Utah Jazz look for pieces to their championship puzzle

By By Mandeep Gill

By Mandeep Gill

In the drafts following the Stockton and Malone era, the Utah Jazz were forced to draft in rebuilding mode — but not this year. Today, during the 2007 NBA draft, the Jazz will look to restock and reload its championship hopes.

It is no secret that the cabinet for Utah is near full. The Jazz had great depth last year, thanks to a superb draft and the development of many young players.

Going into this year’s draft, the Jazz do not have any glaring needs. However, a few small additions will go a long way.

What exactly do the Jazz need?

It was obvious during the post season, especially in the conference finals, that the Jazz lacked a defensive presence on the perimeter, as well as in the paint. To fill these holes, center and shooting guards are a priority for Utah in this year’s draft.

With a chemistry that is already entrenched, the Jazz will seek players who know they have specific roles to fill. Scoring is already spread thin between Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams and Mehmet Okur. A shooting guard who can step up and consistently hit open 3-pointers will basically be the biggest offensive addition the Jazz could hope for.

On the defensive end, the Jazz need to find a defensive-minded big man who can slow inside scoring and wear down the inside threat coming from opposing teams. Finding a two guard who is big enough to guard the league’s top scorers will be a primary concern, as well.

What the Jazz could do with their 25th pick

Although the Jazz need a perimeter shooter, the talent at center in the first round should coax them into picking a big man first.

First candidate: Sean Williams, a center out of Boston College.

Williams is an incredible shot blocker. His defensive play, aided by his above average wingspan, will combat some of the best centers and power forwards in the NBA.

But Williams comes with baggage the Jazz might shy away from. Williams was kicked off the basketball team at Boston College this past season. In 2005 he was arrested for possession of marijuana. Character issues are a problem the Jazz have never wanted to deal with. They obviously do not need any distractions as they try to take the next step in the pursuit of a championship.

Second candidate: Nevada center Nick Fazekas.

Fazekas can rebound — at least at the college level. He averaged 8.1 defensive rebounds a game and 11.1 overall as a senior. Although Paul Milsap already provides a similar service, Fazekas would immediately add depth to one of the best rebounding teams in the league.

The Nevada standout can also score. Fazekas averaged 20.4 points per game as a senior and his 6-foot 11-inch frame makes him long enough to clog up the middle defensively.

The Jazz might pass on Fazekas because he is considered an inside-out big man, or in other words, basically another Mehmet Okur. He is considered a good prospect because of his offense and his ability to score. However, the Jazz do not need another offensive role player. And despite Okur’s defensive improvement in the playoffs, Fazekas’ defense will also remind the Jazz of Okur’s defensive apathy through much of the regular season.

If the Jazz do decide to address their shooting guard hole first, three possible guards could be Morris Almond out of Rice, Spaniard Rudy Fernandez or Alando Tucker, who is from a small town in Wisconsin.

What the Jazz could do with their 55th pick

After addressing the need of a defensive-minded big man, the Jazz should look for perimeter shooting.

First candidate: UCLA shooting guard Arron Afflalo.

Afflalo is a great perimeter shooter, especially when open. He would be a great asset to have when Carlos Boozer is drawing double teams in the paint. He also has great defensive skills and has drawn comparisons to Raja Bell. He was the Pac-10 Player of the Year in 2007, while he led the Bruins to the Final Four.

The Jazz might choose to pass on Afflalo because of his size. Afflalo stands at 6-foot-5 and his lack of size and athleticism make him a hard sell. His shooting can also be streaky at critical times. In the 2006-2007 season, Afflalo failed to hit shots under pressure, which won’t fly, since the Jazz need a perimeter shooter to step up in the postseason when other key players are drawing double teams.

Second Candidate: Marco Belinelli, shooting guard out of Climamio, Bologna, Italy.

Belinelli has a solid outside shot. He is a set shooter with a lightening-quick release. He can move without the ball, fitting in perfectly with Jerry Sloan’s system. He has a good work ethic and is considered mature for a 20-year-old.

Unlike Afflalo, Belinelli’s weakness is defense. Many are concerned about his ability to cover other NBA guards (see Gordan Giricek). Belinelli also shows a lack of focus at times by committing silly fouls and opting to move away from fundamentals and more toward a show-time type basketball style. That type of player has rarely stayed with Jerry Sloan and the Utah Jazz for long periods of time.