Updated: Oct. 27, 2005, 7:34 AM ET

Jazz humming hopeful tune


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Where will the Utah Jazz finish in the Northwest Division and the Western Conference? Get 12 different takes from ESPN's NBA experts.


Chris Broussard ESPN Mag

If healthy all year, could make playoffs.
Ric Bucher ESPN Mag
They're not any quicker on the perimeter but Greg Ostertag has returned to improve their shot-blocking. Defense will remain a major problem.

John Carroll Scouts Inc.
Andrei Kirilenko is healthy, giving the Jazz a chance to slip into the playoffs. He's the key to the Jazz's success, with his length, defensive abilities and improving offense. Jazz get nice offensive contributions from Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer.
Chad Ford ESPN Insider
The Jazz might be the hardest team in the league to read this season. If Andrei Kirilenko is healthy, Mehmet Okur is in shape and rookie Deron Williams is able to solve their point guard woes, the Jazz could be sleepers in the West.
John Hollinger ESPN Insider
The talented frontcourt of Kirilenko, Boozer and Okur should give them a leg up in the playoff chase. If rookie Deron Williams improves the team's wretched point guard play from last year, Utah soars.
Scoop Jackson ESPN
Page 2


AK47 healthy will be the difference. Will Carlos Boozer become an All-Star?

Tim Legler ESPN Insider

See Item 7 for Legler's analysis of the Utah Jazz.

Eric Neel ESPN
Page 2

Boozer has something to prove, Kirilenko has something to prove, Okur has something to prove, Deron Williams has something to prove. They're going to make noise.
Jim O'Brien ESPN Insider
Jerry Sloan's team will out-execute anyone. However, a new tandem of rookie point guard Deron Williams and journeyman Milt Palacio must come along quickly to get them back in the playoff hunt.
Will Perdue ESPN Insider
This team will give opponents a run for the money every night. Carlos Boozer needs to play like he did in Cleveland, while Matt Harpring and Andrei Kirilenko must stay healthy. And Jerry Sloan needs to work a little magic.
Chris Sheridan ESPN Insider
Coming off their worst season in 24 years, the Jazz hope Kirilenko and Boozer stay healthy after combining to miss 72 games last season. The backcourt is among the league's weakest, but Jazz should win a few more than last season's 26.
Marc Stein ESPN.com
Instinct says a Jerry Sloan team can't have another season like last season. Then again, instinct told you a Sloan team would never go 26-56. So Utah is as tough as anyone to read this season.

Deron Maneuver
Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images
The Jazz' ability to get their groove back depends on rookie point guard Deron Williams' ability to get a handle on the NBA game.

Lineup Breakdown
ESPN The Magazine sizes up the Jazz roster:

Starters: If Kirilenko's playing, they can hang with anybody.
Now he knows what LeBron meant to his game.
Led NBA with 3.3 blocks per game. And he's a scorer.
His scoring averages in first three seasons: 6.9, 9.6 and 12.9.
Who is he? One of those Euros who can shoot (44 percent).
Starter for now. All-Star for the rest of his career.
Bench: Not much to work with. Matt Harpring, when he returns from offseason surgery, should be starting. But Greg Ostertag is right where he belongs.



ESPN The Magazine's NBA Preview hits newsstands Oct. 26.

Hollinger's Player Spotlight
Andrei Kirilenko
Player Efficiency Rating
vs. NBA Avg.: +9.45

Andrei Kirilenko is one of the game's most unique and underrated players, and it was his early-season knee injury that sent Utah's season into a tailspin. Kirilenko hasn't captured the fancy of legions of fans because he isn't a high-volume scorer or a great outside shooter. He's just very effective at taking advantage of his chances. Kirilenko's height and length allow him to finish in traffic and dunk over taller players. He's also fast, enabling him to get baskets in transition, and moves well without the ball to put himself in position for easy shots.

In addition, Kirilenko continues to hone his passing skills. His assist ratio wasn't anything special two years ago but last season, it was among the top five at his position. He needs more arc on his jumper and could use some post moves, but those are the only nits to pick about his game.

Defensively, Kirilenko is devastating, with incredibly long arms that he uses to contest shots. Kirilenko used those arms to lead the league in blocked shots, continuing an odd trend. For the past six seasons, the league leader in blocked shots has been 6-foot-10 or shorter. This era of short shot-blockers like Kirilenko and Ben Wallace is an anomaly. The leader has been 6-11 or taller in each of the preceding 25 seasons.

