The Utah Jazz roster is one of the youngest in the NBA, and one of the least experienced in the league. Indeed, the Jazz have pinned their future to a core of five young players. And of that quintet, only Gordon Hayward is approaching the age of 25.
But despite the youth — and the lumps this team took last season — General Manager Dennis Lindsey loves the balance of the group. There’s a developmental guy at every position. There are vastly varying skill sets with the younger players, and that lends hope to fans who would like to see a proud franchise return to its winning ways.
The makeup of the team also has helped with the upcoming NBA Draft. If there’s a team in the top five that can truly focus on picking the best player available — instead of need — it’s the Utah Jazz. And from the beginning of the process, that’s been the mantra of Lindsey, his right-hand man Justin Zanik and player development guru Walt Perrin.
None of that has philosophy has changed with the hiring of new head coach Quin Snyder. In fact, it helps in terms of continuity that Snyder and Lindsey feel the same on many player personnel issues. But the overall mission of the draft has stayed consistent with Snyder on board: On Thursday night, the Utah Jazz want to pick the best player on the board at No. 5. Even if that best player has a few warts.
“This is the nice thing about this roster,” Lindsey said. “It’s young, and it lacks experience, but we feel fortunate to have good balance in every spot. We don’t feel pressure relative to any position. So we feel like we can take that best player. Even if it takes that player a year or two to get where he needs to be, we feel like we’re in a good position. There’s a context to what Quin is doing. But we feel the dynamics of the roster will make the process an interesting one.”
Snyder is expected to run an offense heavy on ball movement, an offense that surrounds the post with shooting from all spots. And while the question of who would be the Jazz coach was a mystery for a few weeks, the front office conducted due diligence with its draft preparation.
The Jazz have worked out 90 players in about six weeks — which ranks among the most in the NBA. They’ve watched even more — players like Marcus Smart and Dante Exum — in other settings. Earlier in the week, Smart made headlines by tweeting that the Jazz aren’t interested in his services. When asked, Perrin said the franchise is not only interested, it wouldn’t hesitate to pick Smart, even without bringing him in for a workout. This is not without precedent. The Jazz last season traded for point guard Trey Burke on draft night without having worked him out individually.
“We’ve interviewed him, we’ve seen him a lot, so if we feel like he’s the best player on the board when we draft, we’ll take him,” Perrin said of Smart. “We feel like he and Trey can play in the same backcourt. We’re definitely interested.”
Even with their interest in Smart, and Arizona forward Aaron Gordon, Utah wants whoever it selects to be a good shooter. The one constant with their workouts has been the perimeter drills the Jazz have put the players through — even the big men such as Gordon, and Julius Randle and Adreian and Noah Vonleh. If they bring in a power forward, they want to know that he can stretch the floor. If they bring in a wing, they want to know he’s diverse offensively.
In the past week the draft rumor mill has swirled, with multiple reports that the Jazz are working hard to move into the top three — even potentially dangling big man Derrick Favors as trade bait — for someone like Duke’s Jabari Parker. And on Thursday, news broke of Joel Embiid’s impending foot surgery, which will likely cause the projected top pick to slide.
If Embiid plummets to No. 5, do the Jazz take him, risk and all? Another intriguing option for Utah could be Creighton forward Doug McDermott, who some rank as one of the top pure scorers in the draft.
The Jazz have done their homework, but they refuse to pigeonhole themselves in terms of who they’ll select when the time comes.
“There are a lot of different ways to look at our draft,” Lindsey said. “We’re still in the process of evaluating certain players in terms of fit, or need, or value. We feel like there are a lot of different things that can happen, and that’s what makes it interesting about this process.”
Five at No. 5?
Five possibilities the Jazz may have with the No. 5 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft:
Aaron Gordon • Forward, Arizona
Marcus Smart • Guard, Oklahoma State
Julius Randle • Forward, Kentucky
Noah Vonleh • Forward, Indiana
Doug McDermott • Forward, Creighton
O Thursday, 5 p.m.
TV • ESPN