I used to be a big Jazz fan, back in the day. My brother would root for Jordan and the Bulls, and I'd root for Malone and the Jazz. I was always disappointed, but those were good times. It's more than 10 years later and Jerry Sloan is stilling running the same high pick-and-roll as he did with Stockton and Malone. I like most of the personnel on the Jazz, I like the roster, I like most of the players, but the one problem the Jazz always have is that no one is taking ownership of the team. While we like to say that Deron Williams is the centerpiece of the franchise, we can't rightly say that this Jazz team is Deron's Jazz in the same way we can say that these are Kobe's Lakers or LeBron's Cavaliers or even Chris Paul's Hornets. What's that mean? Well, there's no one outside of Jerry Sloan, no one who walks the hardwood floor in those blue jerseys that's willing to step up and take this team on his shoulders, Deron Williams is capable, but maybe it's not his personality.
Anyways I digress... The Jazz have been pretty consistent for the past couple of seasons, about as consistent as Jerry Sloan has been at losing to Phil Jackson in the past 10 years (I don't mean that as a burn, but I guess it sounds like one). The roster really hasn't seen much turnover or alterations. The main themes for the Jazz have been the development of Ronnie Brewer and Paul Millsap coupled with the issues of Andrei Kirilenko's deteriorating play and Carlos Boozer's imminent departure. They seem always on the brink of contention but never quite there, and their lack of improvement in light of the improvements made to all other contention level teams has really hurt them, tack onto that the amount of confusion going on and all that, and we have a pretty rough time for the team. Let's look quickly at the matchups.
San Antonio Spurs
PG - Tony Parker, George Hill
SG - Roger Mason, Manu Ginobili, Malik Hairston
SF - Richard Jefferson, Michael Finley, Marcus Williams
PF - Antonio McDyess, DeJuan Blair, Marcus Haislip, Matt Bonner
C - Tim Duncan, Ian Mahinmi, Theo Ratliff
PG - Deron Williams, Ronnie Price, Eric Maynor
SG - Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Matt Harpring
SF - CJ Miles, Andrei Kirilenko
PF - Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap
C - Mehmet Okur, Kosta Koufos, Kyrylo Fesenko, Goran Suton
The Jazz are solid, but again, they're not super exceptional, a solid playoff team as they've been. I'm not sure exactly how things will matchup, but I'm sure the Spurs want to keep Duncan inside, so he'll probably be guarding Boozer, leaving McDyess to chase Okur around the perimeter. This might be a situation where see a bit of Matt Bonner and Marcus Haislip, who are also fairly proficient perimeter bigs. The biggest question would be how motivated Boozer is in the light of the fact that his future is obviously not with the Jazz, and whether or not Kirilenko can regain any of his previous proficiency. What makes the Jazz dangerous is that while they're big at every position, they're a team that can still run. They have the ability to push the pace and keep up with any running team, which requires the Spurs to be much more active on defense. Both Boozer and Okur can spread the floor as well as play inside, Okur spreading to the 3 point mark, he's probably the 2nd or 3rd best 3 point shooter on the team (the best being probably Korver and then possibly Williams). The idea of a floor spreading big is something that the Spurs are relatively familiar with given Pop's pairing of players like Bonner next to Duncan. Personally I think Okur would be one of the most perfect fits next to Duncan as he's no slouch in the post either.
While Brewer and Kirilenko on the wings are more of a defensive presence, Kirilenko has been steadily deteriorating over the years. The biggest question then on the wings is can the Spurs exploit that? While Boozer's lack of defense and Millsap's lack of height might lend the Spurs to go to Duncan frequently, possibly forcing Sloan to play Okur or Kirilenko on him, Richard Jefferson becomes another key piece to the puzzle. The offensive punch that Jefferson brings to the table is so critical in keeping defenses honest and preventing help from clogging the lane, either smothering Duncan in the middle or keeping Parker from getting in. Jefferson needs to force whoever is guarding him (probably Brewer or Kirilenko depending of who's playing next to him) to pay attention, and the convert on the easy baskets when they don't. Previously, the Spurs did this by having Michael Finley and Bruce Bowen bomb threes from the corners, but now, with Jefferson, I think defenses now have to worry much more than just closing out on a shooter. On that same note, Jefferson can't allow Kirilenko to get into an offensive groove, though Kirilenko hasn't really found one in a while.
The biggest issue will be how the Spurs work to contain Deron Williams. While Parker has the speed to keep with him, he doesn't have the size that Williams does. When I think of Williams I think, Jason Kidd with a jumpshot, which in all honesty is pretty dang scary. While he doesn't seem as mercurial as his fellow draft buddy Chris Paul, he does have a better jumpshot and is what I would consider probably the 2nd or 3rd best point guard in the league. Williams has amazing handles and excellent court vision and passing ability, warranting even Jerry Sloan to hand the reigns of the offense over to him, making full use of his creativity and play-making ability, this was something that Sloan didn't even do with Stockton. Does this mean that Spurs have to play more George Hill with Tony Parker? Perhaps, while that solves the issue with Williams, Parker cannot be hidden on CJ Miles or Ronnie Brewer, both are too big for him to contend with if they start taking it hard to the hoop, while I think Parker might be able to keep a hand in Kyle Korver's face, playing a smaller tandem of guards to contain Deron might not be something that desireable from a Spurs perspective. I think then the biggest question them is; can someone like Marcus Haislip develop into a legitimate shotblocking presence? This way the Spurs can move to their previous defense of aggressive ball defense that funnels the handler baseline to a shot-blocker (Tim Duncan and/or hopefully Haislip or somebody) while blanketing all the passing lanes. Given the size the Jazz have, I suspect we'll see a more of Manu and some combination of Michael Finley, Marcus Williams, and Malik Hairston, and Mason used a little more sparingly.
While Deron Williams is the most dangerous weapon that the Jazz have, much of the brunt of the Jazz offense comes from the frontcourt, with a trio of Millsap, Boozer, and Okur, the Spurs will have their hands full trying to stop all comers. The key beyond keeping tabs on Okur around the perimeter is simply this, the Spurs have to box out. Millsap is one of the better rebounders in the league, and Boozer is no slouch either. I think when Millsap is on the floor Pop has either the option of trying to match his intensity with his own little big man of DeJuan Blair or trying to create some height mismatch with Mahinmi or something, but again, I think you go with the matchup that best limits second chance opportunities and is able to at least be competitive on the rebounds if not control the glass.