One simple word choice might have reshaped my career.
In the buildup to the NBA Draft last June, when the Jazz owned pick Nos. 24 and 30 in the first round, almost anything was in play. This was among the main possibilities I outlined: “The Jazz could move up and take Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell.”
Wow. Change “could” to “should,” and I would have become an immortal in the profession.
I’ll claim that sentence as a partial victory, considering what Mitchell became as a Jazz rookie. The trouble for any of us involved in the predraft business is the same issue that Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey will face for the rest of his tenure. Everybody expects him to find another Mitchell, right?
After all, Frank Layden followed his pick of John Stockton with Karl Malone. Dell Curry proved to be another good choice the next year, even though the Jazz traded him after one season, but then came Jose Ortiz and Eric Leckner. So it is asking a lot of Lindsey to deliver another big hit Thursday, although some intriguing options exist.
Let me take a stab at this, using “should” instead of “could.”
The Jazz should draft Kevin Huerter, a 6-foot-7 guard from Maryland.
The flaw in that statement is that Huerter (pronounced “Hurt-er”) could be gone when the Jazz pick at 21. But just imagine a shooter of his ability, plugged into coach Quin Snyder’s rotation. The Jazz need more scoring, and I’ll always default to offense, stemming from my college education.
Three things have stuck with me in the decades that followed: How to keep score in bowling, a skill made obsolete by automated systems; the economic point of diminishing returns, which I have misapplied to yard work; and the object of basketball being to outscore the opponent, as opposed to holding the other guys to fewer points.
That philosophy was driven home in Basketball Coaching Methods, as taught by Rod Tueller. Nobody ever won a basketball game 1-0. Scoring points is what matters, and those lessons have shaped me. So when Tueller’s Utah State team once lost 142-140 to UNLV, I recognized the problem: The Aggies failed to score 143.
Snyder’s defensive emphasis has framed his success with the Jazz, and I’ve observed how this market appreciates the effort and commitment involved with stopping opponents and winning games on that end of the court. I also marveled last season about how Snyder could design an offense that ranked in the middle of the NBA in efficiency, even with personnel oriented to defense.
To keep improving, the Jazz need more offense — specifically, more outside shooting. Huerter would help. There’s some mystery about him, after he canceled a workout with the Jazz and recently underwent hand surgery. Yet, if he’s available at No. 21, he would be a great selection.
Huerter “plays both ends,” ESPN scouting analyst Mike Schmitz said in a teleconference this week. “He’s really tough. He can shoot it.”
ESPN’s Jay Bilas spoke of Huerter’s “excellent range; a really, really good shooter.” I’m sold. The problem? Some team picking ahead of the Jazz might like him too. Other good shooters in the Jazz’s range include UCLA point guard Aaron Holiday and Creighton guard Khyri Thomas. Holiday was impressive last season in a win and a loss vs. Utah, totaling 43 points on 16-of-29 shooting. He might not be a rotation player right away, depending on what the Jazz do with Dante Exum, but I like his potential.
No. 21 might be a high slot for Thomas, with questions about his size as a shooting guard, but he can defend bigger players. The downside is I continually would compare his shooting to Kyle Korver’s, as another Creighton product who thrived with the Jazz.
The encouraging aspect of this draft is that even as a playoff team, the Jazz should be able to get a contributing wing player, because inside players will go higher. Will they land another Mitchell? Of course not.
Then again, did any of us know at the time what the pick of Mitchell meant? I got this part right, after the Utah media’s interview with him that night: “I love this guy’s personality. … Getting to know him will be fun for everybody in Salt Lake City.”
I also wrote, “The question is how soon he can help the Jazz on the court.”
Fairly soon, as it turned out. Huerter also will help right away, if the Jazz can get him.