Utah Jazz Complete Season Preview and Primer

Rich ByingtonContributor IDecember 21, 2011

Utah Jazz Complete Season Preview and Primer

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    The Utah Jazz spent 23 years under the direction and leadership of Jerry Sloan. His unexpected retirement and the trade of All-Star point guard Deron Williams registered a 9.0 on the Richter Scale along the Wasatch Front.

    Long-time assistant Ty Corbin was handed the baton and maestroed the team to the tune of 8-21 as the Jazz failed to orchestrate a playoff appearance for only the fourth time since 1983 and only the second losing season in that span.

    These fans are used to Beethoven and Bach, not Mr. Jones' seventh-grade ensemble. Hopes and expectations are high in Jazz Nation.

    This team is so young that when fans show up at Energy Solutions Arena, they might momentarily wonder if their team opened up a daycare this season, with some players barely old enough to grow facial hair.

    Still, there is a lot of excitement about this young group in Salt Lake City this season, and odds are, they will pack a true NBA season's worth of energy and excitement into this abbreviated version.

Projected Starting Lineup

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    PG: Devin Harris 

    SG: Raja Bell 

    C: Memhet Okur 

    PF: Al Jefferson   

    SF: CJ Miles

    Devin Harris will man the point after being brought to the as part of the trade deal that sent Deron Williams to the Nets. There are virtually no other challengers to this position.

    Raja Bell should start the season at the two guard. Although he's aging, he was steady, and his on-court leadership is invaluable to such a young team.

    Memhet Okur has finally returned to health, and his experience also gives the Jazz a solid veteran presence on the court.

    With Okur at the five, this gives Ty Corbin a chance to work Al Jefferson more at the four.

    (UPDATE) Okur was traded to the New Jersey Nets Thursday night Dec. 22nd. Jefferson will start at center and Millsap will start at PF.

6th Man

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    My money's on Gordon Hayward stepping up big this year as the sixth man for the Jazz. He came on like a hurricane late last season. Over the course of the last 12 games, Hayward averaged 13.4 points per game, shot 53.6 percent from the field, a blistering 51.6 percent from beyond the arc, 34 boards and chipped in 32 assists—all around, outstanding contributions in his rookie year.

    Expect Hayward, along with Favors and Millsap, to be first off the bench. Because the Jazz have such great depth from the bigs and are weak at the two and three spots, this gives Hayward a chance to really take off. He may even be starting before the season ends depending on the play of CJ Miles and the two-guard spot.

Key Bench Players

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    If he isn't traded, which is a distinct possibility considering the logjam of big men on this team and the value he could bring, Paul Millsap is a steady player who brings it every night. He scores and rebounds and gives the Jazz solid production at the four spot.

    In their opening preseason game this week in Portland, Derrick Favors dominated. In nearly 30 minutes of play, he shot 10-of-15 from the field, yanked down 12 boards and put up 25 points. It's preseason, but if that's a glimpse of things to come from him in his second year, the Jazz will be very tough in the paint.

    If Jeremy Evans can secure more minutes, this kid is just a ton of fun to watch. His elevation levels sometimes stretch past Kilimanjaro, and he is good for at least one Earl Watson-generated alley oop every game. He is a key player off the bench simply because of the energy his game brings to the team and fans.

    Alec Burks can really earn some playing time if he can produce at the two spot. At Portland, he only shot 3-of-10, so there's work to be done here, but he will have his opportunities with the lack of talent at this spot.

    Enes Kanter struggled from the floor, shooting only 1-of-10 from the floor Monday night, but he was a rebounding beast as expected, hauling in 10 boards. He should provide decent minutes at the five spot in rotating with Okur and Jefferson, especially considering Okur hasn't played in nearly two seasons.

Player Under Pressure

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    When CJ Miles is on, he is lights out, but when he is off, it gets ugly sometimes. The two spot is a weakness for the Jazz, and he is hands down the most athletically gifted player for the role, but inconsistency has hindered him.

    The Jazz need somebody to step up and contribute at the two guard, especially outside the arc. Miles is arguably the best three-point shooter on the team.

    The Jazz will be breaking in Alec Burks and getting him comfortable with the pro game and seeing where he fits in the rotation.

    Bell will contribute, but he is on the decline. Hayward is better suited at SF.

    Miles needs to improve his consistency both to hold down his spot and for the Jazz to improve.

Player on the Rise

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    Derrick Favors was a monster in the Jazz preseason game Monday night against Portland. He produced a double-double with 25 points and 12 rebounds, shooting 10-of-15 from the field.

    We got a glimpse of his potential last spring after the Williams trade, and he didn't disappoint. During his 22 games with the Jazz, he swatted 25 blocks and averaged 8.2 points and 5.2 rebounds in roughly 20 minutes of play a night at a healthy 52.9 percent clip from the field.

    If his first preseason game is a preview of things to come, this guy is going to turn a lot of heads, because from the looks of it, he is really coming on, and he is barely 20 years old.

Team Strengths/Weaknesses

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    Clearly, the Jazz are loaded at the four and five spots, with Jefferson, Millsap, Favors, Evans, Kanter and the return of Okur. All of these players should give Ty Corbin a great rotation and keep them fresh.

    The three-spot is also a position of strength for the Jazz, with CJ Miles, Gordon Hayward, newly-acquired Josh Howard and the possibility of sliding Jeremy Evans and Alec Burks to the position as well.

    The youth of the Jazz will serve them well in a lockout shortened season like the one coming up. Sixty-six games crammed into a modified schedule will test the physical conditioning of all teams, and younger teams should prevail in that regard.

    The Jazz are weak at the guard spots, especially the point. Devin Harris can be a solid starter, but he will not replace the production of Deron Williams. Earl Watson is a savvy veteran who is a smart leader and gives good minutes off the bench but no more.

    The Jazz brought in Jamaal Tinsley from Indiana, who averaged about five assists and six points a game as a role player there. Raja Bell is in the twilight of his career.  Rotating Miles and Hayward at the two and the addition of Alec Burks strengthens the position a bit, but overall, this is a very average group.

    Youth will be a strength when it comes down to physical conditioning in a shorter season, but it generally takes young teams time to gel and develop chemistry, and they tend to be mistake prone, especially in pressure situations. There will be growing pains with these guys.

    The Jazz Achilles Heel is their defense, and it will be a sore spot in many contests until they prove otherwise, as evidenced early on by the 20-point beatdown they suffered in their preseason opener to Portland.

Season Expectations

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    This team will be exciting to watch because of all the youth. If the young players live up to the mass amount of potential they have, these guys could do some damage around the league this year.

    Ty Corbin is already well respected among the players, and his regime is on full throttle. This will bring back stability after the unexpected shakeup at the top with the retirement of Jerry Sloan.

    The team has a deep bench that if Corbin can find consistent rotations and identify which groupings give him the best matchups depending on opponents, the Jazz should be competitive.

    Another key for the Jazz will be finding leaders on this team. Jefferson and Millsap are veterans, but tend to be pretty quiet. Some of the younger players need to find their role on the team and bring this much-needed quality to the team.

    Expect the Jazz to play hard with a lot of energy while suffering through their lumps in learning to play together and to play team defense.

    Prediction: 36-30, seventh seed in the Western Conference.