With a legend gone, a talent-starved team has a new point to make
By L. Jon Wertheim
Team Page | Conference ranking: 14 | Overall ranking: 29
Like following The Beatles on stage or Chris Rock on Open Mike Night, Carlos Arroyo is in the unenviable position of replacing the irreplaceable. A sleek third-year point guard, Arroyo entered camp as the odds-on favorite to run the offense following the retirement of John Stockton. To most guards, succeeding the NBA's alltime leader in assists and steals sounds about as much fun as running into a Karl Malone pick. (It probably wasn't a selling point for free-agent Andre Miller, who spurned the Jazz to sign with the lowly Nuggets.) But Arroyo says he welcomes the challenge. "I look at it as a great opportunity to play a lot of minutes," he says. "I don't expect people to think I'm going to come in and do what John did, but I think I can do well."
Undrafted out of Florida International in 2001, the 6'2" Arroyo has played in only 81 NBA games -- one less than Stockton customarily logged in any given regular season. Arroyo, however, is coming off a confidence-inflating summer, having helped Puerto Rico win a bronze medal in the Tournament of the Americas to snatch a berth in the 2004 Olympics. In the decisive game Arroyo orchestrated an upset of the Canadian team that featured Mavericks All-Star point guard Steve Nash. That feat did not go unnoticed by the Jazz brass.
The fifth Puerto Rican to play in the NBA, Arroyo, 24, had an excused absence on the third day of training camp so he could attend a reception in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month held at the White House. The highlight came when President Bush thanked Arroyo for attending. "Honestly," says Arroyo, "I was sort of surprised he knew my name."
By season's end, the Commander-in-Chief may not be alone.
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Jazz
"Forget everything about the Stockton and Malone era. If this team wins 20 games I'll be surprised. Its only hope is to take on the personality of coach Jerry Sloan and become the NBA's hardest-working team, because this is probably the least talented club in the league.... Despite their youth they'll have a surprisingly high basketball IQ, they'll move well without the ball, and they'll try to make the extra pass. But it doesn't matter how well you run a play, you still need somebody to put the ball into the basket, and I don't know where the points are going to come from -- especially in the last six minutes when opponents are turning up the defense.... Unless they make a move to bring in a veteran, they'll be going from the best point guard play in the league to Carlos Arroyo and Raul Lopez, who is coming off two reconstructive ACL surgeries. They'll have a hard time getting the ball past half-court and setting up the offense some nights.... You also want to attack their big guys, especially Greg Ostertag, who is one of the most foul-prone guys in the league. I know that Sloan has always been frustrated by Ostertag, but on this team Ostertag is one of his most reliable guys.... Andrei Kirilenko is the kind of hustle player who can make good things happen at both ends of the floor. But the bottom line is that they have no experienced floor leader, no one to command a double team in the post and little perimeter shooting. It's going to be especially hard on Matt Harpring, who scored by moving without the ball while Stockton and Malone commanded so much attention. Harpring is going to have to develop a new type of game so he can create his own shot.... DeShawn Stevenson still doesn't understand how to play. If he couldn't learn with Stockton and Malone, I doubt he's going to learn now."
Issue date: October 27, 2003