Utah Jazz: Brewer emerging to fill void at the two
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan tired of questions about his starting shooting guard not soon after the team returned from training camp. Pressed one day at practice, Sloan launched into talking about the need for a "making guard" as opposed to one who could just shoot.
Although the Jazz started Ronnie Brewer in six of seven preseason games, a likely indication of things to come, Sloan bristled at another question asking if Brewer had won the job with nearly two weeks to go before opening night.
"We don't start for a long time. I don't know. We'll have to see,'' Sloan said. "Evidently, that's going to be a question we answer every night."
How to explain the disconnect between Sloan's words and the reality on the court for the Jazz? While the coach has watched Brewer average 17.1 points in 23.3 minutes this preseason, Sloan also has been left wanting by Brewer's defense on more than one occasion.
Nevertheless, Brewer, who played in just 56 games as a rookie, is expected to open the season as the starter, having pushed in front of Gordan Giricek, Morris Almond and C.J. Miles after a summer of working on his body and his shooting.
But Sloan expects Brewer to make as much, if not more of a contribution with his defense than his scoring. That's why the coach was so disappointed to see Michael Redd, Raja Bell, Kevin Martin and John Salmons all get the better of Brewer at times in games.
"Whoever we start, we got to find somebody that's going to do a better job defensively,'' Sloan said. "I feel like we can score points, but we've got to be able to stop some of the people that can really shoot."
"We started off, I guess, probably with a wrong idea,'' Sloan added. "Everybody wanted somebody to score. Yeah, we need somebody to score, but we also need somebody to defend."
Twice in the preseason, Sloan has lamented the departure of veteran guard Derek Fisher, who had 11 years of experience at getting around or through a screen. That will come for Brewer, a 2006 lottery pick who is only 22 years old.
"All I can do is go out there and play hard every play whether it's on the defensive end or the offensive end,'' Brewer said. "You never know. It's [Sloan's] decision. I can only do what I can do on the court and be solid every time I'm out there."
Otherwise, Brewer has been impressive all October. Deron Williams called him the best player in training camp at Boise State, and Carlos Boozer said last week, "He's playing like a stud." Gone is the "deer in the headlights" look Brewer admits he had as a rookie.
Brewer scored 20 points in the fourth quarter of the Jazz's third preseason game at Milwaukee. He even got the chance to flex his newfound muscles for the crowd at last Saturday's public scrimmage.
The biggest question mark to start the season has been answered rather neatly. Brewer is expected to start, and Giricek figures to come off the bench in a similar role to what he played last season.
Miles and Almond have gotten minutes at small forward with Matt Harpring injured, but they could get caught in a numbers crunch once Harpring recovers from knee surgery. One of the two could end up on the inactive list as a result.
Miles has struggled, shooting just .194 from the floor. The Jazz could also play Jason Hart or Ronnie Price at two-guard but have barely done so in the preseason. They additionally could use a lineup relying on both Harpring and Andrei Kirilenko and no shooting guard to finish games.
Sloan also talked about how he wants Brewer to settle into the job. After watching Brewer struggle with his outside shot as a rookie, Sloan would like to see him get out on the fast break for a couple layups or dunks early in games, then step out and shoot with confidence.
"To me, that's a better psychology of it rather than going out and saying, 'I've got to try to prove that I can make this shot,' '' Sloan said. "Because that's putting more pressure on you. Take the pressure off yourself any way you can where you get comfortable going up rather than uncomfortable going down."
"Making guard" candidates
2006-07 season 2007-08 preseason
PPG FG% 3PT% PPG FG% 3PT%
Ronnie Brewer 4.6 .528 .000 17.1 .605 .250
Gordan Giricek 7.8 .462 .426 6.4 .372 .273
C.J. Miles 2.7 .345 .219 3.7 .194 .250
Morris Almond - - - 4.9 .342 .250