Nobody on the outside knows for sure what the Jazz will do come Thursday night, when they are scheduled to make the 21st pick in the first round of the NBA Draft. Despite their study of the potentially available players, it may be that nobody on the inside knows, either.
On Friday afternoon, general manager Dennis Lindsey was huddled with 20 other Jazz insiders in a theater, still measuring talent and other characteristics, still putting together scenarios that could unfold, still trying to figure out every possibility surrounding the draft.
Nothing is certain at this point.
And, as far as positive results go, it might not be certain even after the Jazz do whatever it is that they’ll do.
Ultimately, Lindsey said he’s looking for a “good soul.”
Avenues the Jazz might take to that end depend on all kinds of variables, including the different opportunities that could present themselves.
If a favorable one does, Lindsey has shown in the past that he will not double-clutch at relying on his and his staff’s analysis of numerous players to charge up or down the board or out of the endeavor entirely, tied as the whole thing is to potential trades and subsequent free-agent signings.
But if the Jazz stay where they are at No. 21, they will rely on something else, past just their evaluation and acumen, something they have focused on and sharpened since Lindsey and Quin Snyder teamed up fo form one of the better GM-coach tandems in all of basketball.
They will count on skill development of individual players.
Before you roll your eyes and turn the page, stop to consider what the Jazz have achieved in that regard. Their reputation around the league as a preeminent stop for getting the most out of players — thanks, in part, to spotting the types of athletes able and willing to work to grow and then using the talents of a gifted staff to absolutely kill the process, from the fundamental to the nuanced — is not hyperbolic, nor any kind of waste of time.
It used to be that observers of basketball, outside of exceptional situations, almost immediately judged and categorized players as great, good, standard, substandard. Those players pretty much were what they were. They could make a little progress here or there, but only a little.
Diligence and development were always valued, on rare occasions transforming a player, sometimes simply making him what he would be. Almost always, it was the latter, not the former.
Those kinds of quick categorizations are reserved now for the obviously great and for those who have little chance of becoming anything beyond an end-of-the-bench player. Everything in-between is clay to be molded, some of it into masterpieces, some of it into whatever it is your third-grade daughter formed out of a gooey lump her teacher gave her in art class. That scale ranges from stars to huge contributors to rotational players to players with limited roles to players who start and end up in the backwaters of the G League.
The Jazz, in acquiring players through various methods, have had more than an average share of success in getting the most out of what others may have, at one point or another, at one place or another, considered good or may have considered garbage.
It runs across all levels of ability.
Rudy Gobert. Joe Ingles. Royce O’Neale. Ricky Rubio. Jae Crowder. Jonas Jerebko. Raul Neto. And the off-the-charts case of Donovan Mitchell, who in last year’s draft was initially judged by 12 teams to be less of a player than the guy they got.
The Jazz have used whatever they could to find and develop their own.
It hasn’t always worked out. The Jazz also took and expected more from Trey Burke (ninth overall pick), and Rodney Hood (23rd), and Dante Exum (fifth). Exum’s injuries have interrupted his progress enough to remain inconclusive. While the Jazz took Trey Lyles instead of Devin Booker, a move that can be considered nothing but a mistake, they did utilize Lyles in the trade that brought them Mitchell, so there is that.
Moreover, the starting point isn’t the only factor. Hood, for example, was a later first-round selection, but showed enough early growth to offer promise, and then …
Picking at No. 21, if the Jazz stay there, means a handful of things:
1) They will be forced to pick the best player available, as opposed to aiming for specific positional needs; 2) They will have to outsmart everyone else to get a real contributor, have to see something a few layers deep in a player that others do not see; 3) They will have to get lucky; 4) They will have to gauge the mind of a player driven and determined enough to be useful; 5) They will have to spot and value in raw form the rudiments of something beyond the ordinary and turn that form over to a group of assistants who specialize in shaping it.
And that’s OK, even if it is not necessarily, at least on average, a great bet.
In the 2017 draft, at No. 21, the Thunder took Terrance Ferguson, a shooting guard who averaged three points per game this past season. In 2016, at 21, the Hawks took DeAndre Bembry, a small forward, averaging 3.7 points. In 2015, the Mavs selected Justin Anderson, a small forward who averaged 5.8 points. In 2014, OKC picked Mitch McGary, power forward, who has averaged 4.4 points. And … well, you get the idea.
It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible. There are many success stories from players taken at or after the 21st pick. It’s a matter of all the aforementioned factors.
“You just have to have an open mindset [about draft candidates],” Lindsey said. “It’s tough and it’s humbling because, I really believe this in my bones, just deep, deep down that you really never know a person until you work with them, you live with them or you compete with them. … We can do all the intel we want, we can do all the background [checks], we can have behavioral psychologists, ad nauseam. We can have this test and that test, but you just don’t know.
“What you do is, you try to eliminate the risk associated with NBA basketball, some medical, some [talent evaluation], some behavioral, and, hopefully, the person you grab onto and somewhat marry yourself to, at the end of the day, you hope they have a good soul.”
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.