SALT LAKE CITY — Christmas could come about six months early for Utah Jazz fans this year, who are anxiously waiting to see what Santa Claus (or Kevin O'Connor) might be bringing them in the 2011 NBA Draft Thursday night.
Utah has the third and 12th picks in this year's highly anticipated draft, which is being hailed as the most important one ever in Jazz franchise history.
And it just might be.
But before fans get all giddy about the prospects of landing a couple of gigantic difference-makers that'll soon turn this team into an instant NBA title contender, let's take a look at the type of player that's been picked at No. 3 over the last four decades.
Of course, whenever you talk about No. 3 draft picks, the conversation starts and ends with Michael Jordan — arguably the greatest basketball player of all time.
Taken by Chicago in 1984 after Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston) and Sam Bowie (Portland), all Jordan did was lead the Bulls to six NBA championships in eight years — and, hey, it might've been 8-for-8, if he hadn't taken a couple of years off to go play minor league baseball.
"Portland took Bowie because they already had Clyde Drexler (at shooting guard) and missed on Michael Jordan," Walt Perrin, Utah's vice president of player personnel, told Deseret News Jazz beat writer Jody Genessy, reminding us all once again of the importance of that well-worn philosophy that teams should always take the proverbial "best player left in the draft."
"Every year there's pressure to pick wherever we are," Perrin said, "because you want to get the right player for the franchise whether you're picking at (No.) 20 or you're picking at 2."
"You've got to figure out the ones that are going to succeed in the pros, because there are going to be guys who succeed," said O'Connor, Utah's general manager and executive director of player personnel, "so it's our responsibility to find them."
As for picking third, Utah has been here before. After all, a No. 3 pick of more recent vintage was Deron Williams, taken by the Jazz in the 2005 draft. D-Will emerged as one of the league's best point guards over the past few years but, with his contract due to expire after the 2011-12 season, Utah traded him to the New Jersey Nets in February. Interestingly, one of the guys the Jazz got in return, Derrick Favors, was the No. 3 pick in last year's draft.
Two other No. 3 picks — Pete Maravich and Dominique Wilkins — have historical ties to Utah, though neither one of them starred in the Beehive State.
Maravich was taken by Atlanta with the third pick of the 1970 draft, and he had a great career with the Hawks and New Orleans Jazz. Though his number hangs from the rafters of EnergySolutions Arena, "Pistol Pete" actually only played a small part of one season in Utah.
Wilkins was Utah's pick at No. 3 pick in 1982, and he, too, had a tremendous career — with the Atlanta Hawks. The Jazz traded away the rights to Wilkins, who did not want to play in Utah, for a pair of players and a pile of money — money that helped the cash-strapped Jazz franchise stay in Utah.
And here's a stunning revelation for you, Jazz fans: Rest assured, there is not a Michael Jordan, Deron Williams, Pete Maravich or Dominique Wilkins in this year's draft.
Beyond those four, there have certainly been several other superb performers who were taken with the third pick in the draft.
We're talking about guys like Carmelo Anthony (2003 by Denver), Pau Gasol (2001 by Atlanta, which traded him to Memphis), Chauncey Billups (1997 by Boston), Grant Hill (1994 by Detroit) and Kevin McHale (1980 by Boston).
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