by Fareed Taghvaee
Special to Salt City Hoops
Al Jefferson continues his strong play as the Utah Jazz defeated the Phoenix Suns 108-97, remaining undefeated in the preseason. The Jazz trailed the Suns at the half, but Jefferson had 12 points in the third to put the Jazz in the lead for good. Deron Williams added 11 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. This is the first time the Utah Jazz are 4-0 in the preseason since 1975-1976.
It is hard not to like Jeremy Evans. He is humble, a great artist and can jump out of the gym. He went from a guy trying to make the roster, to a guy fighting for minutes. Evans continued his impressive preseason with a 12-point (5-5 FG 2-2 FT), 4 rebound, 3-steal night. The way he runs the slip screen and back cut for the alley-oop dunk looks just like a young Tyson Chandler. It will be interesting to see if Evans can crack the rotation. If he can play his tail off for 10 minutes a game he could be a major asset for this team.
Jerry Sloan is incredibly hard to read. Just when you think you have figured him out he throws a monkey wrench at you (sometimes literally). Obviously Deron, Millsap and Al are locked in. AK appears destined to be the sixth man. Raja Bell has played three consecutive games as the second unit shooting guard. He, Fesenko and AK have played as a unit for three straight games as well. The interesting twist tonight was Earl Watson playing with the above mentioned bench players. So who does Sloan start? Gordon Hayward is struggling with finishing, but can start offensively for the Jazz today. Whether he can defend and score is another question that needs to be answered soon. The conundrum is whether to start CJ or Raja? It would make more sense to pair a veteran with a youngster (CJ/AK, Hayward/Raja). Clearly Sloan has started to figure out who will play this season. It’s up to Hayward, Evans and Price to make their case for the rest of the minutes. It would be nice to see Al with Fes and more of Millsap and AK.
There are four players fighting for one spot on this team, and while all of them have shown flashes, none of them have taken the lead. Demetris Nichols seems to be on the outside. He has nice size, is a streak shooter, but hasn’t offered much else much more than shooting on the offensive end. His previous experience in the league also means he is set to make roughly $850,000, and with tax uncertainty the Jazz might prefer to save money by going with a rookie.
Othyus Jeffers still seems to be in the lead, but his limitations showed tonight. He has the heart of a warrior, but is just to small and struggles with his shot.
Sundiata Gaines went from not playing to getting good time in the game against the Suns. Would the Jazz consider keeping him as the third PG and move Price to combo guard, with minutes at the two?
Ryan Thompson is a nice player, but does he have a standout moment? The best thing going for him right now is his salary and age. He has a week to make this roster. If he can’t make it, hopefully he decides to play for the Utah Flash and stay close to the team.
Al Jefferson doesn’t appear to get assisted on baskets as much as Carlos Boozer, who benefited big time from Deron Williams. Will Jefferson’s ability to create in the post mean fewer assists for Deron Williams? Millsap can run the pick and pop game with Williams, but Al is probably not going to shoot off the screen like Boozer did.
CJ Miles seems to really struggle when he plays with the second unit. He got his easiest shots with the starters and has always benefited playing with Deron. This kind of leads me to believe he will start, but can the Jazz start CJ and Hayward together?
Deron Williams had a solid stat line tonight. I could see his assists coming down some this season, but an increase in rebounds and points.
Paul Millsap is struggling to find his place in this new cast. The answer might be featuring him in the second unit, or simply running the pick and pop game with him. One thing is for sure, Paul is a stud. He managed to impact the game in other areas without scoring a lot of points.
Earl Watson was excellent tonight. He had no turnovers, set up people nicely, and took shots within the flow of the offense. If he can put up performances like that consistently he will be a welcomed addition to the backcourt. The comments that have been made by the players during camp leads me to believe that Watson is the guy.
Hopefully Big Fes’ injury is not too serious. The official word was sprained wrist, day to day. His play of late has likely distanced him some from the injured Fransisco Elson, but this injury could catapult Elson back into the competition. [Editor’s note: Fes was in good spirits after the game despite a huge ice wrap covering his whole hand. The immobilized hand made for a funny scene as Fesenko clowned for the press while trying to put his clothes on one-handed.]
“Big Al, Big Third Quarter: 12 points, 4 rebounds, unquantifiable amounts of sweat.” @DJJazzyJody