A look inside the Utah Jazz’s process ahead of the NBA draft

While the team went radio silent this offseason about who it brought in for workouts, VP of Player Personnel Bart Taylor did give some insight into how prospects are evaluated and ultimately ranked.

(Utah Jazz) Bart Taylor, the Jazz's Vice President of Player Personnel, gave some insights into the team's draft process, ahead of the 2023 NBA draft, to be held Thursday, June 22.

The NBA draft is here. And the Utah Jazz will be big players in how it unfolds.

A year after having zero picks in the draft, the Jazz have three in the first round this time, at Nos. 9, 16, and 28. At least for now.

Naturally, this became the year that the front office decided not to disclose the players coming in for workouts and interviews. While some prospects inevitably spilled the beans themselves with Instagram posts, the braintrust was nevertheless looking to gain a competitive advantage by not giving too much away.

On Wednesday morning, Bart Taylor, the Jazz’s Vice President of Player Personnel, addressed a few media members to provide at least a little context about how the team’s process has unfolded since the season ended.

No state secrets were divulged, but there were some intriguing insights gleaned. Following are some highlights of what Taylor had to say.

The predraft process in general

Ranking the players:

We have tons of conversations constantly of, ‘Where do you think your guy is?’ ‘Where do you think they’re gonna go?’ with the agents, with other teams. We’re trying to figure that out, even as of [Wednesday], who might be there. And then that way we can have those conversations [Wednesday, Thursday] leading into the draft of, ‘OK, if these two guys are there, who are we taking?’ We’re trying to get all that out so that we’re not on the clock, like, ‘Well, who are we taking?’ and then we have Ryan [Smith] sitting looking at us like, ‘Do you guys know what you’re doing?’ We try to figure all that out before so that we look at least semi-educated.

How entrenched arguments get resolved:

Now, it’s really Danny [Ainge] and Justin [Zanik]’s preference — they’ll get together and talk it out. … We obviously had those conversations in April, May, leading up to this point. And really, we go to the theater and put on the video and just talk it out. ‘Hey, show me exactly what you’re seeing.’ And we watch that and then, ‘OK, this guy doesn’t see that. Well, what do you see?’ And then we watch examples of those things and and then we try to have everybody take that in and see, ‘OK, which side is right?’ basically.

Do prospects ever surprise evaluators during workouts?

Not really — very rarely. That’s one of the misnomers in the workout, especially with the players. They ask us, ‘What advice do you have for me?’ and it’s like, ‘Don’t go into places and try to be someone you’re not.’ We know who they are. We put them in situations and workouts to see their strengths and then really to see some of their weaknesses. And maybe they’ve gotten a little better at some of their weaknesses, and that shows, ‘OK, they’re aware of what they need to work on.’ Or maybe they are a little better at shooting the ball or defending than we thought. But it’s more like, if someone does stand out in something, OK, let’s go back to the film and see, ‘How real is this?’ Or was it just the guy had a good day?

Does a prospect declining a workout take him out of consideration?

We try not to put too much weight into one thing. If a guy does decline it, then usually, it takes Justin to call the agent and really see, ‘OK, why is he declining this? Why won’t he come in? He’s in our range, we like him. What’s the deal?’ And that happens — every year, that happens with guys. [Agents] look at our roster and they just say, ‘Hey, I don’t want my guy there.’ And that’s fine, but if we still think he’s the best player at that pick, we can draft them. It’s not like they’re off the board.

The value of prospect interviews:

How are they as people? Are they able to converse with you? Are they able to understand what you’re trying to ask about? Do they understand the basketball? Can they think about the game at a higher level? Are they self-aware of who they are as a player and the things they may need? Because really, we’re just trying to learn who they are.

Evaluators keeping expectations realistic:

Everybody wants to really project guys to be way better than they are; everybody wants every guy that they like to be an All-Star. But there’s great value if the guy at 16 turns into just the seventh man [in the rotation], off the bench, and is a contributor to a winning team. That’s a win.

The 2023 predraft process specifically

Volume of prospects brought in:

We’ve brought a lot — that’s all I can really say. With the three picks, we’ve been able to get a lot of the guys from really the whole spectrum of the draft in. We’ve been seeing all those players, evaluating them, taking them to dinner, interviewing them, getting to know them. We have had a lot of workouts, and I think the staff is very happy that we’re not doing any more.

Impact of Name, Image, Likeness deals on draft depth:

Some of the NIL stuff has helped guys go back to school and continue to get better, and so you have some older players in the draft later, but they’re definitely more ready to contribute right away, which I think is very helpful for us, say at 28, where maybe we’re taking some younger, developmental guys that need a little more time to grow.

I think it might make [the draft] stronger — the guys being more ready to play. Maybe weaker from the standpoint of you’re not gonna have 19-year-olds that you can swing on, but a lot of those guys don’t pan out either. The second round in general doesn’t tend to work out very well. So I think having older guys with more of a track record and more of a base that we can evaluate is going to be helpful to teams [to] make probably more informed decisions on those guys.

LNB Pro A league (France), Overtime Elite, G League Ignite observations:

There are guys that were very successful in the G League that play in that [LNB Pro A] league and are successful there. So I think it’s very comparable to maybe, like, the G League if you were gonna [do a] one-to-one [comparison].

