By LYNN DeBRUIN
SALT LAKE CITY — It may have looked like old times with Jerry Sloan, Karl Malone and John Stockton back at the Utah Jazz arena — albeit for a local Hall of Fame ceremony.
Yet even Sloan wouldn’t recognize this year’s Jazz team.
The Jazz have two players named Williams, Mo and Marvin, brought in to boost a dreadful 3-point shooting attack that ranked 27th in the NBA last season.
Utah also has perhaps the best set of “bigs” in the league in Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Paul Millsap, with only Millsap remaining from Utah’s 2010 playoff team.
“Time catches up with you and at some point you have to change,” said Tyrone Corbin, who enters his third year as Jazz head coach but first full season after dealing with Sloan’s 2011 departure then last year’s strike-shortened campaign. “But we have some people in place to make that transition not as big.”
He also has choices, with the 6-foot-10 Jefferson and a slimmed-down, muscled up 6-11 Kanter available at center, 6-8 Millsap versatile enough to play either forward spot and 6-10 Favors an intense shot-blocker if he can stay out of foul trouble.
With 6-9 Marvin Williams stepping in at small forward, Corbin said fans will notice Utah’s overall size.
“One thing about Utah, they have good guys who can score at the block,” said Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, who witnessed that firsthand in the preseason. “Utah has some of the best ‘bigs’ in the league. They can score inside or outside and they can defend.”
Scoring typically wasn’t a problem last year as Utah ranked fourth (99.7 points) in the league, but the Jazz gave up nearly as many defensively to finish 23rd — a stat the team is intent on improving.
“I just think we’re going to communicate a lot better than we did last year,” Jefferson said. “We’ve got guys who want to play defense, especially on that second unit.”
For now, Favors and Kanter, both No. 3 overall draft picks, anchor that second unit.
Kanter, aka Big Turkey, slimmed down in the offseason to 242 pounds but has boosted his production, leading the team in scoring (12.0 points) and rebounding (9.0) during the preseason.
“What he’s doing is real for him,” Corbin said, noting Kanter has displayed better patience and vision to pass and also is moving better. “And he’s coming in with a sense of purpose … demanding the ball and guys are getting it to him.”
Utah’s inside game should only improve if guys can knock down the outside shot.
The team entered this week leading the league in 3-point shooting at 43 percent, a stark contrast to the 32 percent Utah shot last year in that category.
Third-year wing Gordon Hayward also has worked to improve his perimeter game after showing glimpses in Utah’s stretch run last year when he averaged 16.1 points on 50.7 percent shooting in April.
The biggest problem Corbin figures to have is divvying up the minutes, especially with no All-Stars yet four or five players in double figures every night.
“That’s who we are. This is a deep ball club,” Corbin said.
He sees players willing to average 10 or 12 points rather than 15 if it means a victory.
“I think this group will do well (with that mindset), but until you get in it, you don’t know,” he said.
“Guys are going to have to be a little patient,” Jefferson added. “I’m pretty sure everybody is going to want to play more minutes than they’re playing, but it’s a long season and a good problem to have if you’re the coach.”
The Jazz were the NBA’s third-best rebounding team last year behind Chicago and the Lakers, led by Jefferson (19.2 points, 9.6 rebounds) and Millsap (16.6 points, 8.8 rebounds). And they were fourth in blocks, averaging 5.8 per game.
Those numbers helped Utah sneak into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference, with a 36-30 record. Getting swept out in the first round by San Antonio prompted a few changes.
Trades sent point guard Devin Harris packing and bought in Mo and Marvin Williams, while the Jazz added versatile guard Randy Foye via free agency.
Overall, the team has six players drafted in the top 12 on the roster, including second-year guard Alec Burks and Kanter — Jefferson’s picks for players to have breakout seasons.
“Burks is really going to step up this year.because of the way he worked this summer and the confidence he added,” Jefferson said. “And Big Turkey is going to take his game to a whole new level.”
Jefferson, who like Millsap is in the final year of his contract, likes the overall makeup of the team as well as his role on it.
“They always say you’re in the prime at 27, 28 and I’ll be 28 in a couple more months,” said Jefferson, who is entering his ninth NBA season. “I think this is the beginning of the second half of my career and I’m ready to make the best of it.”