Questions of the week: Who will the Jazz pick at Nos. 14 and 21 in the first round of Thursday’s NBA Draft? Will they move up or down or out? Whatever happens, will it make a real difference?
Let’s take those one at a time in reverse order.
Kevin O’Connor seems to believe there will be a player available who could help. He said that a month ago. His exact quote was: “There will be a player there that hopefully we draft, but if not, drafted after us, that becomes a good NBA player. It’s our responsibility, our call, our job. … We’ve got to do it right and if we don’t do it right often enough, then we shouldn’t have the job.”
Some supposedly bright guys have dismissed this draft as weak. And even in years of substantial depth, percentages show, according to my friend and draft geek David Locke, players picked after No. 10 in the first round have about a 50 percent chance of ever contributing as rotational players. But how many of them become players of genuine impact? Only exceptions.
The Jazz seek, then, the exceptional.
They have more than holes to plug, they have breaches to dam up. They have more than half a roster to fill. They have financial flexibility and in the world of the new collective bargaining agreement, that is an advantage only a few teams currently enjoy. But dollars under the tax threshold don’t win games.
Help is needed.
And the draft is one of the primary ways, especially for a team like the Jazz, to find it. They won’t be landing any elite players out of free agency. Chris Paul and Dwight Howard aren’t making plans to take their talents to the Wasatch. And even if we lower it down a notch, this won’t be the offseason the Jazz haul in a number of nice-but-not-quite-game-changing free agents or trade for useful players at that same talent level. Look for those moves the following offseason, when teams are more likely to unload or let walk not just marginal players with heavy contracts, but good players, too. The new taxes for big spenders are, indeed, punitive, and by then, everybody will feel it.
In the meantime, the Jazz will make do — and probably lose a lot of games — with their young core. Their progress next season will be measured in modest win totals and by that young core’s collective growth. And then comes a stronger 2014 draft.
The NBA is a league that requires stars to contend. Reaching for the right ones, though, in the right combination, is equally significant. Ask the 2012-13 Lakers about that. It’s always been important to spend on the right players, but that priority is even greater now.
If we consider Locke’s percentages for graduated success of players drafted after 10 — and, again, anomalies are possible — it’s easy to conclude the Jazz should move up. Or gain assets in trade. On the other hand, if O’Connor is right, a rare find is out there somewhere.
How smart is Dennis Lindsey? Smart enough to have said on Friday the Jazz will be “very aggressive” with their draft positioning. If they are, and he makes moves, he’ll have to be smarter than most of the guys who have the same job he does. That might not be fair, but given his situation, it just is.
If the Jazz stay put, their choices obviously will depend on what other teams do. Their specific need for a point guard borders on the desperate, and some believe that’s the one need the club is destined to address, at least in a limited manner, in free agency next month. Even if they do that, selecting a young quarterback in the draft to be mentored is wise.
O’Connor and Lindsey have stressed the Jazz will not draft by position, but rather by best players available. Here’s the thing, though: There is so much difference of opinion among evaluators, nobody’s sure who those players are. If the draft is always a crapshoot, this one is crappier shooting than most.
Point guards likely to be available at 14 are Dennis Schroeder, Shane Larkin and maybe Michael Carter-Williams. Schroeder is the 6-foot-2 German kid — he’s 19 — who’s quick, who favors his right hand and who some believe has a dubious work ethic. He can shoot it from distance and would be an intriguing pick. Larkin is tough, athletic and accurate. But he’s 5-11 with a short reach. Carter-Williams is 6-6 and can make passes others can’t. His problem: He shoots like Mel Counts. A guard who can’t shoot in the NBA creates trouble for an offense now forced to go 4-on-5.
There’s speculation the Jazz might take a big man at 14 and postpone the point-guard pick. Those possibilities range from Kelly Olynyk to Mason Plumlee to Rudy Gobert, a mobile, 7-foot-2 project out of France.
If the Jazz want to directly address their point-production concerns, they might consider Shabazz Muhammad, a scorer who sometimes plays as though he has no teammates on the floor. There are character questions. But a major question for the Jazz remains: Other than Gordon Hayward, who’s going to dust the net for them next year? Lindsey said they want somebody humble enough to learn.
There’s so much fluidity in this draft, and so much lying going on, trying to guess which of those players, among others, will still be on the board when the Jazz pick is laughable.
Barring some extraordinary surprise, I’d go point guard, and then get whatever was left later. If the Jazz could find the imperfect guy best-suited to help unlock the offensive potential of Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, that alone, beyond whatever bonuses or limitations come alongside, would make the pick worthwhile.
Gordon Monson hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.