Utah Jazz: 4 big men give Jazz plenty of options — and tough decisions, too
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz's big man situation is either the team's biggest strength or its biggest quandary, depending on how you look at it.
Jazz opponents and coach Tyrone Corbin — not to mention those who mock the decisions of those who make the decisions — will have their work cut out for them as they try to manage Utah's loaded frontcourt.
After all, established veterans Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are a commanding presence on the court.
At the same time, potential-packed talents Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter command their presence on the court.
Corbin's smile always seems to brighten up when he discusses the depth of his power positions.
"Great group of big bodies," the coach said.
"Give me one team that wouldn't like to have the problem," Millsap added. "We're blessed to have a lot of bigs on our team. You never know what can happen."
Corbin isn't exactly giving over his game plan, either. Then again, he said things could change depending on several factors, including how players play, of course, and match-ups.
The media aren't allowed to watch practices (aside from the first 15 minutes, which usually is just stretching), but all four bigs have been spoken highly of during the first week of camp from people who've been in the gym when it matters.
"They know the competition's stiff. They respect each other's game," Corbin said. "It's been some really good play to watch. They all have their moments."
They all sound like they're on each other's side, too.
"We helping each other. Them guys pushing us and they learning from us," Jefferson said. "It's kind of like we helping each other to become a great set of bigs. My personal opinion is we got the best set of bigs in the league."
Jefferson has been lauded for his improved leg work, something he focused on this summer at the P3 performance lab in Santa Barbara, Calif.
With offensive skills sharp as ever, Jefferson's main focus is on the admittedly duller portion of his game. He wasn't just bitter about the Jazz being swept out of the playoffs last May. Big Al was upset about his personal defensive struggles, which explains his offseason emphasis on improved lateral movement.
"That's one of the things I'm working on, trying to get a little bit quicker, so I can be able to show on the pick and roll and get to my man," Jefferson said. "That's one of the things that hurt us in the playoffs last year. That's one of the things I worked on — get my legs back under me."
Corbin didn't hesitate to point out that Jefferson hasn't lost a step on his offensive game. The Jazz's leading scorer from a year ago (19.2 points per game) has kept his moves "polished," as Jefferson described it.
"Al on the post scoring is probably the most efficient guy," Corbin said.
The coach then added, "But the young guys are coming along."
Don't forget Millsap, either.
Entering his seventh season, the 6-8 workhorse kept up his trend of reporting back in terrific shape. As a bonus, the longest-tenured Jazz player has also stepped into a leadership role.
"Everybody knows what I can do," Millsap said. "But it's a league where you've still got to go out there and prove yourself every night, which is good. It keeps the chip on a lot of guys' shoulders. You've got to go out there and compete every night. If not, you will get exposed."
The only time Corbin is worried Millsap might occasionally get exposed is in possible Big Three lineup situations when he goes against quicker small forwards. The coach might use that curve-ball lineup again this season after experiencing success in short stretches with it last season, but Corbin made a point to say this about Millsap: "He's a four man and likes playing four."
Get Corbin talking about Millsap, and the compliments flow.
"He's in great shape. He's continued to be the pro that he's always been," Corbin said. "He's a little bit more vocal now than he was. He's comfortable with being one of the leaders on this team. He knows it's a big year for him."
Favors, boosted from his offseason training experience with the Olympic team, continues to push his elders while gradually improving his ability to score from the block. Corbin said the 6-10 Atlanta product is still trying to find a reliable go-to move, but credited him with making "some progress and polishing his moves on the post."
Jefferson even threw out the compliment, "Derrick Favors is a monster."
Though "Favzilla," the Jazz's best player in the playoffs last spring, could cut into Millsap's playing time and perhaps take over his role as starting power forward, the Utah veteran treats him like a teammate and not a competitor.
"With Derrick being who he is, being an extreme talent, he pushes me, he motivates me every day, and I do the same for him," Millsap said. "That's the good thing about it. In practices, they're very competitive. We're learning from each other, which is good. We've just got to continue to do that."
Millsap was happy to hear that Favors mentioned this summer how he was stealing low-post moves from both Big Al and the Louisiana Tech product.
"That's good. I'm very excited about that. I'm glad that he's doing that," Millsap said. "That means he's being a student of the game and he's trying to get better."
Millsap laughed and added, "A lot of my moves, they're patented, copyrighted."
Corbin sees improvement from Favors and Kanter, too.
"They're getting better and they're learning," he said. "They're in great shape. It's been a good competition to watch."
When his entertaining offseason antics aren't being discussed, Kanter's dramatic weight loss — 51 pounds overall but about 30 pounds less than last season — has been a popular camp topic.
Even after two months of a salad-and-seafood diet, the 20-year-old has apparently maintained power while increasing his speed and ability to explode.
"He's quicker. He's moving a lot quicker. He's off the floor a little faster and easier than he was before," Corbin said of the 6-foot-11, second-year center. "I don't think the weight loss hurt his big body inside, his power. The guys are still falling off of him. I think it's been a good thing for him. Two-forty-five may be a good weight for him."
So, how's it all going to sort out?
"You interview coach yet? That's the man over that. He know," Jefferson said. "I'm pretty sure he's going to do a good job of making sure everybody gets in."
Even with two young guys who need floor time to flourish, Corbin said the most important thing is to put combinations on the court that will help the Jazz succeed this season.
Over the summer, Favors said he wants increased playing time, whether it's in a reserve role or as a starter. It's quite possible the upped PT will happen, but Corbin didn't flinch when asked if he'll simply give Favors extra time to prepare him for the future. It should be noted that both Jefferson and Millsap will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, while Favors and Kanter have more time on their rookie contracts.
"What's best for the team now will end up being the best thing for him also, because he's still growing," Corbin said of 21-year-old Favors. "He's young. Enes is young. They're learning a lot. They have great guys to learn from, Al and Paul and Mo (Williams) and Marvin (Williams), veteran guys in this league. (They'll) do a great job of showing him things through the course of this year."
Jefferson acted like outsiders are more concerned about minutes distribution than those on the team.
The Jazz, he said, have something more important, more team-oriented, in mind for the 2012-13 season.
He'd consider the playoffs his payoff for watching guys like Kanter and Favors help the Jazz succeed.
"It's all about winning. If my minutes get cut and we winning, why would I complain? It's all about winning," Jefferson said. "I'd rather get my minutes cut and win than play a lot of minutes and lose. Right now at my point of my career, it's no more 'I' in team."
Making it redundantly clear that it's not about the Hokey Pokey or about whining, Jefferson added another time, "It's all about winning."
Big deal or dilemma?
C, 9th year
Minutes: 34.0 avg.
Points: 19.2 avg.
Rebounds: 9.6 avg.
PF, 7th year
Minutes: 32.8 avg.
Points: 16.6 avg.
Rebounds: 8.8 avg.
PF, 3rd year
Minutes: 21.2 avg.
Points: 8.8 avg.
Rebounds: 6.5 avg.
C, 2nd year
Minutes: 13.2 avg.
Points: 4.6 avg.
Rebounds: 4.2 avg.
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