On paper, everything has lined up for the Utah Jazz. Deron Williams has played like an All-Star, Carlos Boozer is consistently contributing, they have role players at the wings who do everything Jerry Sloan could ask for, and they have depth. They have their third 50 win season in the last 4 years and are considered to be a dark horse to win the Larry O’Brien trophy this season. Absolutely no one wants to see the Jazz in the playoffs this year. As this team matures, they could become the next powerhouse in the NBA.
If you’ve followed the Jazz for long enough all of this looks familiar. After all, the Jazz would have two rings if it wasn’t for some guy named Jordan. In the years when the Jazz went to the Finals, they had John Stockton playing like an All-Star, Karl Malone putting up MVP numbers, their role players played within the system, and they were deep. With those teams that ran into Jordan’s Bulls in the finals, Stockton and Malone only had a year or two left. This Jazz team hasn’t even hit its full stride yet.
This season may have given Deron Williams a leg up over Chris Paul in the "Who’s the best point guard in the NBA?" argument. Williams has averaged 18 points, 11 assists, and four rebounds in his 71 games this year. Paul has run into injuries, appearing in only 44 games, and has averaged 19 points, 11 assists, and four rebounds. With nearly identical stats the tie goes to the more durable player. Williams is just entering his prime, and he’s under contract until 2013, so the Jazz will get to watch his excellence for years to come.
The biggest threat to the continued maturity and success of this team is the possible departure of Carlos Boozer this summer. Carlos remains one of the few players in the league that can average 20/10 and this year has been no different. One of the most efficient big men in the league, Boozer is averaging 19.7 points on 56% shooting. He still cleans the glass with the best of them, averaging 11.3 rebounds. Last year created a lot of tension between Utah and Boozer with the opt-out situation and trade rumors. These issues have largely disappeared with the success that both he and the team have had this season. Fans quickly transitioned from boos to “Booze!” and there is now talk about looking to resign him this offseason.
While keeping Boozer is arguably Plan A, Utah is in a strong position to recover from such a loss. Plan B is twofold. First is the emergence of Paul Millsap. He has already proven, with previous injuries to Boozer, to be worthy of a starting power forward spot in this league. If Boozer does leave, Millsap is likely to spend the summer working on the pick-and-roll and fine-tuning his offensive game, an area where he has already been showing large improvements.