When the Utah Jazz began the 2022-23 season with a shocking 10-3 start that put them in first place in the Western Conference, it was quite the feel-good story for a team that felt it was being disrespected with low external expectations.
Of course, that 10-3 start ultimately proved detrimental once the front office fully committed to a tank job.
So it was that the team with the ninth-worst record in the league emerged from Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery in Chicago with the No. 9 overall pick.
The basketball gods did not put their fingers on the pingpong balls the team needed to move up in the draft order.
Instead, the right to draft potentially generational talent Victor Wembanyama went to the San Antonio Spurs.
The rest of the lottery went the Hornets at No. 2, the Trail Blazers third, the Rockets fourth, the Pistons (who had the worst record) dropped all the way to fifth, the Magic are at No. 6, the Pacers seventh, the Wizards, eighth, the Mavericks retained their No. 10 pick, the Bulls came up 11th (which conveys to Orlando), the Thunder 12th, the Raptors 13th, and the Pelicans at 14.
“This is what was expected,” general manager Justin Zanik said via Zoom interview from the NBA Combine in Chicago. “So all of our draft prep, and laying out what the next month and a half is going to look like has all been predicated on, ‘These are where our picks are.’ We would have adjusted accordingly if we moved up or down. But it’s good to have certainty.”
It will be the team’s first top-10 pick since selecting Dante Exum No. 5 overall in 2014. And Utah, for now, owns three selections in the coming NBA draft (set to take place June 22) — Nos. 9, 16 (from the Rudy Gobert trade), and 28 (from the Royce O’Neale trade).
The Jazz were, of course, hoping for a bit of lottery luck.
As a result of their 37-45 final record, they had 45 of the 1,000 four-digit combinations in play during Tuesday’s lottery proceedings. That gave them a 4.5% chance at the No. 1 overall pick, and a 20.27% chance at a top-four selection.
But having owner Ryan Smith in the locked-down drawing room where the actual pingpong ball randomizing takes place, and guard Collin Sexton onstage with some of his lucky $2 bills did not sway the outcome.
And so, the Jazz remain one of six NBA teams never to have had the No. 1 pick in the draft (along with Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, and Oklahoma City Thunder).
The highest Utah has ever picked a player in the draft is No. 2, when it selected Louisville’s Darrell Griffith in 1980.
The Jazz have picked at No. 3 on three occasions — including twice in the lottery era (1985 and beyond).
First, they drafted Georgia’s Dominique Wilkins in 1982 (though financial problems prompted them to trade him to the Hawks). Then, in 2005, the Jazz actually got the No. 6 pick in the lottery, but swung a draft-day trade with Portland, sending out that sixth pick plus No. 27 in the same draft and a first-rounder in 2006 for the third pick, which they used on Deron Williams.
Williams played a role in the team’s other No. 3 pick as well. The trade that sent the disgruntled point guard to Brooklyn wound up bringing back the Nets’ first-round pick in the 2011 draft, which wound up being the third overall selection. The Jazz then picked Turkish-born Kentucky center Enes Kanter.
The only other times the team has finished draft night with a player picked in the top 10 are 2013 (Nos. 14 and 21 Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng were packaged for No. 9 Trey Burke), 2010 (selected Gordon Hayward at No. 9), 1983 (No. 7, Thurl Bailey), and 1975 (No. 7, Rich Kelley).
Considering the Jazz had a 50.73% chance to land the No. 9 pick this year, there wasn’t a lot of letdown for the team’s personnel in attendance.
“Being in the bottom half of the lottery, five, six picks in we know where we are. The emotion happens when you don’t see your name,” Zanik noted. “When you see your name there at nine, you’re like, ‘OK, that’s where we are.’ You move on pretty quickly. And now we’re excited to get started with the combine and interviews and on-court stuff [Wednesday].”
He and CEO Danny Ainge are among a contingent of at least 10 Jazz personnel attending this week’s NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, where prospects are undergoing measurements, medical testing, interviews with teams, drills, and scrimmaging.
The team’s front-office braintrust have already noted that this offseason has the potential to bring significant change to the roster.
There are a few cornerstones in place — with Most Improved Player and All-Star forward Lauri Markkanen and All-Rookie First Team center Walker Kessler the main attractions.
Now they’re primed to add another big piece to the puzzle.