Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Making Guard

It really is de rigueur to say that the Jazz don't really have it going on when it comes to shooting guard. When guys like Doug Collins repeatedly say it during a TV Game like it is some mystical mantra you know that everyone in the world already knows this. For the record there really isn't much to say about the Jazz, apparently. Watch a TV Game and they will mention a few of these things non-stop: Jerry Sloan has been coaching for quite a bit; Matt Harpring is tough/scrappy and comes from a strong football background; they lost to the Bulls twice in the finals, Andrei Kirilenko is reportedly upset about his role; Duh-ron Williams is not that bad; and last, but not least, the Jazz haven't had a solid shooting guard since Jeff Hornacek played here. Anyway, that last point is apparently all too true, as Utah really hasn't had much success with shooting guards in recent memory. Jerry Sloan even called the Jazz 2's out, asking for a Making Guard.

Michael Jordan kills me a little inside everytime I see this Upon the continuum of athleticism Clyde was on the Glide side, and our defenders were on the slide side When motivated by playing against ACC alum Matt Harpring (of G-Tech), VC is full-amazing It got so bad that CJ had to play in this game Don't blame Tracy, it's Yao's fault they lose if you ask me
MJ's torture was Impossibull to forget for Jazz fans The Glide used to kill us in the 80's and the 90's Vince Carter reminds us all how good he is, when he plays the Jazz If the only guy who can score gets 57, then the defense is broken Playoff avg vs Jazz: 26.1 ppg, 7.1 apg, 6.9 rpg, 1.1 spg, 0.8 bpg

This is, no doubt, compounded by the fact that Utah has a rich history for getting absolutely owned by dynamic shooting guards. Michael Jordan used to beat up on the Jazz way before he was even an NBA champion. Clyde Drexler was able to score almost at will when he played for Portland -- and the problem never got fixed, he still scored 40 against the Jazz in the playoffs at the end of his career playing for the Houston Rockets. Two years ago shooting guards were having career games against the Jazz. Against the Jazz Michael Redd had something like 9 billion points in one game. Vince Carter is still a superstar . . . though only when he plays Utah. Tracy McGrady, for all of his playoff failures, has put up insane lines in the playoffs vs. Utah. And let's not even forget about Kobe Bryant -- all I gotta say about how he has treated my team over his career is that I sure hope he pays tax on his ownership of the Jazz.

The best 2 guard from my favorite franchise is flasher than the top 2 guard from your franchise Off the top of my head I have to struggle to name 5 shooting guards of any worth who were a big part of the Jazz when they played here. Pistol Pete Maravich, certainly is the top SG of this franchise. (Don't even get me started on why the New Orleans Hornets have retired his jersey . . . they are the Charlotte Hornets franchise, which joined the league many years after his death . . . go hang up a Muggsy Bogues' jersey instead, at least he played for your franchise!)

Next two on the list would have to be Dr. Dunkenstein aka. Darrell Griffith and Jeff Hornacek. It's hard to say which player was better for the franchise, and both deserve to be in the Top 3 for their combination of excellent three point shooting and nicknames (right, Horny?). Griffith was an instrumental player in those early Jazz teams that struggled and clawed their way into the NBA Playoffs for the first time ever. Hornacek fandom and revisionism has reached nearly Deity-like levels, as he was the third guy in those Stockton-to-Malone NBA Finals teams. (While averaging less than 15 ppg in his time here) After that it pretty much becomes slim pickings . . .

I guess Jeff Malone gets the nod here, but he was better with the Washington Bullets methinks. Either him or Dell Curry, who didn't do anything here. In fact, there is an equally rich history of the Jazz getting rid of some players way too early, and having them develop into pretty good players over time. Dell Curry (1 season) is one of them. Raja Bell became a solid NBA player in his 2 seasons here, then split town to play in Phoenix. Tim Legler (more of a point guard) was a three point ace who played in all of three games for the Utah Jazz. Sasha "Don't call me Aleksandar" Pavlovic was a promising talent who now plays with LeBron in Cleveland after playing in 79 games in his Rookie season for Utah. Same deal with Kelly Tripucka, except he played in Utah for 2 seasons. All of that said, looking at the complete list of players who have played for this franchise, you have to at least admit that The Locksmith has an outside shot at being one of the Top 5 best shooting guards in Jazz franchise history. (If we look at the careers of guards who at some stage have played for the Jazz, and not by purely what they did in a Jazz uniform -- D-Steve managed only 5.9 ppg, heck John Starks two seasons with Utah was better with a 7.0 ppg, but DeShawn has become a much better player than more than half of the shooting guards who have played in Utah) Alas, the fact that a true Top 5 is hard to even discuss, let alone agree upon is evidence enough that the Jazz have had some trouble with this whole "Shooting Guard" thing.

There appears to be no end in sight to the talent rich pool of shooting guards in the NBA. In the Northwest division alone the Jazz have to fend off Allen Iverson, Brandon Roy and Kevin Durant for starters. It gets even worse when you add in all of the other talented guards in the west. I guess the solution is to either get one of these dynamic, show stopping guards onto our roster (through trades of player development), or at the very least, try to close the disparity a bit -- to discover this proverbial two who can play defense and also be, as Coach Sloan calls it, a "Making Guard". (How did we ever win games against the Chicago Bulls when they had Jordan and we had Bobby Hansen checking him?)

