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Friday, April 30, 2010
Misunderestimating the offensively-challenged big man

By Kevin Arnovitz

SALT LAKE CITY -- Johan Petro will be the starting center for Denver in Game 6, as Nene sits out with a sprained left knee. In theory, that swap should provide the Jazz the same break the Nuggets supposedly got when Mehmet Okur was lost for the series and the untested Kyrylo Fesenko took his place in the starting lineup.

Only it hasn't worked out that way exactly.

Fesenko has had his ups and downs in this series. He's shot well in his limited opportunities from the field (8-for-13) and hit a couple of big free throws down the stretch in Game 4. But he's also been a turnover machine -- third in turnover rate among postseason players behind only Kendrick Perkins and Erick Dampier. How have the Jazz played overall when Fesenko is holding down the middle?

Exceptionally well.

When Fesenko is on the floor, the Jazz are giving up a respectable 106.6 points per 100 possessions. When he's not out there, they're hemorrhaging a whopping 120.1 points per 100 possessions. Though Nene can occasionally be his own worst enemy by failing to capitalize on generous opportunities in the half court, Fesenko's presence is one reason why the Nuggets were unable to leverage Nene's athleticism into meaningful results.

With Petro as his primary matchup in Game 6, Fesenko should have the luxury to roam more and act as general basket protector against the Nuggets' attacking offense, right?

Not so fast, says Fesenko.

You can't completely write off a player like Petro just because he doesn't have the offensive profile a guy like Nene has. The reason Fesenko knows this?

He's that guy -- the one you leave to help on a much better player:
I'm not going to underestimate him. I know what it's like when the players underestimate you. You get easy baskets. That's how my baskets are actually [scored]. All my baskets.

Petro has a fairly decent face-up jumper. He shot 17-for-37 (46 percent) from between 10 feet the the arc this season and has the athleticism to dive to the basket behind the Jazz defense if they ignore him altogether.

A Fesenko-Petro matchup isn't the stuff that drives audiences to the NBA, but how much each defense is willing to play off the opposing center to help out on the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer and Chauncey Billups should be interesting to watch.