7 Utah Jazz A tried-and-true gang of veterans will try to pick-and-roll the West's young guns....(Stop us if you've heard this one before)

Oct. 29, 2001
Oct. 29, 2001

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Oct. 29, 2001

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7 Utah Jazz A tried-and-true gang of veterans will try to pick-and-roll the West's young guns....(Stop us if you've heard this one before)

After John Amaechi, a native of England, signed a free-agent
contract with the Jazz this summer, he underwent mild culture
shock. On his first day in Salt Lake City he was driving on the
highway behind a pickup truck with a carcass in its bed. "Not
something I'm used to seeing on the motorway," he says. "I don't
know what it was, but the antlers were huge." On a 20-mile bike
ride with new teammate Karl Malone, Amaechi was mute when the
conversation turned to fishing and trucking. He also had to adapt
when he showed up on the first day of training camp. "I looked
around," says Amaechi, who turns 31 next month, "and I'm
thinking, My Lord, I'm practically one of the young guys here."

This is an article from the Oct. 29, 2001 issue Original Layout

As the Chicken Littles lament that the age of the players is
falling in the NBA, Utah is a veritable fossil collection, a team
that may as well play in a center for assisted living as in the
Delta Center. Even after Danny Manning, 35, and Olden Polynice,
36, decided to leave as free agents after last season, six
players in the Jazz's rotation are north of 30, including, of
course, Malone, 38, and John Stockton, who will turn 40 this
season. "For years people have been saying that we're too old,"
says Jerry Sloan, who has been coaching Utah since 1988, the
longest current tenure with one team in the NBA. "If you know the
history of this team, you know we don't change for the sake of

As its roster and basic offense--something about a pick and a
roll--have become numbingly familiar, the Jazz's fate has also
grown predictable: It wins 50 or so games during the regular
season and then wilts in the playoffs. Last season Utah didn't
even make it out of the first round; it lost to Dallas in a
five-game series that laid bare the Jazz's need for an infusion
of youth and athleticism. Yet Utah's only significant off-season
move was the acquisition of Amaechi, a ponderous center who
averaged 7.9 points and 3.3 rebounds with Orlando. "Am I going to
jump out of the gym? No," says Amaechi. "But it fits with this
team's character that I have solid fundamentals and I work hard."

Amaechi also single-handedly inters the "dumb jock" stereotype.
He's the rare NBA player who's more comfortable talking about the
current geopolitical situation than about hoops, a Carl Jung
devotee who's postponing his doctoral work in clinical child
psychology this year while he writes his autobiography for a
British publishing house. "I'm up front about saying that I don't
love the game of basketball," says Amaechi, "but I don't think
that having other interests makes me any less professional or
intense on the court."

Professionalism and intensity have never been an issue with the
Jazz. Even at their advanced age, Malone and Stockton are the
first players to arrive at practice, and they continue to play
with the unremitting focus of rookies struggling for roster
spots. "It was clear from Day One that their attitude trickles
down," says Amaechi. Still, pride and resolve only go so far.
Consistency eluded Malone last season. He averaged 23.2
points--the lowest since his second season--and had many off
nights. Stockton finished second in the league in assists (8.7
per game) and shot better than 50% from the field, but he faded
in the playoffs. Tired of playing understudy to a legend, point
guards Howard Eisley and Jacque Vaughn decamped for Dallas and
Atlanta, respectively, in the past two seasons (Eisley, after
making it clear that he would not re-sign, was traded, and Vaughn
left as a free agent). Stockton's likely backup? John Crotty, a
32-year-old journeyman who missed more than half of last season
because of knee surgery.

The Jazz is adamant that old heads can trump young legs. Malone
has declared this year's team "the most talented group we've ever
had," and guard John Starks, 36, points out that despite the
resistance to change, Utah has still made the playoffs for 18
years running: "As they say, 'Age is just a number. It just takes
longer for us to stretch.'" The real stretch is Utah making a
credible run at the title with such a superannuated roster.

--L. Jon Wertheim

COLOR PHOTO: NORM PERDUE/NBA ENTERTAINMENT OLD STORY Malone, coming off his least productive season since 1986-87, says the Jazz won't be held back by its advancing years.

enemy lines
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Jazz

"The Jazz's players are getting older, and you know what's coming
when they're on offense, but they're so good at execution that
it doesn't make a difference. Bad teams have trouble going to
their second option in a set offense; good teams, like the Jazz,
go to a second and third option without skipping a beat. The
other thing Utah does is repeat and repeat and repeat a
successful play....Sure, you have to stop Karl Malone and John
Stockton, but it's more important not to let their role players
hurt you....If you don't get back, they'll pick you apart, but
these days Stockton's more of a control guy on the break. What
you really have to watch in transition is the early post-up with
Malone. They set screens for him all over the place, and he
knows how to come off them. Keep him off the free throw line.
Make him finish plays in congestion without bailing him
out....The key to beating them is to maintain your poise. They
set a lot of illegal screens, and you play the whole game with
elbows in your back. Stockton's a grabber and a flopper, so be
aware of it....Everybody started doubling their pick-and-roll,
but Stockton found a way to split the double team and get to the
basket. And if your big guy drops off the picker, Malone will
step back and make that 17-footer. You have to keep doing
different things and try to mask what you're doing....Donyell
Marshall is a terrific fill-in player if his head's on right.
He's a perfect guy there because he doesn't want to carry a
team--can't carry a team--and with defenses keying on Malone, he
gets opportunities."

projected lineup
2000-01 record: 53-29 (second in Midwest)
Coach: Jerry Sloan (14th season with Jazz)

PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS

SF Donyell Marshall 13.6 ppg 7.0 rpg 1.6 apg 1.05 spg 50.3 FG%
PF Karl Malone 23.2 ppg 8.3 rpg 4.5 apg 1.15 spg 49.8 FG%
C John Amaechi[1] 7.9 ppg 3.3 rpg 0.9 apg 0.35 bpg 40.0 FG%
SG Bryon Russell 12.0 ppg 2.1 apg 4.2 rpg 1.23 spg 41.3 3FG%
PG John Stockton 11.5 ppg 8.7 apg 1.61 spg 50.4 FG% 46.2 3FG%

PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS

F Andrei Kirilenko (R)14.1 ppg 8.6 rpg 2.2 apg 60.2 FG% 63.9 FT%
G John Starks 9.3 ppg 2.4 apg 0.97 spg 39.8 FG% 35.2 3FG%
C Greg Ostertag 4.5 ppg 5.1 rpg 1.75 bpg 49.5 FG% 55.6 FT%
G John Crotty 2.1 ppg 1.1 apg 0.9 rpg 33.8 FG% 57.1 3FG%
F DeShawn Stevenson 2.2 ppg 0.7 rpg 0.5 apg 34.1 FG% 68.4 FT%

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics from Russian league)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 117)

"The key to beating them is to maintain your poise. They set a
lot of illegal screens."