Right now Utah has two things going for it at the two guard, they have youth and quantity. Hopefully this translates (through some algebraic formula) into a chance for realized potential, and later down the line, depth and quality. It's much easier to platoon a size position with a number of guys (Like the Bulls did at center with Longley, Perdue and Wennington) than at a skill position. As of today the Jazz bring a whole mess of guys to the table.

Will Brewer develop into more than a shorter David Benoit?

Will Kover be able to do more for the Jazz than shoot the ball?

Will C.J. get enough playing time to make a difference this season?

Smooth scoring and sealth athleticism aside, is he an NBA player?


Ronnie Brewer

Kyle Korver

C.J. Miles

Morris Almond

Experience: 2 yrs pro, 23 yrs old 5 yrs pro, 26 yrs old 3 yrs pro, 21 yrs old 1 yrs pro, 22 yrs old
Current Role: Starting Shooting Guard, 4th or 5th option on offense. Scorer off the bench, plays during crunch time due to insane FT% and 3PT ability. Starts at the 2 or 3 if the regular starters are injured, otherwise does not play Prospect gaining experience by being 'The Man' for the Flash, in the DL.
Best Case for 2008-2009: Develops into a defensive stopper and keeps defense honest with outside shot while continuing to shoot a higher FG% than most other SGs. Improves defense & ball handling to the point where he is more than a spot up shooter. Some roster moves could promote him to starter. Finally puts it all together and earns the right to start in the NBA. Shows a consistent enough effort on defense to be on the floor long enough to be more than just D-Will's boy. Becomes a rotation player for the Jazz by showing the coaches that he does more than score the ball, or turn it over. Potential to make Korver expendable.
Worst Case for 2008-2009: Never develops consistent outside shot, slowly becomes off the bench energy guy at Small Forward as career advances Risk/Reward for playing such a min/maxed guy crunch time minutes becomes too risky as lack of defensive ability and over-all game too much to overlook because of solid shooting ability. Career fails to take off for 4th season in a row as he dreams of alternate reality where he plays for the Oklahoma City team. Inability to be a complete player negates his technically proficient scoring skills and he never gets significant playing time for the Jazz for the 2nd straight season.

This season will be quite telling to see if any of these guys are more than what they've shown so far. Kover has been in the league the longest, and as a result, shows the most polish. Jerry Sloan trusts him the most as well, often going down the stretch with him playing alongside the four principal players (William, Kirilenko, Boozer and Okur).  He, aside from the occasional blocked shot, doesn't do much on defense. 'Kover for three!!!' brings the crowd to their feet like 'Hornacek for three!!!' used to, though. So that has to count for something.

Ronnie Brewer is the incumbent starter at shooting guard, and he makes a lot of his shots (55.8 fg%!!!), they just aren't the type of shots that usual shooting guards have to rely upon. I haven't read this anywhere, but the super dynamic Brewer (coming into the NBA Draft was purported to be a 1/2/3, and not just a 2) is probably a better small forward than a shooting guard. Until he develops a more consistent outside shot that keeps defense honest, he can't be the guy we need at the two for the long term. (Floor spacing is poor if your shooting guard can't shoot from very far) He is very, very young still, and has the potential to get better I think.

C.J. and Morris really need experience more than anything. Almond played four years of NCAA ball, and is actually older than C.J.! Alternatively, Miles has "played" in the NBA the second most out of this foursome. Miles clearly has the most potential, as he has shown flashes of being able to do everything from D-up Carmelo Anthony, dunk on Amare Stoudemire and hit threes. He could be that "making" guard that Sloan wants. Will he ever be a dynamic guard like a T-Mac, Kobe, Wade or Carter? Probably not, but he can still be a solid NBA starter. (Surely with a better career than Jeff Malone or Dell Curry, right?)

Morris Almond was the guy who lost the most when the Jazz matched C.J.'s offer. He would have gotten more playing time (theoretically at least), and been the best 3rd string shooting guard in the league. While C.J. shows flashes of doing some amazing things, Almond shows more frequent flashes of doing a much more focused number of things well. Living in Detroit I get to see a lot of Rip Hamilton. Ask Rip to be T-Mac and he would fail. Ask Rip to do a few things well (come off of screens and shoot midrange jumpers), and he can do that to the point of being an All-Star. Almond would flourish in a system that asks only so much out of him. There is nothing that Rip does on offense that Almond can't do just as well. With time and seasoning I think that Almond can be a consistent NBA performer.

Are any of these four guys going to make Jazz fans less worried when guys like Kobe come to town? No. Are any of these four guys going to be a Top 5 Shooting guard in franchise history? Maybe, but it's way too early to tell. Can any of these guys be that Making Guard who makes things happen for the Jazz? Absolutely! Now we just have to wait and see how 2008-2009 plays out to get our answer to that question.

These four players will ultimately have something to say about 'the last good Shooting Guard for the Jazz'. They each have the skills, talent and potential to at the very least, require commentators like Doug Collins say something good about our guards for once. And that would be a huge upgrade the position hasn't seen in years.