I'm a really big Jerry Sloan fan because of who he is and what his ideals are, and there is no doubt in my mind they carry over into the basketball arena. He's stubborn in that he knows right from wrong and he expects the right thing to be done. And it's very simple for him that way. Once everyone understands that his team is going to do it the right way and not going to cut corners, everybody is on the same page. Once you start compromising for one person, you're going to lose the whole bunch. He's been in it a long time and yet he's still into those games. He's a competitor.
They brought in Al Jefferson to replace Carlos Boozer and all of a sudden Jefferson is going to realize that every game matters. He isn't going to be able to shoot just because the ball is in his hands. It's going to have to be a good shot and the other players are going to expect him -- if he's double-teamed -- to make the right play. He can't just run to the post every time and dictate what the plays are going to be. He's going to have to execute their offense.
They may do a couple of things to help Jefferson. In Karl Malone's day, they had some very basic things to get him the ball in the low post, and they may do some of those things for Jefferson. But he's going to have to get to his spots in the flow of the UCLA-type offense. He'll have to work with Deron Williams on the pick-and-roll, where he's setting screens and rolling to the basket every time even if the play isn't for him. In the past, those have been the times he has taken plays.
Passing has been very difficult for him, especially when he's been double-teamed. He would get on a roll during games, but when it came down to executing and making the play out of the post in the crunch -- well, here comes the second defender and now you see Jefferson forcing shots or not being able to pass out of the double team or making some kind of poor decision. But when you have a system like Utah's, your decisions are really limited. You should know exactly where the ball is going when you're prepared, and they will get him prepared.
If Jefferson accepts the coaching, it will work. If he fights it, he's just going to sit on the bench because Jerry won't put up with that bull. But I think Jefferson's career can be rejuvenated. Some of his problems have been a matter of health, but now he's going to have to have a thick skin and play through all of the learning that he's going to face. And if he's taking days off and aching with injuries, he'll be left behind.
Williams went through the same things -- he had to get broken too -- and look how it turned out for him. As much as I like Chris Paul, I prefer Williams. He's physical, he has guts, he'll take big shots. He'll lead a team as a point guard who understands his system and can make adjustments on the fly. His team has confidence in him, he doesn't get rattled and he stands up for himself and for his teammates. I definitely think he's inspirational to his team. He picks them up and drags them through the rigors of the season. As much as Boozer and Paul Millsap and Mehmet Okur have done a lot of the heavy lifting, they're all good followers. Williams is their leader.
There's going to be a lot of talk about this being the final year of Andrei Kirilenko's contract. I never considered him a max player, but he's still productive when he's healthy. He makes a big difference anytime he plays because of all of those things he does at his length and with his athleticism. He's imposing on the defensive end, but he's just OK as a shooter.
Okur is a pick-and-pop guy who works well within their system. One of the hardest things to defend -- if not the hardest -- is the pick-and-pop with a shooter. It's hard to show on the ball-handler and get back to the screener because you can't rotate to him. You've got to show in order to stop the ball and you've still got to get back to your man, and if it's a guy like Okur who can make shots, it creates a lot of problems.
Paul Millsap is cut out of the same cloth as Sloan. I like his demeanor and his work ethic. He makes the most of his opportunities, and I'm surprised how effective he is offensively. He's improved his range, his footwork is incredible and he has good touch inside. He gets shots off in so many different ways. He's not a jumper but he has a hesitation move, a step-through, a fake going up. He gets to the foul line too, though he could be a better free-throw shooter. I want to see how he and Jefferson do because Jefferson plays in the paint too.
C.J. Miles was a guy who didn't play for a long time, and now he's pretty darn good. Miles sat on the bench and it seemed like he was in the doghouse for years, but he's reliable now as a shooter. He's athletic enough and he'll get buckets in transition when they have numbers. He'll stick his nose out and defend, and he's accountable at that end of the floor.
Rookie Gordon Hayward will need time to learn what they're looking for. Another player on the wing, Raja Bell, is a no-nonsense guy and I think he'll have a revival there. He's gutty, his demeanor will mesh well with them and he will fight. He's got mileage on him, but I can see him playing in the high-20s in terms of minutes as a solid, versatile utility man who will defend the three smaller positions and make shots.
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