PROJECTEDSTARTING FIVE with 2006-07 statistics
This is an article from the Oct. 29, 2007 issue
C MEHMET OKUR
KEY BENCHPLAYERS: F Paul Millsap, G Gordan Giricek, F-G Matt Harpring, G Jason Hart*, GMorris Almond (R) *New acquisition (R) Rookie
Record: 51-31(5th in West) Points scored: 101.5 (7th in NBA) Points allowed: 98.6 (17th)Coach: Jerry Sloan (20th season with Jazz)
Deron williamsshould be satisfied with the run the Jazz made last season, when it won adivision title for the first time since 1999-2000 and reached the conferencefinals for the first time since '98. But if he were so easily satisfied, hewouldn't be the league's best young point guard.
Overshadowed byBracey Wright at The Colony High outside Dallas and by Dee Brown at Illinois,Williams had to deal with the massive specter of John Stockton when he arrivedin Utah. But just as he has in the past, he quickly made a name for himself."I like to prove the doubters wrong," says Williams, 23, who also tooka backseat to Rookie of the Year Chris Paul two seasons ago. "I do that bywinning because that's what a point guard is judged on. That's the mostimportant thing. I lost eight games in high school, 16 games in college. Idon't like to lose, whether it's on the court, playing cards, Ping-Pong. That'sthe way I've always been."
After the Spurseliminated the Jazz in five games, Williams lashed out at his teammates,telling reporters, "There were some guys who were already on vacation.Point-blank. On vacation. A long time ago."
No one could havemade that claim about Williams, who averaged 29.5 points and 9.3 assists andshot 53.7% in the first four games of the series. Still, he wishes he had kepthis thoughts to himself. "I was frustrated and probably should have held mytongue, but it was true," says Williams. "We need to change our focus.We can be a great team and get back to where we were, but it's going to take alot of hard work."
Despite thedeparture of backcourt partner and mentor Derek Fisher, Williams is confidentthat his returning teammates won't be making any vacation plans for beforeJuly. "We're a contender, and we're going to build on last year," saysWilliams. "Guys understand that now."
An opposingteam's scout sizes up the Jazz
Over the yearsJerry Sloan hasn't changed too much. The Jazz has the same 1-4 set they call"automatic"--wherever the pass goes they automatically go into thatplay, so they don't have to run a set route. That gives them fluidity and roomfor creativity. . . . What's new is that they have Mehmet Okur to spread thefloor with his shooting; before, Utah's big guys like Mark Eaton or GregOstertag only clogged up the middle. You can't just put a small forward onOkur¬†at the three-point line, because he's got enough game in the post tomake you pay. . . . Andrei¬†Kirilenko might have a better year becausethey're going to try to push the ball more, and that will get him going in theopen court. He's not the most skilled guy, so he can get lost in theirhalf-court system. . . . One thing that might hold the Jazz back is not havingMatt Harpring (right knee) available. He gives them another guy who can go intothe post off the weakside and cut into the middle. Plus, his toughness andleadership can't be replaced.
Deron Williamsraised his assists average from 4.5 per game (third among rookies) in 2005-06to 9.3 (second best in the NBA) last season, the biggest improvement of anyplayer in the league.
In his first playoffs, Williams showed he is an elite talent.