For the Utah Jazz (53-29) last year’s playoffs were about trying to get by the Los Angeles Lakes. The Jazz finished second in the Northwest Division and fifth in the Western Conference. In the postseason, they beat Denver four games to two in round one and then were swept by the Lakers in round two. Once again, this Jazz team will probably find themselves in the same situation once this year’s regular season is over.
At center, the Jazz welcome Al Jefferson (.498 FG%, .000 3PT%, .680 FT%, 9.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 17.1 PPG) from Minnesota. He can score inside at will and offers solid rebounding skills. But Jefferson, a six-year veteran, rarely passes and often gets trapped. Additionally, he can be nonexistent when it comes to defense. Pretty much Jefferson is a one trick pony.
That fact makes backup center Mehmet Okur’s (.458 FG%, .385 3PT%, .820 FT%, 7.1 RPG, 1.6 APG, 13.5 PPG) role very important when he returns from injury. Okur, who has been in the NBA eight years, is also not the strongest candidate for this spot. He does have a solid shot from outside and is a better-than-average low post defender, but he’s an average rebounder and has a tough time defending the perimeter. His shot from downtown is amazingly accurate for a big man.
With four pro years to his credit, power forward Paul Millsap (.538 FG%, .111 3PT%, .693 FT%, 6.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 11.6 PPG) has proven to be a solid player in the frontcourt. Along with always having a bead on the basket, the aggressive Millsap certainly knows how to get to the rim on the pick-and-roll. He’s small, which makes it tough for him to defend against bigger players. Still, he is a decent shot blocker.
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Small forward Andrei Kirilenko (.506 FG%, .292 3PT%, .744 FT%, 4.6 RPG, 2.7 APG, 11.9 PPG), who is in his tenth NBA season, has been susceptible to the injury bug. Last season, he missed 24 games and over the last six seasons, he’s been out an average of 19 games. When he is healthy, Kirilenko exhibits major defensive skills as he blocks shots from behind and at odd angles. He’s also adept at drawing fouls. Don’t expect the guy to ever bulk up, but if he did that might very well help him stay in the game.
At the point, the Jazz start Deron Williams (.469 FG%, .371 3PT%, .801 FT%, 4.0 RPG, 10.5 APG, 18.7 PPG) Williams is an excellent all around player with a lot of speed, an ability to drive the basket, pass or start the pick-and-roll and sound rebounding skills. He’s a double-double guy on assists and points. By the way, he’s also a topnotch defender. He runs the offense well, keeping it churning.
Although shooting guard C.J. Miles (.429 FG%, .341 3PT%, .695 FT%, has a good shot, he can be a detriment on defense. Miles can be a foul machine when trying to stop other players. In addition to his problem in causing fouls, he rarely draws one. The guy is a decent scorer.
One thing about the Jerry Sloan (1190-780) coached Jazz is they like to pass the ball. Last year, Utah led the league with 67.8% assisted goals. In 25 years of coaching, Sloan has spent 22 of those with the Jazz after coming over from the Bulls. Although he’s been to the playoffs for a majority of those years, Sloan has never coached a NBA champ. One thing this team needs to cut down on is committing fouls. Utah had the most foul-prone defense in the league coming in at .353.
The Utah Jazz saw an array of players leave or get traded during the off-season. Despite this fact, they still have a good squad and will be competitive. Last season they actually tied for first in the Northwest but were relegated to second due to tiebreakers. This year, with the Oklahoma City Thunder looking like they are ready to go to the next level and the Blazers having a gifted group, the Jazz will finish third in the Northwest good for 5th or 6th in the Western Conference. It’s not a big dip, but it is a dip.
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