Kyrylo Fesenko played 18 minutes against the Sacramento Kings Monday night and scored 11 points while grabbing seven rebounds in the winning effort. Is Jerry Sloan looking to the reincarnation of Greg Ostertag to spark this Jazz team? It might not be a bad idea. Jazz fans remember Ostertag as the starting center who never averaged more than 7.3 points per game but Coach Sloan would be quick to point out that the Jazz big man was an integral part in the teams tremendous run in the 1990’s that included a trip to the NBA Finals. During those years Ostertag averaged approximately six rebounds and two blocked shots per game; his impact was certainly larger than the stats might suggest. Ostertag was a defensive anchor who protected the rim and changed more shots than he blocked. On offense, he cleared space for Malone and was at least a threat for a dump off dunk when Stockton penetrated into the lane. In spite of the presence of the statistically superior, but undersized Antoine Carr, Sloan always managed to find minutes for Ostertag because he understood the importance of having a seven-foot presence in the middle.
NBA history would agree with Sloan’s 1990’s strategy. The defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers perform best with Pau Gasol at power forward, the Boston Celtics perform best with Kevin Garnett at power forward, the San Antonio Spurs prefer to use Tim Duncan at power forward, and the Detroit Pistons were at their best with Rasheed Wallace at power forward. Each of those former champions could have tried to play small ball with statistically superior, but undersized players starting in place of Andrew Bynum, Kendrick Perkins, Fabricio Oberto and Ben Wallace but such a strategy would not have worked. Just like the Jazz’s current strategy of starting the undersized Al Jefferson at center with the undersized Paul Millsap at power forward is not working. This Jazz team is decent enough but nobody expects them to make a deep run in the playoffs because of the lack of size.
During a recent post game news conference it was shocking to hear Al Jefferson credit Minnesota’s Darko Millicic for basically shutting him down. Jefferson might be the first player in NBA history to publicly admit to getting shut down by Millicic but his point was valid, “I give Darko all the credit, he’s a big body, he’s very long and he likes to bang.” Those same Minnesota Timberwolves are the ones who decided to trade Al Jefferson because they knew he and the NBA’s leading rebounder, Kevin Love, could not coexist at the four and five spots. Al is too short to play the five. Sloan is doing him a disservice by playing him against big bodies like Millicic.
Nobody knows for sure what Fesenko can regularly produce because he’s never been given consistent 25 minute per night playing time. All I know is that every time he gets in the game I see him do one thing or another that Ostertag never could have dreamed of doing. The kid is a 24 year old, 7’1”, 300 pounder with a 7’4” wingspan who is capable of making athletic moves on the offensive and defensive ends. It’s time for Sloan to put him in an Ostertag-type role.