SALT LAKE CITY — When an NBA general manager gets booted from the job these days, there's always the chance for a second career on Wall Street as a high-frequency trader.
It would seem an easy transition given that GMs tend to swap mid- to late- first-round draft picks back and forth nearly as often as Sean Hannity bashes the Obama administration on the radio.
That's because after the so-called sure things are gone — typically the first 10 to 12 picks — drafting becomes the great unknown. Differences in talent and skill become more subtle and more difficult to discern. Luck plays a part, too.
Jazz Hall of Famers John Stockton, a No. 16 pick, and Karl Malone, a No. 13, are still discussed in revered tones around NBA GM campfires. While mid first-round guys like Jose Ortiz, who Utah took at No. 15 in 1987, quickly showed they weren't cut out for the rigors of the NBA.
These expendable draft picks often turn into deal sweeteners — added value of a yet-to-be determined worth that a GM can toss into a trade to balance it out — or hammer it home. Most GMs welcome dealing later opening-round selections in exchange for what seems a bird in the hand now.
Barring more pre-draft deals, 10 of this year's first-round picks will actually be made by teams other than the ones the selections originally belonged to. Utah's own first-round pick, No. 23, in the 2010 draft is a perfect example. That selection now actually belongs to Minnesota, which acquired it from Philadelphia, which received it from the Jazz as part of a December 2007 trade that sent shooting guard Kyle Korver to Utah.
Previously, it was difficult to evaluate a first-rounder's value, but recent work by Aaron Barzilai Ph.D., published earlier at 82games.com, tries quantifying just that.
According to Barzilai, now a statistical consultant for the Memphis Grizzlies, the ninth pick in the 2010 draft, where the Jazz will choose, is only 63 percent as valuable as the first overall selection. By comparison, the 30th pick is only 20 percent as valuable.
Which is why the Jazz probably wouldn't mind trading up in the draft again like the team did in 2005. That year, Utah included a pair of disposable first-round picks to improve three spots, from No. 6 to No. 3.
In doing so, the Jazz mathematically improved the quality of their draft pick that year by nearly 18 percent, according to Barzilai's calculations. More importantly, it netted a franchise player in Deron Williams.
Something else GMs do more often than many might realize is stockpiling first-round choices in a particular draft — although the move rarely produces anything beyond media hoopla and some additional fan interest.
Fifteen times in the past 31 drafts, a single franchise has controlled three or more first-round picks. The Jazz cornered the market in draft mediocrity twice this way.
They were somewhat successful in 1999, drafting Quincy Lewis (19th), Andrei Kirilenko (24th) and Scott Padgett (28th). Kirilenko remains a reliable, if not star, contributor for the team.
Not so good in 2004 when Utah selected the trio of Kris Humphries (14th), Kirk Snyder (16th) and Pavel Podkolzin (21st).
Some teams eschew first-round picks years on end. Houston went three seasons — 1994-96 — without a first-round pick. The Rockets have also gone two years between first rounders twice.
Since arriving in Utah, the Jazz have only drafted four times within the top 10. Thursday's draft will be the team's fifth.
Utah's Darrell Griffith was the No. 2 pick overall in 1980. The franchise followed this up by choosing Dominique Wilkins with the No. 3 overall selection in 1982. But fan hopes of quickly building a Salt Palace juggernaut soon faded when the future "Human Highlight Film" balked at coming to Utah and was shipped off to Atlanta for Freeman Williams, cocaine-challenged John Drew and cash.
When Utah added steady Thurl Bailey with the No. 7 pick of the opening round of the 1983 draft, that would be the final time the Jazz would sniff a top-10 pick for more than a quarter-century until they finessed drafting Williams.