Itâ€™s been three straight years out of the postseason for the Jazz after 20 consecutive appearances. That could change this year, though, if the teamâ€™s impressive frontcourt can stay healthy all season and second-year point guard Deron Williams shows some improvement. The Jazz have always been one of the more frustrating teams for fantasy purposes thanks to Jerry Sloanâ€™s unpredictable rotations, but he seems to be easing up on that. By the end of the season last year, Andre Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Williams were all playing big minutes, and thatâ€™s when the Jazz played its best ball. Will Sloan continue to give his best players the majority of the minutes? Thatâ€™s really the biggest question on this Jazz team that for the first time in a while has mostly very defined roles going into the season.
The Stud: Andrei Kirilenko, F
Donâ€™t yet give up hope on AK47 being a legitimate, top shelf fantasy stud. He got off to a rough start last year, missed 10 games in the seasonâ€™s first two months and missed 13 games overall. Yet he still finished an excellent 15/13 on the player rater. He was drafted 10th in our league last year, so he returned just slightly below average value. If youâ€™re looking for encouraging signs, here are a few. From Christmas on he was completely healthy, missing only the final two meaningless games. Jerry Sloan also loosened the reigns on Kirilenko, letting him play nearly 38 mpg, including 39 contests in which he played at least 40 minutes. Thatâ€™s a great sign, especially since Sloan has been notorious about being unpredictable with minutes, and Kirilenko averaged just 32.9 mpg in an injury-plagued 04-05. His block, assist and rebound rates were all right near his career highs. His scoring has gone down each of the past couple seasons, and while thatâ€™s not good, you donâ€™t count on AK47 for points. So he might be lucky to ever average 20 ppg â€“ so what? He simply gives a competitive advantage like none other â€“ maybe Josh Smith if he ever found consistency â€“ by blocking 3+ shots a game from the SF position. Only Shawn Marion has a more well-rounded fantasy game, and since Kirilenkoâ€™s value comes from blocks and steals, heâ€™s less prone than most players to slumps. Even when heâ€™s off, he can still give you three steals and three blocks. After two straight seasons in which his predicted super-breakout didnâ€™t happen, heâ€™s going to slip in drafts. You wonâ€™t need to spend a first round pick on him this year, nor should you with all the talent available at the top. But there may not be a better target in the second round than AK47 this year.
The Support: Mehmet Okur, FC
A simply fabulous season and he was likely one of the best draft day bargains last year. But really, heâ€™s just another data point for Minutes Matter Most. Sure, his scoring rate increased a bit, but all of his other rates â€“ with the notable exception of 3s â€“ were exactly at his career norms. Itâ€™s just that for the first time in his career Okur was given a starting job and left alone. Itâ€™s amazing what starting 82 games and averaging 36 minutes will do for your fantasy value. There were still a handful of those frustrating â€œSloan gamesâ€ where things just went terribly wrong and Okur played 15 minutes, but those were thankfully kept to about one per month. He finished 33/42 on the player rater, and was even more valuable than that because of his center eligibility. Okurâ€™s just 27, is in the middle of his big contract and has nobody to take many minutes away from him at center. The big question is whether he can continue to hit that 1 3pg to make up for his not even 1 bpg. Itâ€™s a trade off that can work, especially if you have another center with lots of blocks, or someone like Shawn Marion, Josh Smith, Gerald Wallace or the guy right above. Okurâ€™s a legitimate pick in the fourth round and as a top center. Last year might be as good as it gets, but thatâ€™s pretty damn good.
The Supporting Support: Carlos Boozer, FC
It was like he was never gone. After missing almost an entire seasonâ€™s worth of games, Boozer returned and played as well as he ever did, which is quite good. It took him a few weeks to return to the starting lineup, but the former Duke star started the final 19 contests and put up borderline insane numbers of 21/10/3 on 56% shooting with 1.1 steals and 0.4 blocks. It was good enough to get him at #21 on the player rater for the seasonâ€™s last month. Boozer is quite clearly the starting power forward for the Jazz this season and helps make up arguably the best starting front court in the league. We donâ€™t normally get too enamored with points/rebounds guys, especially when they are big men that block hardly any shots. But Boozerâ€™s shooting cannot be ignored. Heâ€™s a career 53% shooter from the field and has never been below 52% in his four seasons. He can be an anchor in FG%. As long as he stays healthy, thereâ€™s no reason to expect anything less than a 17/10 season from Boozer, along with great shooting. He and Okur are almost exactly even, and both even qualify at center.
The Sleeper: Deron Williams, PG
OK, so heâ€™s not Chris Paul. It might take Jazz fans a while to get over that fact, but Williams still had a fine rookie season, especially considering that he did it while playing for the never easy Sloan. A line of 10.8/2.4/4.5 is nothing to be ashamed of for a rookie PG, and his post-all-star break numbers of 13.2/2.3/5.5 with 1.7 3s on 47% from the field show what heâ€™s capable of. Williams earned the starting job just two weeks into the season, lost it after about a month and then went into a serious funk. Perhaps Sloan was trying to teach him a lesson by giving serious PT to journeymen Milt Palacio and Keith McLeod, but Williams never got going until March. Thatâ€™s when he absolutely caught fire from the field, including a remarkable 53% from long distance. He obviously has no chance of repeating that, but Williams will certainly hit his share of 3s, which he needs to do because his assist rate is relatively lackluster for a PG. Palacio and McLeod are gone, and with Derek Fisher likely to see as much time at SG as PG, Williams may actually have a chance to see 35 mpg. Itâ€™s worth remembering that Jerry Sloan is still the coach, and since those three guys above are going to get their minutes, if Sloan is going to mess around with anyone, it will likely be Williams. Itâ€™ll only take a late-round selection to land Williams, and any time you can land a legit starting PG late, itâ€™s never a bad idea.
The Slacker: Derek Fisher, G
Fisher has always been a solid role player and he hit one of the most memorable buzzer beaters in recent years, but thereâ€™s just no way that heâ€™s going to repeat being the 61st best player in fantasy. He was solid off the bench for the seasonâ€™s first half, and when Baron Davis had his usual late-season shutdown Fisher went into the starting lineup and probably helped put some fantasy teams over the top in the last month of the season, when he was the 31st best player. Fisher could end up with the starting SG job in Utah, but itâ€™s the one position the team has depth at, with Gordan Giricek and rookie Ronnie Brewer behind him. Fisher should also see some time at the point, but if heâ€™s mostly playing SG it should hurt his assist numbers, which have never been too strong for a PG. He had a career season at the age of 31 and banking on a repeat on a new team that doesnâ€™t score as much probably isnâ€™t a wise idea.
Double Dribbles: Matt Harpring gives it all he has, and is a gritty, high-percentage player, but he just doesnâ€™t do enough or play enough to merit much fantasy consideration. The 48% shooting is nice, but you need more than 10 shots per game for it to really mean anything â€¦ Gordan Giricek is like a poor manâ€™s version of Harpring. Which says about all you need to know right there â€¦ Ronnie Brewer is a rookie playing for Jerry Sloan. That should be enough to scare most folks away. Like many rookies, he might find himself with some value in the seasonâ€™s second half, but unless heâ€™s a revelation in the preseason itâ€™s hard to see him being worthy of a draft pick.
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