[In Overtime Elite,] the guys are younger that they’re playing with, but they have a lot of talent there. A lot of those guys are gonna end up in professional leagues. I mean, maybe not all the NBA but there’s a lot of talent there. There’s more than just the two, the twins [Amen and Ausar Thompson]. There’s guys that will be on other teams next year, in college and potentially even the G league Ignite and things like that.

We scouted the Ignite a lot. I think it’s a great platform for them to play. And we get to see them — we played the Ignite a bunch, and … we got to see them play against Ochai [Agbaji], and guys that we know like Micah Potter, Johnny Juzang, guys that we know very well. And to see them go against those and have kind of a baseline for how they play against NBA players, that’s really helpful.

Draft demographics, including a high ratio of wings, and not many international prospects:

There’s a lot of wings in this draft, there aren’t as many big guys or guards in particular. There aren’t a ton of guards. So it’s interesting how just positional stuff has shifted year to year.

A lot of [internationals] pulled out, went back to Europe. After doing their due diligence and going to workouts, I guess they just felt like that was the best decision for them. I wish there were more international guys, but there’ll be more down the road for sure.

Draft day in general

When does the draft board get finalized?

Like, 5:35 maybe? I don’t know — 5:59? In years past, we’ve tried to do it 24 hours before the draft to kind of remove all the emotion of draft day. Draft day also gets a little crazy with teams starting to call, and that’s where Justin’s on the phone all day answering calls. We try to do it 24 hours before.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) From left, Danny Ainge, Justin Zanik, Will Hardy and Ryan Smith pose for a photo during a news conference announcing Hardy as the new Utah Jazz head coach at Vivint Arena, on Tuesday, July 5, 2022.

How many people are in the ‘war room’? Who gets a say on draft night?

Honestly, I don’t know. We’re gonna have our first draft with Danny [on Thursday]. Usually we have the coach, obviously Danny and Justin, we’ll have myself, a few other members of our scouting staff. And then really, in the past when I’ve done these, it really just comes down to what [the top executives] like Danny and Justin think. We’ve done our job of getting them all the information, scouting the players, giving them our opinion, bringing the guys in. We’ve done our job and now it’s on them to just really make the decision. I think if you get too many people’s voices, it can get pretty messy.

Draft night nerves/habits:

I’m definitely a sweater. That’s why I wear black. I’m not a pacer. … I haven’t picked up on too much else [from others]. If I have picked up on it, I don’t know how much they want me to share. I’ll keep some of the stuff quiet. I mean obviously, [Zanik’s affinity for] Red Bulls you know about.

Draft day 2023

Likelihood of using all three picks:

A lot of teams have been asking us from, like, April: ‘Well, are you gonna pick all three picks?’ And it’s like, I have no idea. I don’t know as of right now if we’re gonna pick all three [Thursday], right? We don’t know what’s going to come our way, who’s going to call, who’s going to offer us something, what opportunities will be there. That’s just kind of the nature of the draft — it doesn’t happen ‘til [you’re] on the clock that teams want to make a decision. Everyone wants us to have this clear picture of what we’re trying to do, and the answer is I think it’s just very fluid.

We’re just trying to be opportunistic with whatever comes up. If it’s something where we can package the picks to get a better veteran player that we think can help us win now at a higher rate, we’ll do that if we think that’s better than the players available in the draft. And vice versa, right, if we think drafting the player is better than the guy we’re trading for. We don’t know what is going to come our way and we’re just trying to stay flexible and have an open mind.

Best player available, or targeting specific positions?

We feel like we can just take the best players in all three spots. We don’t have a roster crunch on positions, things like that. We have the ability to house all three picks.

Are there more potential top-10 deals this year?

I mean, I want to say yes, but I feel like I feel every year with all the chatter. I do think there could be more movement, but I don’t know.

A lot of it is teams just putting stuff out to try to create buzz and try to see what other stuff could come their way, right? I think teams try to use the media a lot to generate other trade ideas or get teams to maybe show their hand of what they’re thinking a little more. And it does feel like there is a lot of chatter and a lot of potential movement.

The Ainge factor:

This is our first draft with Danny. So we’re excited to see him operate and learn from him. Obviously he has a great track record with this. So I’m very excited to see kind of how he maneuvers and what he decides on.

He maybe has a different risk tolerance for different things that maybe other GMs I’ve worked for in the past didn’t have as high of a risk tolerance for. You have to shift how you think or how you approach a prospect a little bit differently, just because he’s maybe a little more open-minded on something, or maybe there’s something that he doesn’t like that maybe the past head coach or GM wanted more of.

Talent level in this draft:

I think it’s good. There’s obviously a lot of talent at the top, but I think there’s a lot of talent throughout the middle of the first, the late first, [even] the second round. There’s a lot of good players.

We’re actually very confident with the talent through 28. At all three picks, we feel like we’ll get a good player.

How many players are realistically in play at No. 9?

I mean, we have nine right now. One of them will be there. One of them I know will not be there, for sure.

Seems like it’s been a pretty uneventful build-up, then?

Yeah, it’s been a breeze. We already knew who we wanted at the three spots, so we haven’t done any work.

In that case, you can tell us now who you’re going to pick, right?

Pretty much, yeah. I mean, I think that’s against league rules, so I can’t do that, unfortunately.