SALT LAKE CITY — If he wasn't before, Kevin O'Connor might have ended up on Al Jefferson's Christmas card list this past summer.
And it wasn't because he stepped down as Jazz general manager.
Far from it.
Rather, Jefferson is grateful O'Connor addressed a serious need of the Jazz's in the offseason.
Especially from outside.
"That's something we did struggle with last year," Jefferson said, "and they fixed that problem."
Don't worry, fans. The solution wasn't to give Jefferson the green light from 23 feet out.
By adding three veterans with proven shooting touch, the Jazz hope the additional firepower will force opposing defenses to stretch out.
Utah saw more than its fair share of zones and defenders sagging down last year, so Jefferson might add Mo Williams, Marvin Williams and Randy Foye to his Christmas card list if their shooting helps reverse that disturbing trend.
If the Jazz's plan pans out, space should be cleared up for Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter to do their thing down low.
Coach Tyrone Corbin will maintain an inside-out offensive philosophy like his predecessor, Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan, but he hopes defenses will be kept honest instead of cheating on Utah's bigs.
"Any time you've got shooters, guys got to pick and choose their poison," Jefferson said. "If you double, I've got to do a good job of getting the ball out, swing-swing, and get the open shots."
Overall, last season the Jazz outshot opponents (45.6 percent to 45.3), but Utah struggled for the most part from long range, hitting only 32.3 percent of its 3-pointers compared to 34.0-percent shooting by its foes.
The Jazz's best long-ball shooter from a year ago, Raja Bell, remains placed on perma-hold as his camp and the organization have decided its best to keep him away from the team until a contract resolution can be worked out for the disgruntled guard.
But the Jazz brought in three guys who can light it up from deep.
Both Williamses shot 38.9 percent from 3-point range last season, while Foye hit 38.6 percent. The oft-injured Bell shot 39.1 percent from long range, and now-departed Devin Harris shot 36.2 percent. Regular swingmen C.J. Miles (30.7) and Josh Howard (24.3) were spotty at best.
Along with an influx of three reliable shooters, the Jazz are counting on better outside production from Gordon Hayward, who shot well until the playoffs. Alec Burks and an improving DeMarre Carroll have shown they can throw in a surprise dagger from afar. Millsap has the ability to step back and fire away on occasion as well.
Even Enes Kanter and Jeremy Evans hope to better showcase their mid-range games.
"I think everybody knows we can all shoot. We know we can all shoot," said potential starting small forward Marvin Williams, whose career-best 3-point year brought his seven-year outside average to 32.7 percent. "So when the opportunity presents itself, we have to step up and knock them down."
Added Hayward: "It's good that we've got these shooters. We've got to use them now."
Corbin is curious to see how the added shooters interact with the Jazz system. Whether they make shots or not is less important than the right players taking the right attempts from the right spots, and doing so with confidence. The same go-with-the-offensive-flow rules apply to the returning players, too.
"Any time you bring in guys that have shot well their whole careers, that's a good thing," Hayward said. "We've got to shoot shots if we want to make them, so there were times when we didn't really get up many shots. That's difficult if you want to shoot a good percentage."
Even with added and possibly improved shooters, the Jazz aren't just going to treat games like 3-point-shooting contests. Corbin insists the outside attack will happen naturally and won't be forced.
"It's going to help us out a lot because we're a team that likes to pound it down, likes to get easy buckets in the lane," Millsap said. "If we've got guys out there that can shoot, especially for us (big guys), that'll make it a lot easier on us and help our team out a lot.4 comments on this story
"Thus far, we've seen an abundance of shooters, Mo; Marvin Williams has been stroking it pretty good. Burks has been working on his jump shots. Guys like that will help open the floor for us."
And that's something that makes Big Al smile.
"I think it's just going to help me out big time," Jefferson said. "Once again, the GM did a great job of getting shooters around."
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