The 6th men: A Look at the Jazz Role Players
They are the unsung heroes.
They may not get the billing or the recognition, but they help make sure your stars don't have to leave a close game and come back in 15 points down.
They go out and play hard, and occasionally might have fans cheer if they do something great one night. Then they vanish back into the night until they arise again.
The Utah Jazz are one of the deepest teams in the NBA this season, and Jerry Sloan has called it the most talented. But just who are they?
The Jazz stars are easy to name. Names like Williams, Kirilenko, Okur, Boozer, and even Brewer this season are on people's minds. Most teams can name Paul Millsap, simply by what he's done year in and year out, or Kyle Korver, who came over in a still underrated trade, but that's about it.
So here is a look at the players who are not the stars of the league.
Call him the workhorse. Big and strong, he was written off as an undersized power forward. Never mind that he accomplished a feat never before seen in the NCAA by leading the league in rebounding three straight years. Paul Millsap brings something a lot of higher rated players don't to a game every night—effort.
Combine that with a smart basketball IQ and it's no wonder he did what he did in college. If you outwork your opponent, you're going to get to more loose balls and easy shots.
It's not just that, though. Paul has a nice shooting touch. At one point against Phoenix, he took his defender off the dribble, drove to the hoop, and put the ball in on a bank shot as he was coming from behind the glass. That's not easy to do, especially for a big man.
Kyle came over as a dead-eye shooter and his percentages, despite a bad road trip, are still pretty high.
Korver is a guy you want on the floor even when he's not always on. He spaces the floor because you have to respect that he can. This opens up the inside game of Boozer and Millsap, or the slashing of Brewer or Kirilenko.
Throw in his high free-throw percentage, and he can close games at the line in a way that the Jazz struggled with at the beginning of last season.
CJ has always had the talent to play in this league, and now he's in the perfect role to do so. A lot of people said CJ was only a placeholder for Kirilenko so he could play with the second unit. The last couple of games, however, AK has not been available and CJ is starting to show confidence that he will get minutes.
And when he deserves them, like last night's Phoenix game, he isn't just going to get yanked anyway. Instead, Sloan let the youngster play out the quarter and it showed in his confidence.
Now that Miles knows he can still get time, he may fall into a more comfortable role with the team.
Price still doesn't look fully comfortable in the point-guard role, but the UVU product has proven that he can still score and distribute. In the absence of Deron Williams, he's been asked to help run the team and has filled in nicely.
He'll never be the pure raw talent that Williams is, but I can see him running alongside Williams and Knight, or even backing up Deron, and keeping his head high.
Speaking of Knight, this was a major steal for the Jazz in exchange for Jason Hart. Knight brings a poise that comes with veteran leadership that hasn't been around since Fisher left for LA. Not only that, but since the Jazz now have legitimate stability at the two, they won't need Knight in the way they did Fisher, so he can do naturally what he should do. Knight has shown poise in running the offense and learned it quickly.
Many think he should naturally back up Deron and it's hard to argue that point. In a way, he could be compared to what Kerry Collins needs to do for the Titans—just come in, play your best, and don't make too many mistakes. And since he had the highest assist-to-turnover ratio in the league last season, not making mistakes seems to be something he excels at.
Tough as nails, Matt may be in the twilight of his career, but he adds a toughness to this team that, one could argue, not even Paul Millsap can match. He doesn't back down and he throws it all out on the floor.
His knees may be a question mark from time to time, but he'll give Jerry energy and fight and as most people know, Jerry wants hard-nosed players.
Not much was expected out of the Jazz's first-round pick this year. It was thought he might be sent down to the D-league Flash to get some seasoning.
Then the Jazz lost Okur for a few games, and Sloan experimented with the rookie as a starter. The gamble worked, as Koufos showed that all the hard work he was showing wasn't for nothing.
Koufos is averaging 1.6 blocks and 3.4 rebounds in just 15 minutes a game for Jerry, and his length helps alter shots. It's very possible that he's found a spot in Sloan's rotation.
The problem for Jerry will come when Williams and Okur come back to the team. Right now, he also has long-time reserve Jarron Collins on the active roster, but when those two returns, one reserve player will have to go to the IR. Already, it's thought that Kyrylo Fesenko and Morris Almond will be back on the shelf, but it's unclear who Jerry will choose as the third.
It's a glut of talent, and it's unlikely Jerry will shelf either Price or Knight, as he likes to have three point guards. It will most likely come down to Koufos or Collins and the rookie may lose out to the veteran.
However, for once in Sloan's career, it's a nice problem to have.
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