Utah Jazz: With No. 20 pick, Jazz just want a draft choice to play

Published: Thursday, June 25 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

James Johnson who played at Wake Forest University fields questions at the Zions Bank Basketball Center in Salt Lake City after working out with the team on Sunday, June, 21, 2009.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

Picking 20th overall in tonight's NBA draft, the Jazz seem sure they can find somebody who can play.

Precisely whom, and just how good he can be, is much more uncertain.

"I would say that there's a lot of players that can play in the NBA," said Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor on Wednesday. "What success level they have is what everyone questions."

"If you look at it right now, most people within the NBA say it's not going to be a strong draft," Walt Perrin, player personnel vice president, added. "But I don't know if you can say that right now. I think you are going to have to draft people and then give them a year, two years or even three years and see where they are then."

Consensus opinion is that University of Oklahoma power forward Blake Griffin will go No. 1 overall to the Los Angeles Clippers, and then the draft's quality drops distinctly from there.

Another group of seven or eight follows, including showy Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio and towering Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet.

And then it's potluck, with a group of 15 to 20 prospects clustered together — a much bigger pool with much narrower differences than in many years past.

"You're either looking at guys that have not, probably, succeeded long-term in school," O'Connor said, "and you've guys that have succeeded in school but everybody looks at them and says maybe something's missing for the pros."

Some teams picking late in the lottery — say, Nos. 10 to 14 — may not wind up any better off, then, than those in the Nos. 15 to 25 range.

And because the NBA's rookie wage scale is slotted according to draft number — scale for No. 20 next season is $1,099,100, plus up to an added 20 percent on a guaranteed two-year contract — that's a good thing for those in Utah.

All of which leaves the Jazz hoping the pick they do make tonight will earn his pay.

As for whom that will be, it's all a guessing game — even for the likes of O'Connor and Perrin, who have no idea who'll be left standing highest on the draft board when No. 20 rolls around.

The Jazz seem to be hoping high-energy University of North Carolina power forward Tyler Hansbrough will be there at 20, but indications Wednesday were that Hansbrough — long a favorite of Jazz scouts — might not get past Atlanta at No. 19.

Position is not a priority, as the Jazz are considering everyone from power forwards (Pitt's DeJuan Blair, Wake Forest's James Johnson and Southern Cal's Taj Gibson) to shooting guards and swingmen (Pitt's Sam Young, Florida State's Toney Douglas and Kentucky's Jodie Meeks) to point guards who can back up Deron Williams (Wake Forest's Jeff Teague, Virginia Commonwealth's Eric Maynor, UCLA's Darren Collison and North Carolina's Ty Lawson).

Yet virtually each comes with an asterisk.

The Jazz don't seem scared off by talk that Blair's red-flagged MRI exams supposedly don't show any anterior cruciate ligaments, or that Blair — who had ACL surgery on both knees as a youngster — ballooned to 315 pounds after the season before eventually shedding about 45.

Nor do they admit to being gun-shy on Johnson, reportedly red-flagged by teams for concerns including supposed poor practices in school.

And they aren't even bothered because Collison and Lawson didn't want to work out in Utah, where Williams — barring injury — takes the bulk of minutes at the point.

Whomever they take, only time — and the Jazz's equally uncertain free-agency picture — will tell just what, and how much, he will be expected to contribute next season.

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