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Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Updated: October 8, 10:36 AM ET
Jefferson, Millsap unaffected by Okur

By Tom Carpenter
Special to ESPN.com

30 Questions

How will the return of Mehmet Okur affect the production of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap?

Mehmet Okur ruptured his left Achilles tendon April 17. He underwent surgery to repair the damage, and the Jazz currently don't expect him back in the mix until late December or January. In the meantime, Carlos Boozer signed with the Chicago Bulls as a free agent and the Jazz acquired Al Jefferson from the Minnesota Timberwolves. All that player movement put Paul Millsap in a starting role at power forward next to Jefferson at center. Before deducing what effect Okur might have in the second half of the season, we'll have to determine what we should expect from the brand-new frontcourt we'll see on opening night.

Boozer left behind about 14 shots and 34 minutes per game last season, during which he averaged 19.5 points and 11.2 rebounds. Jefferson has averaged as much as 23.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and hovered just below 50 percent from the field as the go-to guy in Minnesota. It would be shocking if he got anywhere near the 19.5 shots per game it took to get that 23.1 ppg before his knee injury, but he's a year healthier now and the move away from the hapless Wolves to the steady Utah Jazz will boost his efficiency around the rim. I think he may well shake off the injury-prone label in his new digs and average about what we got out of Boozer last season, plus a career high in blocks.

Paul Millsap
Paul Millsap has always produced when given big minutes, so he should start the season strong.
What does that leave for fantasy darling Millsap? For a brief moment after Boozer left and before Jefferson headed west, Millsap was poised to explode this season. Keep in mind that in eight games as a starter last season, Millsap averaged 15.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 1.6 block, 50.5 percent shooting from the field and 78.1 percent from the line. And two seasons ago, he averaged 18.6 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.9 steals, 1.3 blocks, and 58.9 and 68.9 percent shooting from the field and line, respectively, in 12 December games. With Jefferson running next to him, though, we'll have to wait for an explosion. While we may see a month or two like the final set of stats, especially if Jefferson can't stay healthy, odds are last season's starter averages will be more indicative of what's to come. That's still pretty solid production, particularly the hustle stats like steals and blocks.

What will Okur be capable of upon his return from a major injury? I view a ruptured Achilles like a torn ACL, in that I don't expect the player to be near full speed until the following season. I feel the same way about Okur. It's hard to expect a 31-year-old big man who is recovering from a significant injury to force his way into extra playing time. On top of the health issues, Okur already was seeing a reduced role last season, as the 29 minutes per game he averaged were at least four fewer than any other season with the Jazz.

Barring injuries, I fully expect Jefferson and Millsap to come out of the gate strong and stake a claim as one of the better frontcourts in the West. If that comes to fruition, an aging, damaged Okur will be limited to a reserve role, seeing extra minutes based on matchups.

Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.