Brad Rock: Jazz continue moving toward versatility in player positions

Published: Thursday, Oct. 8 2015 11:09 p.m. MDT

Jazz Head Coach Jerry Sloan laughs as he talks to members of the media.  (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Jazz Head Coach Jerry Sloan laughs as he talks to members of the media. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The musical note is in place, looking much like the one worn by Pete Maravich, Adrian Dantley, John Stockton and Karl Malone. But even though the new Jazz uniforms hark back to an earlier era, that's about the end of the similarities.

Introducing the multi-purpose, one-size-fits-all Utah Jazz of 2010-11.

The Jazz of old were one-dimensional and earthbound. The Jazz today are versatile and comparatively athletic. The Jazz of old had each guy at an assigned position, and they stuck there like gum to a movie theater floor. The Jazz of 2010 are — to use a musical metaphor — up and down the scale.

So here they come, the new and updated Jazz, working hard on their disruptive innovation. In business, that means breaking with the traditional model. In Jazz Land, it means having more guys do more stuff from unexpected places.

Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan with Karl Malone, Nov. 1989, in Salt Lake City, Utah.  (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan with Karl Malone, Nov. 1989, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Until recent years, the Jazz always had their guys, and they hung with what they did best. Malone was a power forward through and through. Though Stockton liked to joke that he could post up (he could, as long as the opponent was under 6-feet), he was never confused for a forward or even a shooting guard. Dantley, Thurl Bailey, Darrell Griffith, Jeff Malone, Mark Eaton, Jeff Hornacek, David Benoit — single position guys, one and all.

Fast forward to the 2010 Jazz, who open their season this Wednesday at Denver. They have 7-foot people who can shoot 3-pointers (Mehmet Okur) and play two positions (Francisco Elson, Al Jefferson). That's not just lip service, either.

They have rookie Gordon Hayward, who can pass, shoot, run, drive and is a forward who shoots like a guard. Andrei Kirilenko blocks shots, steals passes, plays three positions adroitly and has even filled in on rare occasion at point guard. This year the Jazz added hyper-athletic rookie Jeremy Evans.

Toss in C.J. Miles (two positions), Paul Millsap (two), and the all-around talent of Deron Williams, and you have a full service department store.

"I think they have been kind of headed down that road for a few years," said Raja Bell, who also played for the Jazz in 2003-05. "When I was in Phoenix, they started to get like that, and I definitely think we are now. Deron can do just about anything, he'll carry you, and guys like Andrei and C.J. are guys who can play two or three positions. All of our bigs can do a variety of things, so I think we're pretty well rounded with a group that can play different positions."

The Jazz aren't the only team doing so. Numerous other clubs have made players interchangeable to keep up with the demands of competition. Small wonder. What does a team do against Dirk Nowitzki, the 7-foot perimeter scoring specialist? LeBron James is 6-foot-8, has a Herculean body and brings the ball downcourt like a guard. He's a point guard/shooting guard/small forward/power forward ... and center in a pinch.

In bygone years, the Jazz's lack of versatility was glaring. Once someone fouled out or got injured, another who played the same position — except with less talent — took his place. Hence, Jerry Sloan, an old school guy of the first order, began adapting. He changed his offense enough that certain players could set up in different spots, added athleticism to the lineup and brought in multi-position players.

Contrary to his nature, Sloan even started playing rookies (Williams, Millsap, Ronnie Brewer, Wesley Matthews).

"He's flexible — flexible in his own way," said Bell. "Guys like that are always going to look like they're not flexible because they're tough and have a rough exterior."

Sloan, flexible? Really?

He doesn't often change his hat, much less his approach.

"In this business, you have to (adapt)," said Bell. "It's like technology. It advances and things change and I think (Sloan) is as good as any coach in the league, who is great under the old set of rules and great at making the changes."

Hence, the Jazz logo isn't the only thing that's evolving in Utah. You might see four "forwards" on the floor this season, three "guards" or two "centers."

Just don't tie them down to a position. That's so '80s.

Nowadays, Sloan just sends them in and lets the pundits decide what to call them.

e-mail: rock@desnews.com

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