We’ve got a great asset at No. 5 and we hope to capitalize in a big way. —Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey
SALT LAKE CITY — The big day that many Jazz fans and Jazz officials have been dreaming about for the past year or so finally arrives Thursday when the NBA draft is held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
On Thursday evening sometime around 6 p.m. MDT, the Jazz will reveal who they are taking with the No. 5 pick that they were allotted a month ago when the NBA draft lottery was held.
The Jazz could get one of a half dozen players, although three in particular, Indiana’s Noah Vonleh, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon and Kentucky’s Julius Randle, seem most likely at this point.
But who knows what will happen over the next few days.
Thursday’s news of Joel Embiid’s foot injury threw a wrench into the draft works, which seemed pretty well set, at least among the top three picks. Is Embiid’s injury serious enough that Cleveland will not touch him and thus opt for safer picks Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins? Will Embiid fall far enough that the Jazz would snatch him up with their No. 5 pick?
The Jazz and their fans would love to get Parker, although the chances of moving up far enough to get him are remote at best.
Trying to get information from general manager Dennis Lindsey or vice president of basketball operations Walt Perrin about which way they are leaning for their No. 5 pick is next to impossible. Lindsey follows in the tradition of former GMs Kevin O’Connor and Scott Layden, who never tipped their hand prior to the draft. As Lindsey admitted, recently, “We keep it pretty close to the vest.’’
The Jazz are not saying much more than they’ll take the best player available at No. 5. With young players at every position, they can afford to do that with no glaring need at any position.
“We’ve got a great asset at No. 5 and we hope to capitalize in a big way,’’ said Lindsey. “There are some athletes and guys who can rebound the ball at No. 5.’’
There is the possibility that the Jazz can decide to trade down in the first round, which shouldn’t be too hard with all the interest in the top half dozen players, or trade up, which is unlikely since the teams ahead of them aren’t about to give up a player that could possibly be a franchise player.
“I’m supposedly in charge of the draft and I’m trying to figure out who No. 5 is,’’ said Perrin. “Now if Dennis wants to move up, I’m all for that. If he want to keep the fifth, I’m fine with that. If he wants to move back, I’m fine with that. I’m concentrating on 5, 23 and 35.’’
Here are a few possible scenarios that might come up on draft night for the Jazz.
Despite his injured foot, Embiid ends up in the top three, along with Wiggins and Australian guard Dante Exum. Orlando, which apparently has its heart set on a point guard, opts for Marcus Smart, leaving Parker for the Jazz. Like ESPN’s Chad Ford said earlier this week, no fan base has been as excited for a player as Utah is for Parker, since Cleveland was the year it got LeBron James. But it’s only a dream.
Because of his broken foot, the top four teams are scared of drafting Embiid and he’s still available at No. 5. Do the Jazz grab him? Or do they still have bad memories of 2002 first-round pick Curtis Borchardt, who had a similar injury to Embiid’s and hardly played for the Jazz in two seasons.
With Embiid, Parker, Wiggins and Exum gone, the Jazz opt to go for the youngest player in the draft, Arizona’s Gordon, because he is touted as the best defensive player among Vonleh, Randle and himself. The Jazz keep talking about strengthening their defense and Gordon could fill the bill. As for his abysmal 42 percent free-throw shooting, Perrin points out that Karl Malone went from 48 percent as a rookie to a solid 75 percent career free-throw shooter.
Embiid, Parker, Wiggins and Exum are gone and the Jazz select Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart. The Jazz haven’t seemed too keen on Smart and he wasn’t one of the 90 players they brought in over the past two months. Perrin acted frustrated last week in saying he talked to Smart’s agent “three or four times” about bringing Smart in without any luck. But he also said they’ve seen plenty of tape on Smart and talked to him and saw him at the combine and aren’t afraid to take him.
Lindsey somehow swings a deal with Cleveland to get the No. 1 pick by giving up Derrick Favors or Gordon Hayward along with the No. 5 pick. Then the question is, who will the Jazz select, Parker or Wiggins?
While it may be tough to move into the top three, the Jazz swing a deal to move up to Orlando’s No. 4 spot. They would probably have to give up a young prospect like Alec Burks or Enes Kanter or a future draft pick. The Jazz would certainly do this to get Parker if he were available, but may not just to get Exum. Why would the Magic do this? They are rumored to like Smart, so if they can get him at No. 5 and also pick up a good player it would make sense for them.
With three power forwards as their most likely choices, the Jazz decide they’re happy with Favors, Kanter and Rudy Gobert, and trade down to get a shooter such as Creighton’s Doug McDermott or Michigan’s Nik Stauskas, who are expected to be available in the 9-12 range. By doing so, the Jazz would expect to get a solid veteran or a future first-rounder as part of such a trade.
Wiggins, Parker, Embiid and Exum are taken in the top four in some particular order, leaving the Jazz to choose between Vonleh, Gordon and Randle. The Jazz select Vonleh, based on a better potential upside and his superior outside shooting.
Besides the No. 5 pick, the Jazz have the No. 23 pick they acquired from Golden State as well as the No. 35 pick in the second round.
Perrin said while the Jazz will take the best player with their second draft pick of the first round, he also said they are unlikely to take a player at the same position as their first pick. So if the Jazz end up taking a big forward, they won’t take another big forward with this pick.
There is no consensus as to who the Jazz will take at No. 23. Among the players listed in the various mock drafts for the Jazz are UCLA guard Jordan Adams, Missouri guard Jordan Clarkson, North Carolina forward P.J. Hairston, Syracuse forward Jeremi Grant and Clint Capela, a 6-11 forward from Switzerland.
Others who could be available at No. 23 include Final Four MVP Shabazz Napier of Connecticut, UCLA swingman Kyle Anderson, Washington guard C.J. Wilcox, Wichita State forward Cleanthony Early.
The Jazz could also trade this pick because they might not want to be burdened with another guaranteed rookie contract after getting two first-rounders last year in Trey Burke and Gobert.