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We’re just seven days away from the NBA Draft.
Seems kinda crazy, doesn’t it, following the longest season ever and a decidedly unique offseason? But here we are.
After spending the past month or so reaching out to agents, trying to get a feel for who the Jazz might have some interest in, my latest bit of predraft work came Wednesday morning, when the NBA conducted the first eight of 29 scheduled Zoom interviews between prospects and media.
This batch of players included no-doubt lottery players such as Georgia’s Anthony Edwards, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Deni Avdija, Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton, Dayton’s Obi Toppin, and Auburn’s Isaac Okoro — guys the Jazz won’t be getting unless they pull off something spectacular. Still, with the other three having a wider draft range (mock drafts have put them everywhere from the late lottery to the early 20s) I figured checking in on them would be worthwhile.
Here’s what they had to say about having contact with Utah’s front office:
Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt • “The Jazz are one of the earlier teams that I talked to, so getting an opportunity to talk to those guys and have them pick my brain and me getting to pick theirs was very beneficial. They have guys in Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert who played phenomenal in the first round of the playoffs this past season, and me being out on the wing would do nothing but make their lives easier, being able to spread that floor, being able to allow Donovan Mitchell to have more space and take some of the load off him scoring-wise. And on the defensive end, being another anchor for those guys, being an effort-and-energy guy — diving around for loose balls, getting deflections, taking charges.”
Saddiq Bey, Villanova • On the advice of his agent, Bey declined to name specific teams he has interviewed with or worked out for. The 6-foot-8, 215-pound 3-and-D wing noted that because “the NBA game is different,” he’s spent his time off working on how to better defend “a lot of ball-screens, a lot of isos.” He also mentioned that he is very good friends with fellow Villanova product Eric Paschall of the Warriors — who just happens to be BFFs with Donovan Mitchell.
R.J. Hampton, New Zealand Breakers • The former prep standout turned international combo guard gave a curious and less-than enthused response to being asked about the Jazz: “I can’t remember if I interviewed with the Jazz or not. If I did, it was during the Combine interviews.” In other words, no recent contact.
Actually, beyond Nesmith, the prospect who spoke most about the Jazz (albeit in a tangential way), was Haliburton, as the Iowa State star spoke at length from his workout home base in Las Vegas about his relationship with Jazz power forward and fellow Cyclone Georges Niang.
“He’s a really close friend of mine. We talk all the time. I’m surprised he hasn’t FaceTimed me today! We FaceTime every day — he’ll call me to talk about nonsense,” Haliburton said. “We talk all the time, not just about basketball, but off-the-court things, inside jokes, just stuff like that. But we have talked about the basketball side and what to expect, as well. Obviously, I’m in a little bit different a [situation] than him coming out of college — and all the Iowa State guys — so it’s a little different. But they obviously are NBA players and know what to expect. We talk all the time. He’s actually going to come out here on Friday, so I’ll see him then.”
Niang responded on Twitter: “That’s my dog!! @TyHaliburton22 abouta FaceTime you telling you, you can’t guard me!! LOL”
The predraft interviews continue Thursday, with eight more players. The most likely to be potentially within range of the Jazz are French guard Theo Maledon, Memphis big man Precious Achiuwa, Kentucky guard Tyrese Maxey, and Maryland center Jalen Smith. I’ll keep you updated with what they have to say.
Mock draft goodness
Do you love mock drafts? I love mock drafts. Always have since I first knew they were a thing. How accurate or not they ultimately are is honestly kinda beside the point: I just love seeing how other people view the pressing needs of various teams, and comparing their thoughts to my own. And while there’s always a certain amount of groupthink in these mock drafts, it’s just as true that there are never two exactly alike.
There have been a couple of new ones in the past few days that might intrigue Jazz fans.
On Tuesday, John Hollinger of The Athletic saw Utah going the 3-and-D wing route, with Arizona’s Josh Green, noting that, “one can see why a big guard who can defend and has playmaking capability might be a pretty attractive idea for a team like the Jazz.” Former Trib-turned-Athletic writer Tony Jones then broke down what Green could bring.
On Wednesday, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, Mike Schmitz and Kevin Pelton collaborated on a mock draft meant not to predict what teams will do, but to say what they should do. Pelton had the Jazz selecting 19-year-old French point guard Theo Maledon, theorizing that “Utah doesn’t have a long-term option at point guard behind 33-year-old Mike Conley.”
Not sure I agree with that logic, considering I believe Donovan Mitchell is the team’s long-term point guard anyway, but Maledon is 6-foot-5 with a nearly 6-9 wingspan, so there are some physical tools there, even if he’s neither an exceptional shooter nor perimeter defender at the moment.
• Game Theory Podcast: Northwest Division Offseason Preview: Deep Dives into MIN, UTA, DEN, POR, OKC w/ Tony Jones - The Athletic (Jazz preview begins at 38:35)
• Larry Miller would’ve loved the return on investment - Deseret News
• Utah Jazz NBA Draft Breakdowns: Precious Achiuwa - KSL Sports
• Utah Jazz NBA Draft Prospects: Aleksej Pokusevski - KSL Sports