In my opinion, I feel like the Utah Jazz are getting an upgrade in Al Jefferson and if he lives up to his potential (remember, he’s only 25 years old) this Jazz team could potentially be a Western Conference Finals contender. Carlos Boozer was completely at home in the flex offense, and was probably a better rebounder and passer, but Jefferson is bigger. Out west, size matters. Also, Jefferson has averaged over 20 ppg while shooting close to 50 percent with a bevy of third-string point guards and combo guards running the show in Minnesota over the past three seasons. Now, he’s playing with arguably the best point guard in the Association who loves to pass. And let’s not even get into coaches. Jerry Sloan is easily a top-5 coach. He’s a Hall of Famer. No question Jefferson will benefit from Sloan’s greatness. Jefferson is a certified 20 and 11 and will probably shoot in the high 55-58 percentile this year.
Now, if he can use his size on defense, I think the Jazz have the potential to be better this season than last (as long as injuries don’t bite them too hard). Sure, they lost a lot of wing depth when Portland stole away Wes Matthews, and the Bulls (along with Boozer) swooped up Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer.
But the additions of Raja Bell, Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans have the potential to offset those losses, if not immediately, then certainly in the future. The hope is also that the maturation process of young guys like CJ Miles and potentially Othyus Jeffers or Ryan Thompson continues.
I get the line of thinking from Utah brass—Hayward is the new Korver, Evans is the new freak athlete, and Bell is the steady, defensive-minded, three-point shooter replacing Matthews. I like the mix. Even if Evans and Hayward are in fact, a year or two away.
Though Bell has only played in 73 games over the past two seasons, he’s maintained his ability to shoot lights out beyond the three-point line (around 43 percent). While he may not be the elite defender he used to be, and he’s certainly not the athletic defender and steals machine that Ronnie Brewer was, Bell is far more of an offensive threat and will hold his own playing scrappy defense sans gambling. With Andrei Kirilenko, Bell and Deron Williams, this Jazz team could be a much improved defensive squad.
Evans has the potential to be something really special, especially in a system that creates easy looks for him. With Bell on the floor, you can play Evans at the three and not worry about a lack of outside shooting. Evans will be free to slash and crash the glass. And he’s an excellent rebounder who is currently tied for the team high with Jefferson thus far in preseason (in 18 less minutes too).
Now, don’t get me wrong, Matthews is a very nice player, but at nearly $7 million per season for the next five, not sure he lives up to that contract. He shot well last year, played solid defense, and learned how to fit in, but is he really $1.2 million better than Trevor Ariza (for that matter, Lamar Odom makes $8 million)? Ariza is at least equal defensively, a far better athlete and pick-pocket, and just as good, if not better, of a spot-up shooter, evidenced by his 41 percent from beyond the arc post all-star break (after Kevin Martin joined the Rockets). And the two are separated in age by a single year, though it should be noted that Ariza has six years in the L to Matthews’ one.
Speaking of Ariza, I think he’s going to have a bounce back season. After the Rockets acquired Martin, Ariza blew up and once again became the ultimate glue guy. Every single statistic except ppg, went up or improved in efficiency. With Chris Paul running the show in New Orleans, David West the clear-cut second banana, and Emeka Okafor providing a relevance in the post, Ariza will have the freedom to roam the range.
He’s going to put up about the same averages, it’s just that everything will be done at a more efficient clip. I think 14 ppg, 7 rpg, 3 assists, 2.2 steals and a block while shooting 47 percent is very realistic.