Less well-known is Kirilenko's ability to pilfer dribblers. He nearly led the team in steals, despite playing only 41 games. Overall, Utah gave up 8.3 more points per 48 minutes when he was off the court. Essentially, the Jazz were OK defensively as long as Kirilenko played but became the worst in the league as soon as he checked out.

Kirilenko lacks the strength of most power forwards, but he can play small forward alongside Boozer and shred opponents with his versatility. Alternatively, he can partner with Harpring in the frontcourt, where each covers the other's weaknesses. Harpring's muscle can protect Kirilenko from strength matchups, while Kirilenko's quickness can save Harpring from guarding speedy, small forwards. Regardless of how the Jazz line up, Kirilenko will be the centerpiece. His low-volume, high-percentage offense makes him unusual for an NBA superstar, but make no mistake: This is one of the 10 best players in the league.

-- Jazz player profiles from John Hollinger's "Pro Basketball Forecast: 2005-06," available at Amazon.com and Potomac Books.

Return Of The Masked Man
Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images
When not splitting defenses last year, Andrei Kirilenko was the sultan of swat, leading the league with 3.3 blocks per game.

SportsNation Speaks
The biggest reason Jazz fans have to get excited this year might be rookie point guard Deron Williams. We asked the fans of SportsNation what kind of season they expect from Williams:

How will Williams fare this season?
57.1% He'll be steady, but unspectacular
31.2% He'll prove a capable leader
11.6% He'll struggle with inconsistency

Vote: Jazz in 2005-06 | Results

Tim's Time
Andrei Kirilenko

Legs on Jazz: After years of deep playoff runs, two Finals appearances and 18 seasons of watching Stockton to Malone, Jerry Sloan doesn't want to go out coaching a bad team. He wants another shot at the postseason with a group he enjoys being around.

They could have been a playoff team last year if not for the early season knee injury suffered by Andrei Kirilenko.

This year, they are merely a good team that is capable of beating anyone on a given night. AK47, if he stays healthy, will be the defensive player of the year. It has been years since the NBA has seen a perimeter-oriented player display the all-around game-altering defensive prowess exhibited by Kirilenko.

Carlos Boozer, Matt Harpring, Mehmet Okur and Gordan Giricek will supply the remainder of the offense.

Rookie point guard and lottery selection Deron Williams (Illinois) will be given the reigns by midseason. He has the body, brains and game to be an All-Star one day. Until then, the Jazz will be mediocre, at best.

Tim Legler, ESPN Insider

Coach's Corner
Jerry Sloan
Experience: 20 years
Reg. season record: 943-617
Playoff record: 78-80
Coach's profile

Jerry Sloan's teams play the game hard and they execute as well as any team in the league.

Last year was a fluke because of injuries to Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer.

If Sloan can bring rookie point guard Deron Williams along quickly and point journeyman Milt Palacio in the right direction, the Jazz will better than .500.

Jim O'Brien, ESPN Insider

Hollinger's Q & A
Could they possibly foul any more?

Utah took the concept of playing physical to ridiculous lengths last season, giving away 200 more foul shots than any other team. That number becomes worse when one considers that the Jazz were one of the league's slowest-paced teams.

What's amazing is that no Utah player finished among the league leaders in fouls -- it was just a concerted, teamwide effort to hack the bejeezus out of its opponents any time they made a move to the basket. In previous seasons, that strategy was somewhat effective because officials allowed more contact on the perimeter. In the wake of last year's rules changes, however, it proved disastrous.

Because of all the freebies they gave away, the Jazz were the third-worst defensive team in basketball on a per-possession basis. This year, they need to adjust their game plan away from the American Gladiators style of play Sloan has been fond of in the past. Otherwise, the Jazz will remain a poor defensive team no matter how many shots Andrei Kirilenko blocks or balls Deron Williams steals.

More Hollinger Jazz analysis Insider

Fantasy Fix

Sleeper: Carlos Boozer gets a bad rap for how he left Cleveland, and for Utah's troubles last season, but don't blame him. Boozer wasn't Karl Malone, but 17.8 points and nine boards will do. He averaged 20-10 the first two months, and could do it all season now. His current draft position should be round three, but he keeps slipping beyond that.

Bust: Matt Harpring was a fantasy find last year, when he scored 14 points per game and made 55 starts. But Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko are healthy now, and they take the shots. Harpring, who offers fantasy help in points and shooting, and is capable of rebounds, is likely to see his role diminished enough to make him free agent fantasy fodder.

Eric Karabell | Fantasy Basketball Index



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