MILWAUKEE Jerry Sloan won't call the race.
But with three of eight precincts reporting, the Deseret Morning News is prepared to project a winner.
After Ronnie Brewer scored a game-high 28 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the field in a 92-78 preseason victory Saturday night at Milwaukee, it's looking more and more like Brewer will win the Jazz's vacant starting shooting-guard post.
Moreover, postgame indications were that Jazz management has decided to pick up the $2.72 million third year, 2008-09 season option on Brewer's rookie contract.
Yet even after a fourth quarter in which the University of Arkansas product scored 20 of his points and made seven of his nine field shots, marking his third straight double-digit game three outings into an eight-game exhibition schedule, Sloan wasn't willing to say Brewer is his guy.
"I don't think we have a 2 guard yet," the Jazz coach said after Utah improved to 2-1 in the preseason, including a two-game split with the Bucks. "We're still working at it."
Sloan even hastened to point out that most of the 2006 lottery pick's work Saturday was done from the small-forward position, not shooting guard.
But reality is that the 2 and 3 are interchangeable within the Jazz's offensive system.
And after scoring his 28 points in only 25 minutes just one night after he had a game-high 18 points in 21 minutes in a win at Detroit, and only three nights after he shot 6-for-8 en route to a game-high 17 points in Utah's first meeting with Milwaukee Brewer had made quite a convincing case that he can play alongside starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko.
"He (Brewer) played the best basketball at the 2 spot," starting point guard Deron Williams said. "He looks more comfortable than anybody right now. He's playing aggressive, he's playing good on the both ends of the floor and he's been real efficient. He's playing good basketball right now."
Two of the Jazz's other top contenders, meanwhile, both struggled with their shot against the Bucks.
Rookie Morris Almond, making his first preseason start, went a scoreless 0-for-6. Veteran Gordan Giricek came off the bench for a third straight game and made just one of eight.
Still, after learning Sloan hadn't declared a winner yet, Williams wasn't prepared to do so either. Neither was Brewer himself, though the 22-year-old seemed quite sure he can get the job done.
"The race will be all the way to the end of the season so I can't worry about who else is vying for that position," he said. "I can only take care of what I do out there, play solid on defense and offense, and try to make plays to help this team win."
And, Brewer added, "I feel like if I get the opportunity, I'll try to make the most of that opportunity."
He certainly did Saturday, opening the fourth quarter by hitting a 16-foot jumper, then giving the Jazz the lead for good with two free throws that made it 74-73 with just fewer than seven minutes to go.
His highlight period also included four steals he finished with five total and three high-flying dunks, two of them initiated by his own nabs.
The impetus? Confidence, chiefly.
"You got confidence, you can do a lot of things," Brewer said. "When I'm out there, guys are looking for me when I come off the screens. I'm using the pick-and-roll, looking for other people. It allows you to play and be real confident. And once you have a lot of confidence out there, guys feed off that, and they start making plays and that's what we did in the fourth quarter.
"Once you go to the basket, hit a couple layups, get fouled a couple times, get easy points at the free-throw line, your confidence goes up," he added. "You start coming off screens a little tighter, looking for the jump shot."
That confidence, Sloan suggested, stems from old-fashioned hard work that has helped Brewer transform his body into a bigger, stronger look.
Still with five exhibition games still to go, including Monday's visit to Phoenix the Jazz coach remains reticent to pencil in anyone at the position left vacant when Derek Fisher left for the Los Angeles Lakers."He (Brewer) has the athletic ability to be a very good defender, and it's up to him how good of a defender he wants to be," Sloan said. "If scoring overtakes that, I think that can be a little bit of a hindrance at times."
E-mail: [email protected]