, but he hasn’t been able to bring a consistent shot to actual games. He has the ability to give the Jazz an instant spark of offense; however, he is just as likely to shot the Jazz out of a ballgame. Miles doesn’t seem to have the ability to pick the right time to shoot and stop shooting to help the team.
Miles has struggled with running the Jazz offense the entire time he has played in Utah. He doesn’t set good back screens, and he is stagnate when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. Miles will go to a spot on the floor and stay there waiting to get the ball. This season is more of the same lack of effort from CJ to do the little things to help the Jazz win.
It is too early to give CJ a grade due to injuries. CJ does look to be improved from last year in the few games he has played this season.
Ronnie Price—This was the year that Ronnie Price had the inside track to the backup point guard position for the Jazz. Even before he injured his big toe things weren’t going well for Ronnie.
Price’s shooting percentage is way down this season. He is shooting 35.7% from the floor and 22.2% from beyond the three point arc. He struggled to get the Jazz into the offense when he was on the court.
With the way that Eric Maynor is playing it will be hard for Price to earn back his minutes at the backup point guard position.
The way Price finished the season in the playoffs against the Lakers most likely bought him another year with the Jazz, but he isn’t taking advantage of that opportunity to find regular minutes in the Jazz’s lineup.
Eric Maynor—Maynor took over the back-up point guard position from Ronnie Price after Price’s toe injury. Maynor has shown signs of promise this season, but he has struggled with consistency this season.
He is a terrible three-point shooter(averaging 19%), and he really lacks a full grasp of the Jazz offense. What Maynor does well is pass the basketball. He has made some great passes this season, and he has been able to give good enough minutes in order for Williams to get some rest on the bench.
Maynor is still a rookie, and still makes some very dumb rookie level mistakes during games. Maynor looks to be a very good player in the NBA, and as he gets more minutes he will improve.
He needs to learn that it is okay to pass the ball at the end of the quarter. Maynor also struggles to run the fastbreak. He is a good backup point guard and he has shown flashes of brilliance this season when given extended minutes.
Kyle Korver—A favorite of the ladies, Korver played in his first game of the season against the Timberwolves. He didn’t look like he was ready to be back on the court.
The downside of Korver has always been his defense. He has a problem staying in front of faster and bigger guards in the NBA. His shooting ability is what keeps him on the court. Yet, outside of his first year in Utah his shot has struggled.
Last season, Korver suffered from a wrist injury on his shooting hand which hurt his shooting percentage. This season he didn’t look much better in his first game back against Minnesota.
It is too early to give a grade to Korver, but with the emergence of Matthews and the play of Miles it will be hard for Korver to find minutes in the Jazz rotation.
Korver will need to regain his long range shooting prowess in order to find playing time this season.
Kyrylo Fesenko—Fes has now entered the “puppy zone.”
When you get a new puppy dog you are happy with everything it does. It doesn’t matter if the dog is yawning, scrunching its face, or flopping its ear around—you are just happy that the dog is doing anything. The puppy is cute, loveable, and full of potential.
Fesenko is the new puppy for the Jazz. Every time he walks onto the court you aren’t expecting much out of him, which means if Fesenko does anything while he is in the game it is a bonus. The arena seems to erupt when Fes does the littlest things, like rebound the basketball (for that matter even catch the basketball).
He is being graded on potential, and therefore is on a completely different grading scale.
Grade—A Gold Star
Fes has shown flashes of brilliance, but it will be interesting to see if the Jazz will invest in developing Fesenko in the long term.
Kosta Koufas—Yes, he is still on the team. What it takes for Koufas to get on the court is another story. If your team only has nine healthy players, and you can only get on the court in the last few minutes of a thirty point blowout, then you know your place on the team. That place, in the D-leauge.
Koufas is not ready to be in the NBA. In hindsight staying in college would have been the best thing for Koufas. He needs playing time to develop, but even that playing time might not be enough for him to find a permanent home in Utah.
Jerry Sloan/Coaching Staff—Sloan has managed to right the ship quite a number of times already this season. The Jazz got off to terrible start, and there were many who thought they would simply implode. Sloan was able to get players to buy back into his system, and once again soothe egos for the betterment of the team.
Injuries have plagued the Jazz already this season, but Sloan was able to find a rotation with a nine man roster to win key games. The Jazz are still in contention in the West, and they now have a full healthy roster.
Now that the Jazz are healthy Sloan faces another challenge. His bench seems to be filled with players of roughly the same talent level. Jerry has to find the right amounts of minutes to not only help the team win, but to please Jazz players desires to be on the court.
Getting players to accept their roles is a very difficult task for any coach in the NBA. How well Jerry gets certain Jazz players to accept a lesser role on the team will really make-or-break the Jazz season.
Considering the state of the Jazz when the season started Sloan has proven himself once again a Hall of Fame coach. He needs to now get his players mentally tough enough to get up for game not only against big named teams, but to be prepared to play every single night. He also has to find a way to get the Jazz to win on the road.
Front Office—The Jazz stood firm during the summer against the media, opposing GMs, and Carlos Boozer’s demands. The reward for the Jazz is now they have a more marketable Boozer who is putting together a strong All-Star season.
The Jazz now have many options for how they can deal with Boozer, but most importantly the Jazz have all the leverage to make the decision which is best for the team.
So far you also have to give the front office high marks for handling of the past draft. Maynor looks to be a solid addition to the team. Plus, Matthews was a great find and addition to the Jazz as an undrafted rookie free agent.
There have been some real boneheaded moves by the Jazz management. The marketing department and the ticket sales division have brought inferior products to the Jazz fan base. As a result attendance at Jazz games is well below where the Jazz have averaged in the past.
The hiring of David Locke as the radio play-by-play voice continues to be a terrible move for helping to create interest in the team. Plus, it hurts the creation of new younger fans who simply won’t listen to the worst play-by-play call in the Utah sports market.
The elephant in the room still remains. The Jazz are over the luxury tax this season.
The Jazz are a small market team, and that means they have a limited amount of capital to spend on player contracts. To keep the Jazz in Utah, the Jazz simply cannot go over the luxury tax and be fiscally viable.
The salary cap will most likely decrease again next season. That means it will be increasing difficult for the Jazz to shed the money required to be a non-luxury tax paying team.
Getting below the luxury tax is the most important task for the Jazz front office. As long as the Jazz are over the luxury tax threshold the front office isn’t doing their job.
Utah Jazz Overall—Watching the Jazz this season is like watching a person who is afraid to succeed. The Jazz have proven they can play with any team in the league.
The Jazz have beaten the Lakers, Magic, and Trailblazers. They have also won the season series against San Antonio for the first time since 1997.
Yet, the Jazz have also lost to Minnesota twice, Sacramento at home, and Oklahoma City at home. All games the Jazz simply cannot afford to lose if they want to compete in the Western Conference.
This lack of consistent play, and the poor play on the road, points to a lack of mental toughness on the Jazz.
The team continues to take steps towards looking like a Jerry Sloan coached team, but right now they don’t have the physical edge which has been associated with Jazz teams of the past.
Overall Grade—BThe Jazz seem to be at a critical junction in their season. A place where they could really step up their game and be an elite Western Conference team or slack off and be a team simply fighting to make the playoffs. How the Jazz play in the next quarter of the season will really set where the expectations should be for the post-season.