Thursday’s NBA Draft represents a starting point for the Utah Jazz and what figures to be one of the busiest offseasons in franchise history.
As for the Jazz’s top summer priority, well, that would be a starting point, also.
But while the Jazz, who own picks 14, 21 and 46, are widely expected to choose at least one point guard, a thin market and a potentially shape-shifting draft order could complicate matters.
The team watched its three point guards walk out of the locker room and into free agency in April, leaving no one to get the ball to the young nucleus the team seems committed to building around.
In the past month, nearly all of the top point guard prospects in the draft visited Salt Lake City to audition for the Jazz in pre-draft workouts. One by one, players such as Dennis Schroeder, the long but raw German, worked out. The Jazz looked at C.J. McCollum and Michael Carter-Williams — who could both be gone by the time they pick — Shane Larkin, Trey Burke and Isaiah Canaan, among others. Only Michigan’s Burke, who is considered a top-eight pick, did not work out for the Jazz.
“We don’t have any under contract,” said Walt Perrin, the Jazz’s vice president of player personnel. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean if we draft a point guard he’s coming in to be the starter anyway.”
And that’s the biggest question facing the Jazz: Will any point guard they can obtain at 14 or 21 be enough of a difference maker to justify the pick?
The Jazz have former lottery picks at almost every position: Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks on the wing, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter in the post. A rookie point guard would complete the five, but would leave the Jazz with little in the way of proven leadership.
The free agent point guard market is slim, with the best young options — Jeff Teague and Brandon Jennings — restricted, meaning their current teams have the option to match any offer.
The Jazz have not found the right fit at point guard since the Deron Williams trade in 2011, and by the end of last season did not have one on the roster younger than 30. Mo Williams, Earl Watson and Jamaal Tinsley are all unrestricted free agents.
“If it don’t happen in the draft,” Tyrone Corbin said, “you’ve got the free agency to look at, and then there could be trade situations, too. Going into camp you would love to say we have a point guard we can grow with but if that comes through the draft or free agency, I don’t know that just yet.”
Asked if he would be surprised if Thursday came and went without the Jazz acquiring a point guard, through one method or another, general manager Dennis Lindsey said, “Not at all.”
Lindsey said the Jazz won’t draft a point guard simply to check that off their “to-do” list.
“I think the risk is having someone that is undertalented or doesn’t fit or is a good player but is overvalued,” he said.
Most mock drafts have the Jazz drafting at least one point guard, although not necessarily with their first pick. DraftExpress.com has the Jazz selecting Duke center Mason Plumlee at 14, and salvaging Schroeder, a top-20 pick in most mocks, at 21.
Schroeder made a splash this spring with 18 points and six assists against the U.S. junior national team at the Nike Hoop Summit. However, ESPN’s Chad Ford reported earlier this month that the German struggled in NBA workouts.
McCollum, the top point guard prospect to work out for the Jazz, is a scoring combo guard from Lehigh. Many analysts doubt he can make the transition to NBA point guard.
“One of the toughest things to evaluate in terms of players,” Perrin said, “is them playing a certain position in college and they play a different position in the pros.”
The most difficult position to learn, he added, is point guard.
While every draft pick comes with its own risks, that seems especially true in this draft for a team trying to strike gold with a point guard. Even Burke, the consensus top point guard in the draft, has been questioned about his size, quickness and court vision.
“There are doubters out there if he’s really an NBA-ready player,” said Tim Hardaway Jr., Burke’s teammate who worked out for the Jazz. “But I think he’s an NBA player that’s ready to go. He has that killer instinct in him that’s going to prove doubters wrong, and that’s what I loved about him when he was on my team.”
Point guard prospects
The points guard mostly likely to be picked in the first round of Thursday’s NBA draft are:
1. Trey Burke, Michigan • He’s small, but Burke’s outstanding play during the Wolverines’ run the NCAA championship game helped make him one of the most coveted players in the draft.
Draft range: Top 8
2. Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse • He needs to work on his outside shot, but the 6-foot-5 Carter-Williams makes others better with his passing and understanding of the game. His ceiling is very high.
Draft range: 5-12
3. C.J. McCollum, Lehigh • More of a combination guard than a pure point guard, McCollum is an exceptional shooter. He’s coming off a foot injury, but scouts love his game and demeanor.
Draft range: 6-16
4. Dennis Schroeder, Germany • He burst onto the scene after playing exceptionally well during the Nike Hoop Summit in April. Schroeder is an explosive athlete who needs a bettter jumper.
Draft range: 12-24
5. Shane Larkin, Miami • He’s only 5-foot-11, but Larkin helped lead surprising Miami to the top of the rugged ACC last season. A freakish athlete, he’s quick, strong and an explosive jumper.
Draft range: 14-26
6. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State • He was one of the top scorers in college basketball last season (21.8 ppg). Canaan has outstanding range on his jumper. Has impressive wingspan, despite lack of height.
Draft range: 22-30
Source • Steve Luhm