Liz Martin, Deseret Morning News
Utah's Deron Williams has become a vocal leader for the Jazz on the court. He's led Utah to a 5-2 record entering tonight's home game against the Kings.

Taking off down the floor for a game-winning basket without fretting over whether his coach wanted a timeout, as he did last Wednesday against Cleveland, is but one example.

Dishing a backward pass between his legs to power forward Carlos Boozer on a fastbreak, as he did in the same game against LeBron James and Cavaliers, is another.

They are things Jazz point guard Deron Williams might have dreamed about doing as a rookie but didn't dare.

"I think he would have had the confidence two years ago," Boozer said when asked about the coast-to-coast winner sans a timeout. "I just don't know if he would have (done) it."

Yet now he doesn't think twice.

"That," said Boozer, who was on the receiving end of a pick-and-roll pass from Williams for the game-winner last Friday night at Seattle, "is part of how much he's grown."

Has he ever.

Ask just how much, and the eyes of Jazz teammates light bright.

"Are you kidding me?" Boozer asks. "It's like night and day."

"It's his confidence right now," backup center Jarron Collins adds. "He's comfortable in the system, he knows the system. He has a feel, a great feel, for the game. And he picks his spots where he just takes over — making great passes, making great plays, knocking down the big shots."

Shots not just like the layup under and around 7-foot-3 Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, but also like the baseline jumper he hit with the 24-second clock winding down and Utah trailing by two in the late going of Friday's win over the Sonics, and those like the seven he hit on eight attempts while scoring 16 points in the fourth quarter alone of a home victory earlier this month against Golden State.

Even when his shot isn't falling, like when he opened just 1-of-7 in the first half against Cleveland, Williams trudges on as if nothing is bothering him.

"He didn't shy away from (shooting) in the second half. He kept going to it," teammate Matt Harpring said the morning after that game against the Cavs, one that Williams admitted personally was "horrible"" save for his last-second heroics. "And you've got to have that confidence — which is definitely a growth. I don't know if he had that his first year or even beginning of last year."

Reasons abound for the point's sky-high confidence as the 5-2 Jazz, winners now of three straight, prepare to face Sacramento tonight at EnergySolutions Arena.

Harpring cites Williams' relative success in the playoffs last season, when the Northwest Division champion Jazz advanced to face eventual NBA champ San Antonio in the Western Conference finals.

Then there's his sense of belonging after playing for USA Basketball this past offseason in the Olympic-qualifier FIBA Tournament of the Americas in Las Vegas.

"It was good for him," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said of the Vegas experience, which makes Williams a candidate to represent the United States at the 2008 Summer Olympics in China. "He seemed to enjoy being there."

More than those two matters, though, what seems to have Williams going so strong this season is a simple continuation of what started last season — when he no longer was sharing time with the likes of no-longer-in-the-league Keith McLeod and Milt Palacio.

"A lot less to worry about," Williams said. "(Don't have to) worry about if I'm gonna play the 1 (point) or the 2 (shooting guard), or if I'm gonna play at all, or if I'm gonna play the third quarter and not the fourth quarter.

"I feel like it's a totally different situation," added Williams, who is averaging not only 21.0 points and 10.4 assists in seven games so far this season but also 38.3 minutes per game — nearly 10 more minutes than as a rookie."You know, Coach (Sloan) has complete trust in me now — so I can go out there and just play basketball. I can mess up. I can have (seven turnovers) in the first three quarters (as was the case against Cleveland), and still be in there."

As for the issue of "total trust," Sloan steers clear from the suggestion.

Ask the coach if Williams indeed has his, and the response instead veers into a practical soliloquy on the undisciplined and turnover-plagued play of the Jazz offense.

Ask Sloan specifically about Williams' growth, though, and he does acknowledge it.

"He has a pretty good package to start with for a third-year (player). He's gotten better. He got better last year. ... He's a pretty competitive basketball player," Sloan said, "and hopefully he'll continue to work at it to make himself better, because teams will learn how to take certain things away from you, and you've got to learn how to take that next step."

Boozer, meanwhile, goes so far as to suggest the No. 3 overall selection from the 2005 NBA Draft is playing well beyond his years.

"He's in his third year," the Jazz power forward said of the 23-year-old University of Illinois product, "and he plays like he's been in the league for eight years. So, it's gonna be scary to see what he's doing when he's in his eighth season."

Increasingly improved instinctual play is what Boozer sees as the biggest boost to Williams' game.

"That's part of being a basketball player," he said. "You've got to kind of read the defense and play off your instincts. You can't always be a robot out there. That doesn't work for everybody.

"That's the good thing," Boozer added, "about having a team that's been together for a little bit. ... We know what each other wants to do, and we can play more without having to think as much. Obviously you still have a lot of strategic things you have to go on throughout a game to win the game. But we can play now, more fluidly."

The Jazz do, oiled by a point sometimes asked to balance the truth with saying what's right.

So, Williams was queried, would he indeed have taken off without looking back as a rookie?

"Uhhhhh ... ," Williams said with as much hesitation as he's shown all season, "probably not."

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