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Jazz's Williams ready to teach Jefferson new system

Published September 29, 2010 1:27 pm

Jazz • Point guard tries to help teammates, especially center Jefferson, learn Utah's system.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Deron Williams is willing to be the teacher.

The Utah Jazz point guard has devoted five years to the system. Five years spent trading picks for points and dishing out assists while opponents try to figure out what exactly is going on with the Jazz's screen-heavy offense after another play has already passed them by.

Now, Williams is ready to teach. Rookies Gordon Hayward, Ryan Thompson and Jeremy Evans require serious schooling. But Williams' prized pupil is Utah's biggest and most important offseason acquisition: center Al Jefferson.

"I'm going to constantly talk to him and work him through it," said Williams, following the Jazz's first training camp workout Tuesday at the team's practice facility. "We definitely have to get an understanding and get a feel for each other — where each other is going to be on the court — because that's what me and [Carlos Boozer] had. … I'm going to figure that out with Al. I'm going to figure out where his favorite areas are, where he's best at, and work from there."

The work has begun.

While the Jazz ran through a light morning session — initiated by player introductions and focused on conditioning and basic plays — Williams tipped off a 29-day long training camp by first engaging Jefferson in simple conversation.

Williams brought up the pick-and-roll sets Utah's offense has long been based upon. Jefferson replied that he's not too fond of catching lob passes. Williams responded: No problem — I'll use bounce passes.

Lesson accomplished. Move on.

"We've got several guys that are in the same boat," Williams said. "As a team, we've just got to come together, work together. But it's not going to be a problem at all."

Jefferson spent the first six years of his career racking up big numbers while thriving on an old-school, low-post game. He would catch the ball, back down his defender, work for positioning, and then choose from a number of moves that made the 6-foot-10, 265-pound then-power forward one of the premier in-the-paint players in the NBA.

But that was 2004-10. When Jefferson was a scorer first, passer second. And when the position that preceded his name was forward, not center.

A new year and a new team have brought change for Jefferson. He has been slotted as Utah's 5, teaming with power forward Paul Millsap to form an agile-but-thick-bodied duo that could evolve into one of the most fearsome in the league.

But evolution takes time. Williams is willing to take it slow. Jefferson is ready to learn.

Big Al even accepted his first teaching moment Tuesday. Beginning the day by wanting to be 100 percent perfect, Jefferson was informed by Williams and the Jazz's coaches that errors are allowed.

"You can't be perfect, you know what I'm saying?" Jefferson said.

He added: "The first thing they told me was, 'It's OK to make mistakes. It's new for you.' "

Veteran Jazz guard Raja Bell — who has played for and against Utah — said that the Jazz's offense is a specialized, unique creation. Moving pieces and on-the-fly reads require cerebral players with high basketball intelligence.

"It's fun to play in. It sucks to play against," Bell said. "It's a hard, difficult system to guard."

But Jefferson believes he already has an advantage. Like Bell, he has suited up against Utah in the past. And since Jefferson's former team, Minnesota, played the Jazz at least four times per season from 2007-10 due to a shared division, Utah's newest center feels like he is already ahead of the class.

"The thing is, I've been going against this offense for so long, it should be easy for me," Jefferson said.

However, the most respected teacher in the organization stressed that Jefferson's acclimation will be dictated by three of the standard lessons of life: repetition, time and patience.

"Continuity is hard to develop overnight. Especially in basketball," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "Some guys — the great, great, great players — they can probably adapt to anything. But sometimes it takes a lot of work. We've worked with a lot of guys that have made themselves better. You just keep working every day. It's all I know."

bsmith@sltrib.com Twitter: tribjazz —

Daily Jazz

What happened • The Jazz held their first practice Tuesday morning as part of the team's 29-day training camp for the 2010-11 season. Utah will hold twice-a-day workouts through Friday.

Who shined • Jazz coaches said no one stood out, primarily because the team focused on conditioning and basic offensive plays.

Of note • Rookie Gordon Hayward participated in his first official NBA practice. Hayward acknowledged being nervous at the start, but soon calmed down. "I'm just trying to soak it all up," Hayward said.

Offbeat • Jazz coach Jerry Sloan on whether his team was in shape: "I'd say in shape for shaking hands." Check The Tribune's Jazz Notes blog at sltrib.com/Blogs/jazznotes for exclusive news, interviews and analysis. —

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O Check The Tribune's Jazz Notes blog at sltrib.com/Blogs/jazznotes for exclusive news, interviews and analysis.