With the NBA’s draft looming on Thursday night, the Utah Jazz can either go with a long shot or play it safe.
If they choose, they can select a prospect with boom-or-bust potential. There will be those on the board. Those who may not be rotation-ready from day one, but could be developed into something more down the road.
Or, the Jazz could go in another direction and pluck a more polished prospect off the board. There are some who could potentially step into Quin Snyder’s rotation rather quickly, but may not have the perceived upside as others.
In the crapshoot area usually known as the No. 21 pick, the Jazz are going to have options in what will be a deep and talented draft. But, Utah’s front office knows both avenues have their rewards … and their risks.
“I like where we’re at,” Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsey said. “We think we have a bunch of options at 21. There are athletes that we will have to be patient with. There are athletes that could potentially play. But there’s a deep pool of talent in this draft, and because of that we haven’t eliminated many players at this point.”
The Jazz can afford to be a bit choosy because of where they are as a franchise. This past season, they finished fifth in the Western Conference while playing like one of the best teams in the league after the All-Star break.
Utah then eliminated the Oklahoma City Thunder in an emotional first-round series that took six games, before losing to the Houston Rockets in five games in the second round.
The Jazz are deep and they are talented. They probably will bring back much of the same cast as last year, a roster that won’t need a four-month acclimation period like this one needed.
And, they are young. Donovan Mitchell, Dante Exum, Royce O’Neale and Rudy Gobert have yet to hit their primes. Ricky Rubio is just entering his. Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder and Thabo Sefolosha are all savvy veterans.
Lindsey and the rest of the front office feel the roster has significant room for internal growth. And Utah’s developmental staff has distinguished itself as one of the best in the NBA. So, the Jazz feel they can go a number of different ways with their first-round pick. They generally live by the motto of selecting the best player available, regardless of position. But they feel they can vet the prospects even more, this time around.
“Those are the conversations we are having right now,” Jazz VP of Player Personnel Walt Perrin said. “If we take a guy who is not ready, but he hits on where we think he may hit, the wait would be worth it. The risk is he may not get there, and that’s what we have to figure out.”
Essentially, going the potential route requires the Jazz to do quite a bit of homework. If they selected a player who needs a bit of time to reach his ceiling, the Jazz have to figure out how hard that player wants to work and get better. They’ve done this before in Lindsey’s tenure, with Dante Exum and Trey Lyles and Rudy Gobert. They’ve gone the safe route with Rodney Hood.
Mitchell represents something different, and a mixture of what the Jazz are trying to accomplish on Thursday. He was the rare prospect — emphasis on rare — with NBA readiness and significant upside. Mitchell was rotational from day one. But he also worked tirelessly with Jazz assistant Johnnie Bryant in skill development, and was able to significantly improve during the season, which is rare.
The Jazz know the chances of drafting another player with Mitchell’s impact is miniscule. But, ideally, they hope to come away with someone who can play right away and improve as well.
“There are a lot of possibilities for us,” Lindsey said. “We’ve just started the decision-making process. We have to make decisions on readiness versus upside. But there are more possibilities than we are used to, from picking in the past around this spot.”
Five safe bets
Grayson Allen, 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Duke
Strengths: Very good athlete who was a four-year player at Duke. Has been great on the pre-draft workout circuit
Keita Bates-Diop, 6-foot-8 small forward, Ohio State
Strengths: Improved immensely in college. Can play either forward spot. Is a good shooter and defender
Chandler Hutchison, 6-foot-7 shooting guard, Boise State
Strengths: One of the better scorers in the draft. Can get buckets from all three levels, and has nice size for a shooting guard
Jalen Brunson, 6-foot-2 point guard, Villanova
Strengths: Much like his father, Rick, Jalen will probably be a 10-year NBA player. He compares favorably to Toronto point guard Fred Van Vleet
Jerome Robinson, 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Boston College
Strengths: Pure scorer who would fit with the Jazz almost perfectly. He started the pre-draft process as a relative unknown. Now? Don’t be shocked if he is picked in the lottery
Five upside picks
Troy Brown, 6-foot-7 shooting guard, Oregon
Strengths: Will be 18 on draft night. Can play and guard three positions. Shooting has to get a lot better. But, has the potential to be a standout defender
Donte DiVencenzo, 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Villanova
Strengths: Could be the prospect who plays right away, but has upside. Just scratching the surface of his potential. Can play and defend both guard spots. Is a high-level athlete and scorer
Kevin Huerter, 6-foot-7 shooting guard, Maryland
Strengths: Terrific shooter, one of the best in the draft. And is more than a shooter offensively. Is still growing into his body. Has a chance to be a significant offensive talent
De’Anthony Melton, 6-foot-3 shooting guard, USC
Strengths: A high-octane athlete. He’s a sleeper first-round pick. If he becomes a better shooter, watch out. The rest of the skill set is there
Zhaire Smith, 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Texas Tech
Strengths: Is perhaps the best athlete in the draft. He’s such a good athlete that he may go in the lottery, despite the rest of his game needing a ton of development.