SALT LAKE CITY — Now that the Utah Jazz have settled on a coach, it’s time to start looking at who they might take in the upcoming NBA draft, which is just 17 days away.
It’s pretty unlikely the Jazz will be getting a “franchise” player like Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid. Sure, they could offer their No. 5 and 23 picks, plus other assets, to try and move into the top three. But even if they did, would Cleveland at No. 1 or Milwaukee at No. 2 or Philadelphia at No. 3 be interested in such a deal? Not likely.
That’s because teams at the top can’t afford to pass up the chance to get the next possible Michael Jordan or Kevin Durant. Neither of those players went No. 1 in the draft, and the Portland Trail Blazers have had to live down the fact that they’re the ones who passed on both players, opting instead for Sam Bowie in 1984 and Greg Oden in 2007.
No team wants to be known as the Blazers, who passed up perhaps the greatest player of all time and a perennial All-Star whose best days may still be ahead of him.
So who should the Jazz select, assuming they stay at No. 5? Indiana center Noah Vonleh? Arizona forward Aaron Gordon? Kentucky center Julius Randle? How about Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart?
Those are the four players most experts are projecting to go between fifth and eighth in the upcoming draft.
If the Jazz take Vonleh, Gordon or Randle, how would they fit in with their two big men, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, a couple of former No. 3 overall picks who are both just 22 years old? Do they want to take Smart when they already have an All-Rookie point guard in Trey Burke?
Perhaps the Jazz should concentrate most on getting what they need most on the roster — a shooter. The Jazz need a guy who can put the ball in the hoop.
After ranking ninth, ninth and 11th in the NBA in shooting the previous three years, the Jazz fell off to No. 24 in the league last year at 44.4 percent and ranked 25th in 3-point shooting at 34.4 percent.
Two Jazz players were among the eight worst shooting players in the league among regular players. Gordon Hayward ranked 117th out of 124 players at 41.3 percent, while Burke was 123rd at 38.0 percent, ahead of just Detroit’s Brandon Jennings. Both seem like pretty good shooters, but their numbers show otherwise.
The Jazz are aware of their problem. After every pre-draft workout, Jazz VP Walt Perrin talks about shooting and many of the players talk about how much shooting they did.
So if Utah’s four prime candidates are three big men who aren’t outside shooters and a point guard who only shot 29 percent from 3-point range in college, perhaps they should look at trading down a few spots to get one of the better shooters in the draft.
Perhaps the best is Creighton’s Doug McDermott, the NCAA consensus player of the year who is expected to go in the lower part of the top 10. The 6-8 forward averaged 55 percent shooting over the course of his four-year career, including an impressive 45.8 percent from 3-point range, while taking nearly 600 in his career.
However, the forward is not known as a great defender and is limited in other aspects of his game. He did average nearly 27 points a game and was the consensus player of the year, but that sounds a lot like a player everyone around here is very familiar with, who had similar scoring and shooting numbers and was the consensus player of the year but has yet to make his mark in the NBA.
The Jazz could also look at Michigan’s Nik Stauskas, a 6-6 Lithuanian who played two years for the Wolverines, averaging 17.5 points this past season, including 39 percent from 3-point range and 46.7 percent overall. The fact that he played with Burke for a year doesn’t hurt.
Another possibility is Gary Harris, a 6-4 shooting guard from Michigan State who is projected by many to go in the top 10. But his numbers weren’t outstanding — 44 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from 3-point range.
If the Jazz were to trade down to get one of these three shooters, they would be able to pick up something in return for the No. 5 pick, perhaps a veteran player or future draft pick. On the other hand, the Jazz might be tired of collecting future considerations and just roll the dice on one of the players available at No. 5.
That’s the safest route to take, and who knows, perhaps Gordon, Randle, Vonleh or Smart will turn out to be an All-Star someday.
But the Jazz still need to find a shooter.