Maybe calling Wednesday’s free-agent mini-camp the Jazz’s version of the Island of Misfit Toys is a little bit harsh... but it’s not inaccurate.
Take Justin Patton, the 2017 No. 16 pick who earned his relatively lofty selection thanks to great athleticism and size, if not a developed offensive game. But a foot injury or three sidelined him and ultimately ended his first contract early, and now the 21-year-old is trying to find his next NBA contract.
Or Cameron Payne, the 2015 No. 15 pick who first disappointed for the Oklahoma City Thunder before disappointing immediately when traded to the Bulls.
“We knew the second practice [after he was acquired] that he couldn’t play at [an NBA] level,’’ a Bulls source told the Chicago Sun Times. “The only reason it took two practices was because we thought maybe it was nerves in the first one.”
Or Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira, the 2013 No. 16 pick, a 7-0 center with a 7-5 wingspan who played in 141 games for the Raptors, even starting 10 of them. But battles with depression and alcohol abuse served to hamper his on-court effectiveness.
The highest former pick was Thomas Robinson, who went No.5 overall in 2012 to the Sacramento Kings. Since a 5-year NBA career, Robinson’s played overseas and in the G-League.
It’s these players, plus a cast of 26 other free agents from around the world of basketball, who made up the Jazz’s mini-camp this year. Players who were on the Stars roster last year, like Willie Reed, Isaac Haas, Tre’Shaun Fletcher, Tanner McGrew, and Jairus Lyles all also had the chance to compare themselves to the other free agents.
In the two-day camp, the Jazz try to find which of these players might have a chance to make it beyond their limitations into effective players in the NBA in 2019-20.
“We identify these players throughout the year with our scouting staff and international staff, and we want to bring them in and give them a chance to compete for a chance on the Jazz’s roster,” said team director of scouting Bart Taylor.
They’ve done it before, too. Royce O’Neale attended the camp in 2016 and stood out, leading to the Jazz giving him an NBA contract in 2017. Other participants have gone onto success in recent years, like JaMychal Green and Alex Caruso.
“We definitely have a lot of NBA talent out here today. Royce stood out a couple of years ago, and that’s why he’s on the roster now.”
The Jazz know that the mini-camp players aren’t going to be among their stars; they’re likely to be role players. So bringing them into a mini-camp allows them to see how they play as part of a team when given those instructions.
“Do they know how to play? Are they going to be a good teammate? Can they make shots, can they read the game, can they defend? Basically, [we’re looking for] the things Quin [Snyder] is looking for. We like to call it Jazz DNA,” Taylor said.
Upside is important too, especially among the younger players who worked out. Players like Patton might have a chance to improve if they can stay healthy, taking advantage of the Jazz’s vaunted player development program.
Even if a spot on the Jazz’s roster isn’t in the cards, the Jazz also offer other opportunities. Spots are available on the Salt Lake City Stars and the Jazz’s summer league teams, both in Salt Lake City and in Las Vegas. The Jazz might use some of their training camp slots on some of the mini-camp players as well.
So yes, just like those on the Island of Misfit Toys, these players haven’t had the best go of it so far, but they just might find a home.