Armed only with the 47th overall pick in the second round of Thursday night’s NBA Draft, the Jazz hope to beat the odds and find a productive player who can impact the franchise.
They’ve done it before.
Since moving to Utah from New Orleans before the 1979-80 season, the Jazz have bagged trophies like Mark Eaton, Bobby Hansen, Bryon Russell, Shandon Anderson, Mo Williams and Paul Millsap in the hit-and-miss wilderness beyond the draft’s first round.
Eaton helped stabilize a floundering franchise, and Russell started on two teams that reached the Finals.
More recently, Williams and Millsap developed into borderline All-Stars who, in 15 combined seasons, have earned nearly $74 million.
Oddly, the Jazz got Williams and Millsap with the 47th pick of their drafts — the same one they own this year.
What’s been Utah’s secret?
“The things we look for in a second-round pick are basically the same ones we look for in a first-round pick,” said vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin.
“How hard do they play? How hard are they willing to work to improve? How smart of a player are they? Is their jump shot broken and will he work to fix it? Will he fight defensively?”
General manager Kevin O’Connor has been in Utah since 1999 and was in charge of the drafts that netted Williams and Millsap.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘What NBA skill does a guy have?’ ” O’Connor said. “Maybe he doesn’t have all of them, but what NBA skill does he have? That’s what you try to evaluate.”
Millsap was a three-time rebounding champion at Louisiana Tech. When O’Connor scouted him during a game against Boise State, he grabbed an eye-opening 28 rebounds.
“We knew he had one skill,” O’Connor said. “We knew he could go get the ball off the backboard.”
Of all the improbable stories involving the productive players the Jazz drafted beyond the first round, Eaton’s is the most improbable.
Before becoming an All-Star, one of the most prolific shot-blockers in NBA history and someone whose jersey now hangs from the rafters at EnergySolutions Arena, Eaton was a seldom-used center at UCLA.
He played so little in college that pro personnel-types struggled to find film to study, even if they were intrigued by his incredible size.
As a result, Eaton decided to be proactive.
Along with a former college coach, he got on the telephone before the 1982 draft and started calling NBA teams.
Former Jazz coach and general manager Frank Layden, whose team had won 24, 28 and 25 games in its first three seasons in Utah, was one of his first contacts.
“The reason we called the Jazz,” Eaton recalled, “is because they were last in about every statistical category. We thought they might be desperate enough to give me a chance.”
The Jazz were interested.
They sent a scout to watch Eaton during a summer league before Layden met him face-to-face.
“I looked at the size of him and said, ‘Wow, this guy is put together,’ ” Layden recalled. “I just thought we had to take a chance on the guy. We didn’t have anything to lose.”
Eaton knew of Utah’s interest in him, but when the Jazz used two third-round picks on Louisville’s Jerry Eaves and BYU’s Steve Trumbo, he was “pretty disappointed.”
Because teams in Israel and Monte Carlo had also contacted him, Eaton suddenly wondered if basketball would take him overseas.
He got his answer about an hour later, however, when the Jazz drafted him in the fourth round.
“Frank sent me a telegram,” Eaton said. “I still have it hanging on my wall.”
The NBA did not have a rookie salary scale in place at the time, so Utah’s next order of business was signing Eaton.
A deal was struck poolside at the Marriott Hotel near Los Angeles International Airport.
Utah offered a five-year contract, with the first season’s salary of $45,000 guaranteed. The next two years were partially guaranteed. The contract was also loaded with production-based incentives.
“They knew it would take a little work to get me up to speed,” Eaton said. “But they were willing to guarantee the first year, which meant I wouldn’t be looking for a job in December.”
Said Layden: “I told Mark, ‘We’ll guarantee you some money if you come in, work hard and do what we ask.’ ... I liked him as a person, and I liked the fact he was hungry.”
For the next decade, Eaton anchored the Jazz defense. He played in the 1989 All-Star Game with teammates John Stockton and Karl Malone and was the first player Utah picked beyond the first round to thrive in the NBA.
“I wasn’t looking to be a trend-setter,” Eaton said. “I was just looking for a job.”
Said assistant coach Scott Layden: “Our greatest success here — when our franchise began to get real credibility — was when Mark Eaton came on the scene.
“Everybody thinks of the Malone and Stockton years, but Mark Eaton made this a legitimate, respected franchise because of his defensive presence.”
A year later, the Jazz struck again.
While watching tape of Purdue’s Joe Barry Carroll, who eventually became the No. 1 pick in 1983, Layden noticed Iowa shooting guard Bobby Hansen.
“He was supposed to have a bad foot; he was supposed to be this and that,” Frank Layden said. “But I said, ‘Gee, this kid plays hard. He hustles. If he is still there in the later rounds, let’s take him.’ ”
The Jazz took Hansen in the third round. He spent seven years in Utah, started 297 games and, after being traded, eventually won a championship with Chicago in 1992.
“You can always say we were lucky with those guys, and that’s partly true,” Frank Layden said. “But it’s not all luck. It’s hard work and preparation, too.”
The best players who were drafted beyond the first round by the Utah Jazz. Note: The draft went from 10 rounds to seven in 1985, from seven rounds to three in 1988 and from three rounds to two in 1989:
1982 • Mark Eaton, fourth round (No. 72)
1983 • Bobby Hansen, third round (No. 54)
1985 • Delaney Rudd, fourth round (No. 83)
1991 • Ike Austin, second round (No. 48)
1993 • Bryon Russell, second round (No. 45)
1996 • Shandon Anderson, second round (No. 54)
2001 • Jarron Collins, second round (No. 53)
2003 • Mo Williams, second round (No. 47)
2005 • C.J. Miles, second round (No. 34)
2006 • Paul Millsap, second round (No. 47)
2010 • Jeremy Evans, second round (No. 55)