FanPost

8-Oh Yeah! A Utah Jazz Preseason Predication

 

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Save me a spot for the parade on John Stockton Drive. The Utah Jazz are co-Preseason Champions!

Coach Jerry Sloan, what do you think of that?

Now we gotta start playing for real and we'll see what we've got. Hopefully we can play a little better than what we have the last couple days.

Aw man, what a downer...

But remarks like this are nothing new to the seasoned Jazz fanatic, and they carry weight and validity with them. In typical Sloan style the Jazz's head coach dropped references to the things the team still needs to work on.

Things like how the Sacramento Kings "got on top of the basket any time they wanted to," also pointing out that the Jazz "had trouble keeping people in front [of them]." As always, Sloan made multiple references to playing together as a team, rather than as individuals, and working hard, in his post-game comments.

These are some of the things that have defined him and his longevity as a head coach in the NBA.

While we as fans get pumped up about an undefeated preseason, Sloan stays calmly grounded in reality. He knows all too well that a grueling 82-game season hasn't even begun yet, and even better that it will take closer to 100 games to get where the Jazz really want to be once again, the Finals.

A time or two before the Jazz have posted outstanding preseasons, once in '94-'95 when they finished up the regular season 60-22 after going 7-1 in the warm-up. The other, '03-'04, again going 7-1, only to end up a mere one game above .500 at 42-40.

When asked if he was worried that going 8-0 in the preseason might give his players a false sense of security heading into the regular season, Sloan said, "I'm not worried. I think this team is capable, it's just hopefully they'll buy into it."

What exactly do they need to buy into?

You gotta be able to defend. If we can't defend we just try to out-shoot 'em. That makes for a long season.

 

The Jazz's defense certainly appears improved from years past. The addition of Raja Bell has helped that appearance tremendously. We knew he had a rep as a defensive force that takes no guff on the wings (or anywhere on the floor, for that matter), but who knew Big Al Jefferson had stashed away a defensive prowess that never saw the light of day in Minnesota?

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Or that Francisco Elson had a set of wheels on him that allows for chase-down blocks?

We didn't see much of Elson in the preseason due to plantar fasciitis, but he made the most of his 13 minutes against the Kings giving us two of his four points on a put-back and adding 3 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal and a block.

And oh yeah, a much-needed dose of nasty that's been found wanting on Jazz squads in recent memory.

 

We're not a nasty team... most of the teams that we've had have been pretty nasty and they will get after you from daylight until dark.

-Jerry Sloan, April 2009

 

Bell, notorious for clotheslining Kobe Bryant while a member of the Phoenix Suns, and Elson, equally notorious for getting into it with Kevin Garnett when he was a Denver Nugget and The Big Ticket a T-Wolf, bring a healthy dose of nasty with them that should permeate the overall feel of the Jazz on the floor this season.

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Not to mention how the Jazz finally hit the "jackpot" with Kyrylo Fesenko. Fes finally came into camp in shape this year, having left several "L B's" in Ukraine this past summer. He's never looked better, on or off the court, and that has Jazz-nation buzzing.

The Jazz giant that averaged an astounding 9.8 personal fouls-per-36-minutes in his nine rookie-year appearances for Utah has now found a penchant for consistency in his 4th year in the NBA. No more "jackpotting around" for this man-in-the-middle. He's as agile and focused as he gets (for a 23-year-old) and should be a solid contributor to a team with high hopes for the postseason this year.

Great move by the Jazz brass to bring him back. I think Sirkickyass sums it up nicely on Fes' Basketball Reference page.

There's already depth in Utah's frontcourt. Just imagine what they will do with a healthy Mehmet Okur also available.

Still, there's work to be done. Take, for instance, what happens when Big Al gets the ball on the low block. Sloan points out that when that happens other players become "stationary, everyone watching to see what he's gonna do."

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Now, I love "The Weezy" as much as the next guy or gal, but the offense has to keep the wheels turning or the scouting reports will catch up with him like they have Paul Millsap, who struggled some in the preseason.

"They're gonna take your strength away from you if you've been here a little while," says Sloan, when asked about where Millsap stands after preseason, while also noting that he'll continue to work and find new ways around those pesky scouts. He added range to his game last year. It will be interesting to see what he adds to it this.

Teams will take away a lot of the stuff that they gave us in the exhibition season.

But don't think the Jazz showed their hand. This was still a bare bones version of what the Sloan system has in store, not to mention the Jazz's top offensive threat, Deron Williams, only played an average 25 minutes a game in the five games he did play in.

No surprise Sloan had a precautionary word on even that, when asked what he thought about his guys finishing 8-0 without the All-star point guard:

Deron is not here. That's one of the things we gotta learn, that's a perfect excuse. If you wanna play this game on excuses then we can find a bunch more. Whoever's here we gotta play. They're not gonna call off a game because a player's missing. Regular season, who's to say somebody might not be there and somebody else has got to step up and fill the gap?

The pick-up of Earl Watson helps shore up the previously-questionable position of backup point for Utah. Some wondered whether or not he'd fit into a system predicated on team play, but he's looked good, turning it over less than expected and making the right pass more often than not.

While Watson is generally the consensus choice for the backup PG spot, Ronnie Price has been making a bid of his own for playing time, having toned down the Tasmanian devil routine a bit, playing smarter instead of harder. He could see some time at the 2, as he did late in the last game of the preseason, alongside Earl.

And then there's the glue spots, the wings. C.J. Miles and Andrei Kirilenko have been nothing short of superb in the preseason. Draft picks Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans, who both made a difficult final cut to find themselves on the regular season roster, will benefit greatly from their veteran counterparts and could even contribute to a few W's this very season.

Where Elson and Bell add nasty, Andrei, CJ, and Evans add athleticism and playmaking.

Even as Sloan keeps us grounded in reality, it's hard to not get excited by the potential this deep and balanced Jazz teams has in it. Whatever you do, don't sleep on this Sloan squad. 

And don't expect me to save you a spot this June if you do.

All comments are the opinion of the commenter and not necessarily that of SLC Dunk or SB Nation.

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