I’m jazzed about Utah and Head Coach Jerry Sloan
Jerry Sloan is the NBA’s best coach. I’m absolutely convinced. After prognosticators (I can no longer refer to the guys on ESPN as “experts” or “analysts” as they offer neither analysis nor consistently perceptive opinions) picked Utah to finish as one of the worst teams in NBA history, the Jazz just missed the play-offs for the first time in Sloan’s tenure.
Nobody expected Andrei Kirilenko to fill stat sheets or Carlos Arroyo and Raul Lopez to imitate John Stockton’s effectiveness, but, there they were at the end of the season, fighting for a play-off berth.
My friends know I love AK 47. Some, like my mom, know I became a huge AK 47 fan during his rookie season when I caught a Sacramento versus Utah game and ended the game cheering for the Jazz because of the Russian Rocket.
But, this is not another love piece on Kirilenko. He’s an all-star and everyone now appreciates his value (except maybe Zach Randolph who apparently still feels jilted over the all-star snub last season).
No, this is about Keith McLeod. But, really, it could be about any point guard, or that is the way Sloan makes it seem. Stockton, of course, ended his career as possibly the greatest point guard ever. But, while playing in Utah, Stockton’s back-ups became highly prized players. Harold Eisley was far more effective as Stockton’s back-up then he was anywhere else. Jacque Vaughn parlayed a stint in Utah into a raise. Carlos Arroyo went from unknown Florida International University player to the national hero of Puerto Rico after this summer’s stunning Olympic victory. And, now McLeod.
McLeod, a 6’2 PG out of Bowling Green, managed to make the Timberwolves’ roster last season. He played in 33 games, and even with Sam Cassell hobbling and Troy Hudson out, McLeod was nowhere to be found in the play-offs.
McLeod likely is only in the NBA this year because Utah was desperate for a PG, any PG. First, 3rd string PG Mo Williams signed with Milwaukee, giving the Bucks’ insurance for TJ Ford. Then, Raul Lopez and Carlos Arroyo went down with injuries. With few options, McLeod signed with the Jazz and started the season-opener.
And, like the PG’s before him, he excelled, leading Utah to a 2-0 start with wins over the Lakers and Golden State. In his debut, McLeod finished with 8 assists, only 1 turnover and a Sportscenter highlight pass on the fast break. In his second game, McLeod scored 17 points and added 10 assists, the type of game one expects from a Jazz point guard; just not this one.
The constant is Jerry Sloan. A tough-nosed player, Sloan gets the Jazz to play in his image and they are consistently one of the toughest teams to beat, regardless of injuries, talent or line-ups. They battle. In many ways, that is the ultimate compliment for a coach: his team battles, fights and never surrenders. They play hard and they play smart. And, it starts with the point guard.
Stockton was steady and spectacular. Arroyo is flashy. Lopez is sneaky. Eisley was solid. Now, McLeod is making his mark in Utah, learning to play the game the right way, and leading the break for a very tough, physical and talented Jazz team.
Despite signing Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur, most prognosticators expect Utah to finish third behind Minnesota and Denver in the Northwest Division. With Minnesota’s squabbles, and my severe dislike for Latrell Sprewell, and Denver’s inability to make a jump shot on a consistent basis, Utah will win the Northwest Division and have a great chance to play in the Western Conference Finals. I believe in Jerry Sloan that much, because, as Keith McLeod illustrates, it doesn’t matter who he coaches, they play hard and they excel, even if nobody knows who they are.
Check out McCormick’s blog (http://highfivehoopschool.blogspot.com) for other outside the box ideas and opinions.