And the winners of the Utah Jazz's quarter-annual awards — who would receive Quarter Pounders if this column actually had a prize budget — go to:
5. Biggest surprise: Paul Millsap
This Louisiana Tech product is used to being overlooked, so he might've been laughing as everybody — from Jazz fans to media to the NBA All-Star ballot committee — did just that this offseason. Proving that many people have short memories and not nearly enough faith in his abilities, the man who racked up 19 double-doubles while filling in for Carlos Boozer two seasons ago has more than adequately replaced him this year. He's been a steady force at power forward for Utah, averaging 18.4 points and 8.4 rebounds. Heck, Millsap even leads the team in 3-point shooting percentage (.571) — a fact fans just might remind LeBron James and Miami of when they visit Wednesday.
4. Most Valuable Newcomer: Al Jefferson
Rookie Jeremy Evans is the best new dunker. Twenty-year-old Gordon Hayward is the best new tweeter (@gordonhayward). And the thirtysomething group of veterans the Jazz acquired in the summer —Raja Bell (34), Francisco Elson (34) and Earl Watson (31) — have certainly contributed. But none of the new guys have made as big of a difference as Big Al. He was expected to do big things, and for the most part Jefferson has — even while learning how to fit in a new system, how to play well with others (read: pass) and how to win again. It remains to be seen if he can provide his powerful punch on a consistent basis — especially when Mehmet Okur returns.
3. X-factor: The bench
C.J. Miles has been a bit hit-and-more-miss, but he's had his moments. Right, Portland? And Toronto, eh? Those offensive explosions — in which Miles sank a combined 12 3-pointers — aren't the biggest story off the bench. The energy and life from the reserves in many of the comebacks and other wins has been a fun phenomenon to watch. Call 'em Spark & Spunk, the Hustle & Bustle Bunch, the Cavalry Crew or none of the above, but Earl Watson, Ronnie Price, Miles, Francisco Elson and Kyrylo Fesenko have made enough of an impact that they deserve to share a Best Supporting Actors honor. Of course, Hollywood might be more willing to jump all over that award action had they not helped the Jazz rally back from a 19-point deficit against Tinsel Town's favorite team.
2. Story of year so far: The Comeback Club
Who knew what coming from 18 down to beat the Clippers in double-OT would spark? The Jazz haven't just one-upped that comeback win — they've (thumbs up) seven-upped it. They made modern NBA history — as opposed to biblical NBA history? — by rallying to win after trailing by double digits at halftime three games in a row. That had never happened in the shot-clock era (since 1954) until Utah did it against the Clippers, Heat and Magic. In all, the Jazz have fought back to win eight times after trailing at some point by double digits (and by a combined 128 points). Incredibly, they've mounted big comebacks in six road victories. How rare is that? So rare nobody has ever tracked the stat to determine if it's a record or not. But the never-give-up spirit is the main reason Utah leads the Northwest Division with a 15-6 record.
1. Team MVP: Deron Williams
This would fall into the category of asking no-brainer questions like: "Does the sun rise in the east?" and "Is the sky blue?" But it's been far too hazy in Smog Lake City to verify those facts. Deron Williams' contributions are much clearer to see. His passing has been superb at 10.0 assists per game, and he's leading the Jazz in scoring with 21.6 ppg. He also has a pair of game-winning drives, innumerable game-winning contributions and the distinction of being the NBA's Western Conference player of the month. Not sure if that comes with a parking spot, but it should.
A look at Jazz opponents for the next seven days:
Today vs. Grizzlies, 7 p.m., FSN
Since tying Utah for the NBA Preseason Championship at 8-0 in exhibition, Memphis has tallied 8 wins — and 12 losses
Wednesday vs. Heat, 7 p.m., FSN
Newly dubbed "Lyin' King" makes first Utah trip since Sundiata Gaines and Paul Millsap spoiled some would-be wins.
Friday vs. Magic, 7 p.m., FSN
Another comeback victim visits, well, unless the entire Orlando team ends up in the sickbay between now and then. es Dwight Howard — and maybe no
Saturday at Mavericks, 6:30 p.m., FSN
Dallas did something only three other teams have managed this season — win after taking a double-digit lead on Utah.
The BIG stat: 142
That's how many more points the Utah Jazz have scored than their opponents while C.J. Miles has been on the floor this season. The sixth-year small forward leads Utah in the plus/minus rating and is ranked No. 13 in the NBA.
Who's Hot: Deron Williams
All-Star is just fourth Jazz player to receive player of month honors
Who's Not: Ronnie Price
Had 10 points vs. Bucks but only 3 combined vs. Clippers, Pacers, Mavs
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