Asked last week about the Jazz’s predraft workouts being largely stocked with second-round or rookie free agent-type players, Vice President of Player Personnel Walt Perrin noted that between the NBA Combine and agency-run Pro Days, much of the top talent simply hadn’t been made available for teams yet.
“Hopefully our workouts will start to pick up — I think they will — really soon,” he said.
In Sunday’s double session at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus practice facility, that prediction came to fruition.
Among the 12 players who worked out for Jazz brass were roughly a half-dozen mid- to late-first-round prospects, including big men Mfiondu Kabengele (Florida State), Grant Williams (Tennessee), and Naz Reid (LSU) in Session 1; and wings/guards KZ Okpala (Stanford), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), and Dylan Windler (Belmont) in Session 2.
Perrin explained that the agency contacts of Jazz GM Justin Zanik and assistant GM David Morway, combined with the Memorial Day weekend, and the last-minute cancelation of the NBA’s Global Camp all added up to a stacked day at the ZBBC.
“It was a perfect storm for us to get these type players in today,” he said. “It’s rare when you get more than two players in a workout in your same draft range — especially at the same position.”
Windler, a 6-foot-8, 200-pound senior wing who’s been steadily elevating his game in the Ohio Valley Conference (the same league that presumptive No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant played in), noted that the talent level in his group (which also included wings Louis King from Oregon and Ignas Brazdeikis from Michigan, as well as guard Justin Wright-Foreman from Hofstra) definitely helped all the participants raise their performances.
“It was extremely competitive — we had some really good players out here,” Windler said. “Guys were going after each other.”
Perrin said he intentionally structured the first session with four bigs and two points, and the latter with a quartet of wings and a pair of guards, to see how players performed against a group of similar athletes.
The first group also included sophomore big (and fringe first-rounder) Nic Claxton of Georgia, and junior PGs Jared Harper (Auburn) and Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s), but was highlighted by a trio of talented big men eager to show they can stretch the floor in the NBA.
Kabengele (6-10, 250), who averaged 13.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks as a sophomore at Florida State, has drilled 37.4% of his deep attempts with the Seminoles, albeit on a mere 1.3 attempts per game. Reid (6-10, 250), as a freshman at LSU, was slightly less efficient from deep (33.3%), but more prolific (2.5 attempts per game). He averaged 13.6 points and 7.2 rebounds with the Tigers.
Williams (6-7, 236), meanwhile, is a back-to-back SEC Player of the Year, and a unanimous NCAA First Team All-American as a junior after averaging 18.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.2 assists while shooting 56.4% from the field for the Volunteers. However, he is just a career 29.1% 3-point shooter, on on less than one attempt per game.
“[Kabengele] shot the ball pretty well, which you never did get a chance to see, hardly, at Florida State. Grant Williams has extended his range since college. Naz has played on the perimeter, so we’ve been able to see some of that with Naz at LSU,” Perrin said.
As for the group with the wing players, the marquee names were a more disparate group.
Okpala, a 6-9, 215-pounder from Stanford, is perhaps the most highly rated draft prospect to work out for the Jazz yet. He averaged 16.9 points and 5.7 rebounds as a sophomore with the Cardinal. However, while his 3-point shooting took a big leap forward from Year 1 to 2 (22.6% on 1.3 attempts vs. 37.5% on 3.0 tries), there are still questions about how effective a deep shooter he can be in the league. Sunday apparently did not help much in that regard.
“That’s one of the areas KZ’s gonna have to improve on. He shot it OK, not great today,” Perrin said. “His game is more slashing, penetrating — he’s got to learn to be more comfortable with his jump shot. He knocked down a few, but I think he was also a little hesitant shooting a few.”
No such questions surround Edwards, the junior gunner from Purdue who averaged 24.3 ppg last year for the Boilermakers and launched 10.6 3-pointers per game (hitting 35.5%). However, given that he stands just 6-1 and averaged only 2.9 assists per game, the Jazz were keen to get a closer look at “what he can do in terms of passing and playmaking.”
As for Windler, he has been shooting up draft boards following a senior season that saw him average 21.3 points and 10.8 rebounds, while drilling 42.9% of his 7.1 deep tries per game. He rose to further national prominence after dropping 35 points against sixth-seeded Maryland in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s pretty surreal for me. I came from nothing early on — even in high school I wasn’t recruited much,” Windler said. “… It’s been a long journey. I came in to Belmont as a freshman, came in off the bench as a role player for two years, it wasn’t really until my junior year that I was the go-to guy. It came to a point where I started to get NBA buzz, and I just keep my head down, just keep getting better, and here I am.”
On Sunday, both he and Perrin acknowledged he didn’t have his best shooting performance, but Windler said he was also out to “prove I can play at a high level defensively, that I’m a competitor, that I’m willing to do anything.”
Perrin said he accomplished that.
“He’s able to showcase in this how he’s able to play against bigger, stronger players, where he doesn’t get that opportunity in the OVC,” he said. “He competed, he didn’t back down from anybody. That was good to see.”