Even with the NBA Draft days away, there’s tons of intrigue at the top.
Will Arizona big man DeAndre Ayton go No. 1? Will European standout Luka Doncic slide out of the top three? Will Michael Porter Jr., who hardly played at all last season at Missouri, make it in the top five?
These questions have easily overshadowed the Jazz, who are again slated out of the lottery with the No. 21 overall pick. But a lack of the buzz doesn’t mean the Jazz are out of luck when it comes to finding a helpful piece.
After all, under general manager Dennis Lindsey, they’ve done it before later in the first round.
“We feel like we can get a really good player at 21,” Walt Perrin, vice president of player personnel, said. “We like what we’ve got.”
You don’t have to look beyond the heart of the Jazz roster to find one of the best picks the team has ever gotten between 20-30: Rudy Gobert, who was No. 27 overall in the 2013 draft. The 7-foot-1 center was originally selected by the Denver Nuggets, who traded him to Utah for a second-round pick and cash.
Years later, Gobert is the focal point around which the Jazz have built their defensive identity — an All-NBA center in 2017 and potentially this season’s defensive player of the year. Coach Quin Snyder has talked throughout his Jazz tenure about “not putting a ceiling” on player development: Gobert’s role was never limited by where he was picked.
Another key piece of recent teams picked in the 20s was Rodney Hood, who left the Jazz in a February trade with some baggage. But nevertheless, Hood was Utah’s second-leading scorer (16.8 ppg) at the time he was traded, and could’ve wound up a strong candidate for Sixth Man of the Year had he remained on the team. Lindsey also was able to flip the former Duke standout for Jae Crowder, who proved to be a valuable defender and bench scorer in the team’s run to the second round of the playoffs.
The Jazz are also fans of using picks in the 20s as trade assets. This famously paid off last draft when Utah was able to package the No. 23 pick with Trey Lyles to select Donovan Mitchell with the No. 13 pick from Denver. Trades with picks in the 20s have also fizzled: The Jazz packaged picks No. 14 and 21 together for No. 9 Trey Burke, who never reached his potential in Utah.
Perhaps one reason to think the Jazz could make the most of the 21st pick this draft is that they’ve gotten almost all the players they’ve wanted to participate in workouts. While Perrin estimated that team workouts account for about 10 percent of the information the Jazz collect about a given prospect, seeing them in person and getting a feel for how they respond to coaching can help cement the organization’s view of a player. Mitchell’s workout last year, for example, was a clinching factor in Utah’s desire to trade up for him.
Of the prospects ranked between 16 and 30 on ESPN’s draft board, only four players didn’t visit Salt Lake City for a workout: Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith, Maryland’s Kevin Huerter, Western Kentucky’s Mitchell Robinson and Miami’s Bruce Brown.
Whereas last year, it was a surprise to see Mitchell, who was slated as a midround to lottery pick , in the gym, Utah’s track record of player development has made agents and potential prospects more trusting and more willing to make the journey for a workout. It’s made Perrin’s job easier: He only had to set up 11 workouts this year to make it happen.
“I don’t think I’ve every had that [few] amount of workouts under Dennis,” he said. “With the way our coaching staff is, and the way Dennis is getting out the story of the Utah Jazz … it’s been fairly easy for me to get players in this year.”