[The good people at Raptor’s Republic asked a few questions leading up to tonight’s game between the Jazz and the Raptors in Salt Lake City. I had a few answers. Thanks to our friends from the frozen wasteland to the north for putting this together.]
Raptor’s Republic: We always knew that Millsap would be a beast when given a chance. What does it mean for the Jazz that they will get similar production as Boozer without the shortened seasons because of injury?
You guys were able to pick up Al Jefferson for a song. How is the pairing with Millsap working out? Does this make Okur a trade candidate (he’s expensive for someone playing limited minutes off the bench)?
Spencer Ryan Hall: The Millsap Corollary has been a favorite topic for the stat-head community. When Boozer left for Chicago, it was exciting to finally have a chance to see if Millsap could maintain his high PER with starter minutes or if his true genius was only effective as an energy guy matched up against then opposing second unit.
The arrival of Al Jefferson, however, threw a wrench in the test. With Jefferson playing the traditional center spot and doing work on the low block (rather than playing alongside Mehmet Okur, who floats out to 3-point territory), Millsap has been free to pick up scraps and show off a midrange game. He still gets to play the role of energy guy without the burden of being the focus of the offense.
So, instead of replacing Boozer with Millsap, the Jazz have countered with the two-headed monster of Jeffer-sap. It took a few games to figure out, but if the nearly flawless performance against the OKC Thunder on Sunday is any indication, the Jazz will be an offensive force to be reckoned with.
The Jazz now have the luxury to allow Okur to ease back in when he returns from a devastating ruptured achilles tendon last season. He won’t be back until December at the earliest, and probably not until January, but his unique offensive game won’t require him to do much work inside to be effective. All that to say, I don’t see Okur becoming trade bait upon his return. He’ll be an important weapon for the Jazz down the stretch.
RR: The Jazz lost two sharp shooters in Korver and Matthews; what’s the plan to replace that production from the perimeter?
SRH: The Kyle Korver era in Utah only happened on paper. Jazz assistant Phil Johnson once commented that they could roll Korver out on the floor in a wheelchair and people would still respect his ability to shoot. His mere presence spread the floor. But that’s just the problem. The Jazz only used him as a decoy (and jersey salesman) and never really let him unleash his crazy shooting ability.
In the first two games of the season, opponents packed the lane and dared the Jazz to shoot. We’ve seen what it looks like when Raja Bell and CJ Miles are bricking shot after shot and it isn’t pretty. On the other hand, it’s beautiful thing when everything is falling, like it was in OKC. Unfortunately, that’s how I see the season going: Live by the midrange game, die by the midrange game.
Even more important than the 3-point shooting of Matthews and Korver, though, was their ability to finish layups. The Jazz offense is designed to get players open looks at the rim. The only teams that have struggled in the Jerry Sloan era have been the ones that couldn’t hit their layups and short runners. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this weakness.
RR: Sloan’s been coaching the Jazz as long as I’ve been watching NBA. A big part of playing for the Jazz is being in his system; what happens when he finally hangs it up?
SRH: Speaking of Sloan, it’s hard to imagine the Jazz sideline without him there. He’s healthy, he’s sharp, he has the unwavering support of the ownership and the front office, and the players all seem to love playing for him. I think he stays at least another five years, and I’ve said before that I won’t be surprised to see him stay for ten more. It’s his job as long as he wants it.
That being said, owner Greg Miller has echoed what his father said about succession; that long-time assistant (and former NBA Coach of the Year) Phil Johnson will have the chance to take over if he chooses to do so. Most people think, however, that when Sloan hangs it up, Johnson will follow.
RR: I’d rank Deron Williams as the best point guard in the league, if for no other reason than he is much more durable than Chris Paul; thoughts?
SRH: I’m honestly completely bored by the DWill-CP3 comparisons. Deron Williams and Chris Paul both make me love the game, but it just seems like apples and oranges. And we may all be missing the point completely: Rajon Rondo is doing ridiculous things in Boston despite any semblance of a jump shot.
That being said, I love DWill for this Jazz team. His ability to pass or score, as well as the durability you mentioned, make him a very special player, and I definitely wouldn’t trade him for either CP3 or Rondo.