Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
One telling attribute of a contender is the ability to persevere when one of its best players is on the shelf. While beating the Clippers twice in 72 hours is no crowning achievement, the Jazz have looked strong during the first week -- even in their Deronlessness. And it's a testimony to their system's fluency that the Jazz have appeared so precise offensively, even without their floor general. Their sets have been crisp and incredibly efficient.
I realize that most people don't watch basketball to see flex cuts and flare screens, but for those still mourning the death of systematic beauty in Phoenix, spend some time watching Utah this season. By no means are they as lovable as the c. 2005-2007 Suns and the aesthetics are different, but they're running some beautiful stuff.
For all their finesse, though, the Jazz also feature some brute force. Last night it was Paul Millsap who applied that force. Millsap, among whose primary assets is his ability to guard virtually all five positions, took over the game on the offensive end. He scored 15 consecutive points for Utah during a single stretch in the fourth quarter to turn a close game into a laugher. He did it on ugly putbacks, graceless but effective drives to the hole, and by forcing his way to the line. [He also profited from Tim Thomas' abject negligence] Long after Carlos Boozer was scheduled to return to the floor after his 4th quarter respite, Millsap was still out there because he was carrying his team.
The Jazz are intriguing in that they don't feature a bunch of dynamic, explosive perimeter players who can dominate their defenders off the dribble. And though they have the capacity to build a dominant two-man game with a healthy Williams and Carlos Boozer on the block, Jerry Sloan prefers a more expansive offense that relies more on space than on pure matchups. Without Williams, they display an uncanny efficiency. When he returns, they could be downright lethal.