In its first full season since the departures in February 2011 of longtime coach Jerry Sloan and All-Star point guard Deron Williams, the Jazz sneaked into the playoffs with a 36--30 record. This year much-improved teams such as the Timberwolves and the Warriors will make the competition for the final postseason berth in the West even stiffer.
Utah should be able to protect that playoff turf, though, thanks to the off-season addition of two new Williamses, Mo and Marvin. Mo, a steady 29-year-old veteran, will take over the point from Devin Harris, who was never more than a placeholder since he arrived as part of the trade that sent Deron Williams to the Nets. And Marvin, a steady small forward who was acquired from the Hawks for Harris, will thrive even more now that he's outside the shadows of Joe Johnson and Al Horford. If free-agents-to-be Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson can dominate down low, Utah's quest for a postseason berth won't be nearly as nerve-racking as last year's.
COACH: Tyrone Corbin (3rd season with Jazz)
2011--12 RECORD: 36--30 (3rd in Northwest)
OFFENSE: 99.7 ppg (4th)
DEFENSE: 99.0 ppg (23rd)
PICK-AND-ROLL OFFENSE: 14.7 ppg (30th)
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE JAZZ
Most people in the league are sold on Enes Kanter, but I'm not. He's going to be in the NBA for a long time, but all I see right now is a bruiser.... I love Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. Al is a low-post scorer. That is what he does, and man, does he do it well. Whoever taught him knew what he was doing, because he had that in his game coming out of high school. Millsap just plays his butt off.... Jefferson, Millsap and Derrick Favors are all competing for jobs. Favors should be the best player among them, but right now he's the third best, yet he has all the tools to be a stud four man. Everybody around the league figures they're going to move Millsap.... Gordon Hayward still has a tough time dealing with athleticism, but he works so hard that he's been able to battle through it. He knows how to score, and he can be really solid.... The lack of fire drives me nuts with Marvin Williams. He made shots early on in his career and got a contract, but what else does he do? ... Mo Williams is no All-Star, but he makes them more dangerous as a guy who can go off and get 30 points when their bigs are struggling. He's an upgrade over Devin Harris for sure.
Playing for contracts, Jefferson and Millsap put up big numbers and the Jazz scares a top seed in a tight first-round series.
The petulance that marred Mo Williams's season last year with the Clippers returns, and the Jazz ends up back in the lottery.
Second-chance points scored per game by the Jazz last season, second in the NBA to the Bulls. That was a vast improvement from 2010--11, when they averaged 13.3 and finished 13th in the league.
GREG NELSON (JEFFERSON)
ROCKY WIDNER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (KANTER)