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Enes Kanter vs. Brandon Knight as Jazz face future

Published June 23, 2011 4:23 pm

Stockton. Malone. Williams. Those names are etched high atop the pinnacle of Utah's past draft success. Now the Jazz get another chance to shape what they hope will leave them head and shoulders above the rest.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

New York • The resignations of Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson ignited the Jazz's change. The trade of Deron Williams highlighted it. Tyrone Corbin's promotion and the late-season ascension of rookies Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors accelerated it. But the true mark of Utah's movement from the past to the future will be made Thursday, as the Jazz decide how to best utilize the Nos. 3 and 12 picks in the 2011 NBA Draft.

Enes Kanter or Brandon Knight? Jimmer Fredette, Alec Burks, Klay Thompson or Chris Singleton? Another unexpected blockbuster trade or a faithful adherence to a carefully planned script?

It's decision time for Utah. The future has arrived. The most important draft in franchise history is here.

As of Wednesday evening, the Jazz appeared to be leaning toward Kanter over Knight at No. 3, creating space for a possible selection of Fredette at No. 12. However, Utah general manager Kevin O'Connor acknowledged Monday that the franchise was exploring all options with open eyes.

The tight-lipped GM and the organization that employs him take pride in the fact that the franchise's biggest moves are often well-kept secrets. O'Connor was willing to confirm two facts about the Jazz's take on the 2011 draft, though. Almost every pick from No. 1 through No. 14 is wide open — and uncertainty reigns.

"This is one of those drafts … it's going to be beauty in the eye of the beholder," O'Connor said. "And I think, some guys in the draft, you're going to look at a pick at a certain number and you go, 'Ooh, all of the mock drafts didn't have that guy rated there.' "

If any selection is carved in stone, it's Duke point guard Kyrie Irving going to Cleveland at No. 1. But even that pick has been debated in recent days, with everyone from Arizona's Derrick Williams to Kanter reportedly drawing the Cavaliers' interest.

Trades are also expected to significantly alter the first round, which could leave the Jazz scrolling down their draft board for the best available player if their ideal pick is grabbed before their time on the clock arrives.

"You'll deal with it accordingly," said O'Connor, who believes that the 2011 class is characterized more by lack of separation than overall weakness.

Utah is searching for strength. Jazz players such as Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Devin Harris possess undeniable assets, and they make up the core of a team that is still stuck between rebuilding and forward movement.

Each player has glaring weaknesses, though, while the franchise took a clear step backward last season after falling apart during its second half.

Asked about the holes in Utah's lineup and the team's obvious need for perimeter shooting and interior size, Corbin only saw the big picture.

"We just need to get better," he said.

That all-encompassing viewpoint doesn't clear up whether the Jazz will pick Kanter or Knight at No. 3, if Utah holds on to its selection and the top two choices play out as predicted. But the emphasis on "better" does shine a slightly brighter light on Kanter.

Had the Turkish big man played for Kentucky last season, many believe he would have eclipsed Irving and become the consensus No. 1 pick. And as Kanter and Knight discussed their impending futures Wednesday with the media during a pre-draft interview session, a late burst of momentum built in Kanter's favor.

The highly intelligent Knight makes logical sense for the Jazz, and he could be tutored under Harris until Utah is ready to turn another page. But if Kanter pans out, the 6-foot-11, 260-pound center could be a game-changer — the type of dominating post presence only available to nonplayoff teams during random drafts and only acquired with an elite pick.

Kanter's ready if he receives the call. He matched up against Corbin and formed an instant bond with the coach during an individual workout for the Jazz in mid-May in Chicago.

He received excellent feedback after the session. And he is already impressed with O'Connor.

"I like [the] Utah Jazz because the team plays together and it's [a] really good team," Kanter said.

"With me, I believe I can help them. … And I just told him I think I'll be a great fit for them."

Knight is equally open to joining the Jazz and expects to be a top-three pick. But he sounded less certain about putting on a Utah hat Thursday night and instead emphasized the uncertainty of an already chaotic draft.

A draft the Jazz need to nail to move the franchise forward — and one that could center on Knight's untouched ceiling if his name is called.

"I feel it could happen," Knight said. "But the draft is inexact — you never know what's going to happen. I feel it could be a great fit, but I can't control where I go."

bsmith@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribjazz

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NBA Draft

P Thursday, 5:30 p.m.

Where •Prudential Centerin Newark, N.J.

TV • ESPN

Rounds • 2

Jazz • Nos. 3 and 12 overall picks —

Topping the list

After more than a month of workouts and hype, the Jazz appear to have narrowed their list of options for the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft to just two players. Here's a look at who Utah could take.

Enes Kanter, center, Turkey • The best big man in a weak draft has captured the Jazz's interest with his large frame and soft touch. Kanter would likely have been the consensus No. 1 if he played for Kentucky last season. Grabbing him at No. 3 would be a steal.

Brandon Knight, guard, Kentucky • Rivals Kyrie Irving as the premier point guard available. Knight has major long-term potential and is a close second to Kanter. He would fit well in Utah's system and could be tutored under Devin Harris until his spotlight shines on its own.

Another option? • Minnesota has reportedly expressed interest in drafting Kanter with the No. 2 pick instead of Arizona's Derrick Williams, who has long been expected to end up with the Timberwolves. Whether or not the talk is true or simply a smokescreen — and whether Minnesota holds on to the second choice or trades it — will be determined Thursday. —

Past top picks

2010 • John Wall, Washington

2009 • Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers

2008 • Derrick Rose, Chicago

2007 • Greg Oden, Portland

2006 • AndreaBargnani, Toronto