In the wake of Jerry Sloan, Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer's departures, the Utah Jazz have assembled an interesting team with big upside talent-wise. But it won't be enough to best the Nuggets this season.
Records: Denver 1-0 (0-0 at home), won 1 straight
Utah 0-1 (0-1 on the road), lost 1 straight
Injuries: Denver (none), Utah (none)
Television: Altitude TV
Season Series 2010-11: 2-2
Opposition's Take: SLC Dunk
Once a hallmark of consistency under the legendary head coach Jerry Sloan, the Jazz stumbled to an 8-20 record last season after Sloan's abrupt retirement and the mega trade that sent superstar point guard Deron Williams to New Jersey for rookie Derrick Favors, veteran point guard Devin Harris and the third overall pick in the 2011 draft that became power forward Enes Kanter of Turkey by way of the University of Kentucky.
Entering the 2011-12 campaign, the Jazz have youth, depth and athleticism at virtually every position. But the question beckons: are these guys any good? I guess we'll find out soon enough. But considering how bad they looked against an aging, road-weary Lakers team on Tuesday night, Jazz fans should be concerned early.
On the front line, the Jazz seem to have plenty of depth. They'll presumably start Al Jefferson at center, Derrick Favors at power forward, and Gordon Hayward at small forward with Paul Millsap, Kanter, C.J. Miles, and Josh Howard coming off the bench. Other than our Nuggets, not too many teams have a solid backup at every position like this. However, the little we saw of Favors last season didn't seem promising and Kanter - at 19 years old - will be as raw as raw gets this season. For Utah's sake, hopefully new head coach Tyrone Corbin can pass on his backup forward wisdom from his playing days to these youngsters or Jefferson and Millsap will be asked to carry a mighty load.
The Jazz back court presents almost equal intrigue and question marks as the front line. There was a time not too long ago when Harris was an NBA All-Star and he's still only 28 years old. But he hasn't been able to stay on an NBA court lately, missing 42 games due to injury over the past three seasons. Second year shooting guard now turned small forward Gordon Hayward showed flashes late last season why he was a lottery pick, but much of his production came during garbage time in meaningless games. How will Hayward perform as a sophomore?
And Colorado-based fans are certainly excited to see how shooting guard Alec Burks, formerly of the University of Colorado, pans out as an NBA player. Will Burks supplant Bell or simply share minutes with him all season long? Like many of his fellow Jazz teammates, Burks possesses huge upside but how much of it he'll realize as an NBA player is up in the air.
The shortened 2011-12 season could be an ongoing roster experiment for Corbin and the Jazz, and unless they grow up fast they'll likely be lottery bound again in 2012.
Scouting the Jazz...
-Al Jefferson: The other "Big Al" in the Northwest Division had a solid if not spectacular first year in a Jazz uniform. He appeared in all 82 games, averaged 18.6 ppg and 9.7 ppg, and shot 49.6% from the field. In only 35 minutes of playing time per game.
-Paul Millsap: After spending much of his career as Boozer's understudy, Millsap was given ample minutes last season and made the most of them, averaging 17.3 ppg and 7.6 rpg while shooting 53.1% from the field. Millsap remains one of the hardest workers in the Western Conference and Nene Hilario will have his hands full dealing with the Jazz's bruising power forward tonight.
-Jamaal Tinsley: One of my least favorite NBA players, Tinsley somehow weaseled his way onto the Jazz's roster after a disappointing career thus far on and off the court. Is Tinsley really the guy the Jazz want in their locker room right now?
These young, exciting Jazz players will be playing a back-to-back after facing the Lakers in Los Angeles on Tuesday night while a quickly jelling, run-and-gun Nuggets team will have been able to rest up in Denver for at least a full day.
Look for the Nuggets to beat the Jazz handily and improve to 2-0.