Utah Jazz gear up for Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson
Atlanta •Â One was quiet and hard-nosed, with a work ethic that made him a fan favorite for seven seasons in Utah. The other was a big scorer with a big personality and a shaky defensive resume.
But one thing Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson had in common: they both had to go.
For some time, the Jazz had eyed summer 2013, when Millsap and Jefferson's deals expired, as a chance to start fresh with maximum flexibility. And after falling just short of the playoffs last season, leaving some in the organization believing that particular squad had hit its ceiling, the Utah Jazz pressed the reset button.
The new-look Jazz will see three of the seven free agents who walked away from Utah last summer over the weekend, headlined by Millsap and the Atlanta Hawks on Friday and Jefferson's Charlotte Bobcats one night later.
"It's just the way things worked out," Jazz coach Ty Corbin said. "I always think that any team from year to year has room to grow if they can stay together. [But] we decided it was best for us to go in a different direction."
Jefferson and Millsap have been the winners based on early returns. Millsap is averaging better than 16 points a night as a starter for a Hawks team that currently sits in third place in the East. Jefferson's Bobcats are also in playoff position.
The Jazz find themselves nine games off the Western Conference's eight spot a quarter of the way through the year. But Utah believes it will come out better in the long run, and Corbin and his players thank Jefferson and Millsap for some of that.
"Staying behind them [on the depth chart] helped me out a lot," Jazz starting center Derrick Favors said. "I wouldn't be the player that I am right now if I didn't play behind those two."
Favors, who is recording 13.7 points and 9.2 rebounds a night in his first year as a starter, credited Millsap with helping him understand what it took to succeed at the highest level.
"He helped me realize I need to be a better basketball player," Favors said. "I was a good athlete, but there was stuff I needed to work on to be a good basketball player."
He added, "I learned that I needed to develop my offensive game more than I thought I needed to. In the past, I [would] just get a ball and try to dunk or just try to run through people or whatever. Playing behind those guys, I realized I need to work on my free-throw line extended jump shot, face-up game, all that stuff."
Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward, meanwhile, couldn't help but smile when thinking about a matchup of Enes Kanter and Jefferson on the low block Saturday night.
Despite the fact that Kanter seemed likely to replace him, Jefferson took to the young, Turkish center immediately.
"I remember right after Memo [Okur] left, me and Al were just like brothers," Kanter said. "He taught me a lot. Not just on the court, not just basketball stuff, everything."
When Jefferson signed his deal with Charlotte, he sent Kanter a text message telling him he would "be great." Later that summer, the two worked out together in Santa Barbara, Calif.
"We were joking, 'I'm gonna dunk on you' and 'I'm gonna block your shot,'" Kanter said. "I'm looking forward to going against him."
Having battled with the two veterans in practice, Favors said he's better prepared to handle the difficulties of an NBA season. His next tasks: taking on Millsap and Jefferson.
"Paul can score in a lot of ways. â¦ He's just a hard working guy," the Jazz co-captain said. "And Al, you know he come with that right-hand hook shot that you can't stop, and you know he's going to pump fake you a thousand times."
Jazz at Hawks
P At Philips Arena
Tipoff •Â Friday at 5:30 p.m. MT
TV •Â ROOT Sports
Radio •Â 1280 AM, 960 AM, 97.5 FM
Records •Â Jazz 7-21; Hawks 14-12
About the Jazz •Â Trey Burke's 30 points in Wednesday's win over the Orlando Magic were tops for a rookie this season. â¦ Derrick Favors had a season-high 5 blocks in that game. â¦ Playing their third game of a five-game road trip. â¦ Have more road wins this season (four) than home wins (three).
About the Hawks •Â Third place in the East, but well back of Indiana and Miami. â¦ Former Jazz forward Paul Millsap is averaging 16 points a game and shooting better than 43 percent from 3-point. â¦ After mostly coming off the bench in Utah, DeMarre Carroll has found a home - and a starting job -Â in Atlanta. He's putting up 9.6 points and grabbing 6 rebounds a night.
Jazz at Hawks
P Friday, 5:30 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports
Player Team Ht/Wt PPG RPG
Paul Millsap Atlanta Hawks 6-8/253 16.5 8.1
Al Jefferson Charlotte Bobcats 6-10/289 15.6 9.3