The NBA’s pre-draft process has been messy. How will that impact the Utah Jazz on Wednesday?

(Frank Franklin | AP file photo) Utah Jazz exec Dennis Lindsey sad that having Donovan Mitchell come to Utah for an in-person workout on the team's terms was a crucial part of getting the information necessary to trade up and draft him. With COVID-19 restrictions in place this year, the Jazz have had to rely on other means of gathering intel on prospects.

For years, the Utah Jazz’s pre-draft process has entailed bringing in six (sometimes 12) prospects a day multiple days a week during the offseason, running them through team-devised drills, and having them play 3-on-3 games in order to gauge how they perform in some replicated game situations.

Teams’ contact with prospects ahead of Wednesday night’s NBA Draft has been limited to Zoom interviews and a maximum of 10 in-person workouts — the parameters of which are established by the players and their agents, and which cannot include any other players, in order to avoid potential COVID-19 transmission.

Needless to say, the Jazz — like everyone else — are trying to make the best of an inherently imperfect situation.

“We spend a lot of time taking a step back and deciding how we’re going to decide, and obviously there were just major adjustments,” Dennis Lindsey, the Jazz’s executive vice president of basketball operations, said in a Zoom meeting with reporters. “We’ve used draft workouts [in Utah] for a multitude of reasons — relationship-building with agents, telling our story about Salt Lake City, final piece of an evaluation on Donovan Mitchell, in-person visits, athletic testing, second interviews. And that has been severely, extremely mitigated. But it’s our job to still execute and make good decisions, and we’re confident that we came up with a really good process given these limitations.”
Of course, there’s no getting around that there are limitations in play, and that they have an impact.

Only getting to see 10 total players up close and personal — and not on your terms on top of that — can’t help but affect the process.

“There’s only so many things you can do inside of a 1-on-0 workout,” Lindsey said. "… The beauty of having 3-on-3 workouts is you can put the prospects in the context of a pick-and-roll, a post-up, a pin-down, an isolation, there’s help and recovery. So we can mimic a few 5-on-5 situations in a typical draft workout season. We think we do a decent job of, when we get a prospect, of knowing what they’re doing and putting them in situations where we can see if there’s going to be a one-to-one transfer from college, international to the NBA.

“Well, all that’s gone out the window,” he added.

Lindsey would not confirm how many of their 10 allotted workouts the Jazz have yet conducted, let alone with whom — “for competitive reasons,” he acknowledged. He did allow that the team has saved up a few of them, however, “in case we want some late touches.”

Several prospects interviewed by the media in recent days — Vanderbilt wing Aaron Nesmith, French point guard Theo Maledon, Kentucky’s Tyrese Maxey, and Alabama’s Kira Lewis — all mentioned that they’ve interviewed with the Jazz via Zoom, though none acknowledged working out with the team yet. The Athletic cited sources in reporting that Arizona wing Josh Green was one of the players to work out for the Jazz.

Still, with in-person workouts as curtailed as they are, the Jazz have devoted much of their time to doing “deep statistical dives, deep video dives” instead.

They’ve also been doing significant background work.

After general manager Justin Zanik mentioned that a player’s ability to flourish with the Jazz is ultimately in part dependent upon “their commitment as a player to develop,” Lindsey elaborated that looking into prospects’ mindsets and psychological profiles is now an imperative component of the full analysis.

“No one’s got a crystal ball on predicting teachability and compliance, but usually the best predictor of that is previous behavior,” he said. "So [we gather] a lot of intel on a player related to their habits and health-performance area: getting to sleep, and [whether they] eat properly so they’re rested and energetic and, by definition, compliant.

“… The teaching and our ability to get players better is a huge foundational piece of what we do. We’re not going to get all of these decisions right, sometimes there’s unknowns that happen, but we’ve got to be good in this area,” Lindsey added. “So the basketball IQ, knowing how to play, open mindset — all those characteristics, their soft skills, if you will — become really, really important pieces, and many times tiebreakers if their bodies, skills, modeling is close.”

Naturally, the Jazz would love to visit more prospects, would’ve to set the terms of the workouts, would love to put them in competitive situations to see how they perform in the moment. But they can’t. And no one else can either.

And so, all they’re left with is trusting that they’ve done all the work they can in other areas to be ready as possible when their turn to pick comes up on Wednesday.

“Obviously, we’ve had a lot of time to prepare for this one, even though there’s been some interruptions and some holes, as far as it’s just a unique format and how we gather information this year,” Zanik said. “We just had to adjust. But we’re well-prepared.”

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