Utah Jazz 2008-09 Season Preview

It's the Jazz bloggers turn in the CelticsBlog's now annual NBA blogger preview.  Catch more at CelticsBlog.

This was written of course before Deron went down with his ankle injury on Saturday.  So the win/loss will be affected a bit depending on how long Deron is out. And it was also before learning that Kirilenko will come off the bench.  But the rest of the preview will hold true.

Team Name - Utah Jazz
Last Years Record: 54-28
Key Losses: Jason Hart (G, Trade)
Key Additions: Kosta Koufos (C, Draft), Brevin Knight (G, Trade)

1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?

After last year's offseason drama with Andrei Kirilenko and Derek Fisher, this relatively quiet offseason was welcomed.  

The Jazz did make one tweak and that was to send Jason Hart back to the Clippers for journeyman Brevin Knight.  Hart never really picked up the Jazz offense and lost his backup position to Ronnie Price midway through the season.  And Hart's arrival came after the departure of fan-favorite Dee Brown.  He didn't do anything to gain favor with the fans either.  From a fan's perspective, not even a Jarron Collins trade could top Hart leaving.  We get a solid backup PG in Knight that will give a few minutes where needed and distribute the ball effectively.

The drafting of Kosta Koufos was the continual effort of the Jazz to find a suitable backup center.  Koufos was probably the best of what was available at #23.  His work ethic has already earned Sloan's praises.  He'll push last year's center pick, Kyrylo Fesenko, for playing time.  He'll likely start the year out in the D-League.

2. What are the team's biggest strengths?

The Jazz have the most effective offense in the league.  Led by Deron Williams, the Utah averaged 106 points per game.  They have a lot of players that can beat you.  Williams has the all-around inside/outside game.  Carlos Boozer has someof the best post moves in the league and can finish with his right or left.  Mehmet Okur is a marksman from behind the arc but can also post up.  Ronnie Brewer loves to roam the baseline and move without the ball.  He's added on 13 lbs. of muscle over the offseason to give him an advantage when finishing at the rim.  The best part about the offense is that it's scalable.  It's made for a the half-court game and also when the Jazz need to pick up the tempo a bit.

Playing at the Energy Solutions Arena has always been an advantage for the Jazz.  Last year was no exception.  They tied the franchise mark with 19 straight wins at home.  The fans sit right on top of the action.  No team wants to come into the ESA.  Their record at home after the Kyle Korver trade was an astounding 27-1.

And their final strength is their deep bench.  Paul Millsap is an all-world rebounder and energy guy.  Korver gives the Jazz the deep threat that spreads the floor.  Ronnie Price throws the opponent a change of pace with his quickness and explosiveness around the basket.  And CJ Miles is an athletic swingman that has improved his stats each year in the league.

3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?

Of course the glaring weakness for this team is their defense.  They really need an inside presence that can alter shots and be a last line of defense.  As John Hollinger pointed out, the Jazz love to hack.  A lot.  I don't have the stats to back this up, but it seems like that many of them occur when the defender is already beat to the basket.  So instead of conceding the shot, the Jazz player will put a forearm in the back of the shooter or take a flimsy swipe in a failed attempt to block the shot.  So instead of giving up two point, they add a foul shot to go along with it.  Having one of the best offenses in the league doesn't mean squat if you can't stay on the floor because of foul trouble.

The other potential weakness for the Jazz is playing on the road.  They started out the year misereably.  But once again, it was Kyle Korver to the rescue (or so it would seem).  The Jazz played .500 (11-11) on the road since KK came to town.  But in order to challenge for the best record in the West, they'll definitely have to improve here.

4. What are the goals for this team?

To improve their seeding for the playoffs.  For two years in a row now they've been the fourth seed in the West but have had to open on the road in Houston.  They've been able to overcome both of those first round series, but if the Jazz are to advance deep into the playoffs, they have to have home-court advantage.  They haven't had that veteran experience yet where they can win on the road consistently.  Until they do, they'll need to play their series at the ESA.

The Jazz have as much talent as any other team in the league.  There is no reason that they can't contend for the title.  They have the offense, the drive, and the youth to match up against any team.  But a defensive stopper would be nice.

5. What effect will Deron William's injury have on the Jazz (I made a last-minute change with this question)?

I changed this one up to deal with Deron's recent ankle sprain.  The part that concerns me the most with this injury is that they haven't said much about it yet.  The x-ray's were negative.  The MRI is scheduled for Monday, so we'll know more then.  Deron is likely out for the first few games of the season.  He could miss up to a month though.  While I'm confident that he'll be fine, a couple of losses because of the games he misses could mean the difference between a 1 or 2 seed and the 4 or 5 seed.  The good news is that Utah's schedule starting the season is relatively easy.  They could escape this with only an extra loss or so had Williams been running the show.  But if there's anything more significant with his injury, we could see the suicide rate in Salt Lake climb.

Predicted Record:
56-26 (prior to Williams' injury)

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