2011-12 Jazz could play big-man musical chairs
Asked whether he is interested in switching positions next season and bumping down from center to power forward, Jazz big man Al Jefferson instantly responded with a definitive negative.
"Could I do it? Yeah," Jefferson said. "Would I want to do it? No."
Utah's premier center was also armed with ammunition as he answered a question that initially appeared to be a nonstarter.
"I like playing the five, man. It's better for me," Jefferson said. "The game done changed so much, and you don't see no fours like me no more."
There are also very few fives like Jefferson that remain in a league that continues to become smaller, faster and more progressive. Listed at 6-foot-10 but appearing in person more like a tall 6-foot-8, the center-forward hybrid is a highly unique offensive scoring machine, turning old-school post moves into a multitude of swished shots. Jefferson leads the Jazz in average scoring (19.1) and rebounds (9.6) this season. And he did not find his real rhythm until after the All-Star break, since which he ranks fifth out of all players in points (25.1), topping stars such as New York's Carmelo Anthony, Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Orlando's Dwight Howard.
Offensively, a Utah team that is expected to undergo significant change in the offseason likes Jefferson just the way he is: back to the basket; 50.2 percent field goal shooting; demanding and aggressive.
Defensively, Jefferson has made strides and shown increased attention to detail. But even he has acknowledged that the nonscoring side of his game remains a seven-year work in progress, while the undersized interior pair of Jefferson and starting power forward Paul Millsap has been an offensive dream and a defensive nightmare for the Jazz.
Which presents Utah with a problem. Post-Deron Williams, Jefferson and Millsap are the organization's top two players. Both are under contract through 2012-13, with Millsap's final-year salary of $7.2 million being the NBA's version of a financial steal. They personally like each other, share the ball well and deserve to be co-owners of the Jazz's 2010-11 most valuable player award. Yet Utah ranks 28th out of 30 teams in rebounding (39.3), and everyone from Memphis reserve center Hamed Haddadi to Houston rookie Patrick Patterson have obliterated the Jazz in the post during recent games.
So if Jefferson won't change positions, what about Millsap? Could the first-year starter who has spent his entire NBA career adapting, evolving and defying limitations make another major change?
Just like Big Al, Millsap had an immediate answer. But his response had a completely different tone.
"I'm open for whatever," said Millsap, who is enjoying a career year while shooting a torrid 61.1 percent from the floor and averaging 23.2 points during his last five games.
Millsap has never played the three. And his muscular 6-foot-8, 250-pound body does not exactly scream Melo the league's 230-pound modern ideal of the small forward position. Yet Millsap's ballhandling has continued to improve; he consistently beats opposing defenders off the dribble; and his outside shot has developed to the point that one of the few automatics for Utah has been the sight of Millsap pulling up for and draining a smooth 18-foot jump shot.
Moreover, Salt Lake City's iron man doesn't think that the change would be a big deal. Just give him some advance notice such as an extended offseason stretched by a likely lockout and he's a willing participant.
"I think with a preseason, [a summer] to prepare for it to know that I'm going to be in that position I think it'd make that transition smoother," Millsap said.
Jefferson would support Millsap's move to the three, and he praised his teammate's versatility and depth. And while Big Al was not fond of possibly being bumped down to the four next season, he had two other ideas in mind. Either Utah can go shopping this summer and buy a free-agent power forward, allowing Millsap's switch. Or the small-market Jazz could just save their money and rebuild while also adding on for free.
"Put Derrick [Favors] at the four," Jefferson said. "Derrick at the four, I'm at the five that's a nice lineup."
As the Jazz edge closer to rebuilding, an imposing front-line first rotation of Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Al Jefferson is an option for a Utah team that is expected to undergo significant change during the offseason.
Pts Reb FG FT Ht Age
Paul Millsap - small forward 17.4 7.8 53.5 75.4 6-8 26
Derrick Favors - power forward 6.5 5.1 51.1 62.1 6-10 19
Al Jefferson - center 19.1 9.6 50.2 77.4 6-10 26
Wizards vs. Jazz
P At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • 7 p.m.
TV • FSN Utah
Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM
Records • Wizards 17-54, Jazz 36-38
Last meeting • Wizards, 108-101 (Jan. 17)
About the Wizards • Washington was just 1-10 in its past 11 games after a 114-104 loss Sunday at Golden State. â¦ The Wizards' last victory over Utah started a Jazz downward spiral that has lasted 2 Â½ months, and kicked off an 0-4 East Coast road trip in mid-January for Utah. Prior to falling to Washington, the Jazz were 27-13. Since then, they are 9-25.
About the Jazz • Coach Tyrone Corbin plans to stick with the same starting lineup Utah has used the past two games, and changes will likely only be made if Devin Harris and/or Andrei Kirilenko are available. Corbin will not go young with the first unit or make a drastic overhaul because he does not want to surrender the season. "We're a professional club," Corbin said. "All these guys are pros and they want to compete." â¦ Corbin was uncertain if Harris will play, acknowledging that a return against speedy Wizards rookie point guard John Wall is not ideal.