SALT LAKE CITY — Heading into Memorial Day weekend, as six more NBA draft hopefuls exited Zions Bank Basketball Campus, Utah Jazz Vice President of Player Personnel Walt Perrin was honest in his assessment of the talent pool from the five total pre-draft workouts as of Thursday, May 23.
“We’re looking at guys who could possibly be at 53 or possibly be guys we might look at for Summer League or even our Jazz G League for the Stars,” Perrin said following Thursday’s conclusion. “We haven’t had a lot of so-called first-round guys in because a lot of pro days, the combine last week with the agents, and they will start to let their guys out after their pro days so hopefully our workouts will pick up and I think it will really soon.”
That would quickly change by Sunday, though, as the Jazz held two different pre-draft workout sessions with nine of the dozen invitees also attending the NBA draft combine in Chicago.
Prior to that, only four of the previous 30 prospects were combine participants that had worked out for the Jazz, with the organization holding the No. 23 and 53 picks during the draft on June 20. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik and assistant David Morway were instrumental in coordinating Sunday’s workouts with player agents to bring them into Utah.
Georgia’s Nic Claxton, Auburn’s Jared Harper, Florida State’s Mfiondu Kabengele, St. John’s Shamorie Ponds, LSU’s Naz Reid and Tennessee’s Grant Williams were all in Session 1.
Then, Michigan’s Ignas Brazdeikis, Purdue’s Carsen Edwards, Oregon’s Louis King, Stanford’s KZ Okpala, Belmont’s Dylan Windler and Hofstra guard Justin Wright-Foreman battled it out in Session 2.
“We had some really good players out here and as we were going after each other, we played a little one-on-one, three-on-three half court, three-on-three full court, so we did a little bit of everything,” said Windler, who averaged 21.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists with nine games of 30 or more points this season. “It was very competitive, so it was good.”
“It was good,” Wright-Foreman added, who posted 27.1 points per game this season to earn 2019 AP All-American honorable mention honors. “I go to a mid-major school, Hofstra University, so we don’t really get as many chances to go against the top competition, so just to be out here is a blessing, but to go against these guys and compete the way that I do, it was fantastic.”
But with the Jazz picking so late, there’s a different approach to this year’s draft. Utah used last year’s 21st overall pick to select former Duke star Grayson Allen, wo averaged 5.6 points in 10.9 minutes as a rookie, but did begin to catch fire later in the season with a 40-point explosion in the regular season finale against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Selecting 23rd in a top-heavy draft, which includes seemingly can’t-miss talent in Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett at Nos. 1-3, the Jazz brass see this pick as somewhat of an experiment.
Rodney Hood was a notable No. 23 pick for the Jazz in 2013, Andrei Kirilenko fell to 24th in 1999 and Mark Eaton went No. 72 overall in 1982, so the organization has had success deep in the draft with later picks.
“I think because of Zion, who is a generational athlete, player, everybody talks about him, and then with RJ and Ja, those are probably the top-three guys,” Perrin said. “After that, it might be a little drop-off.
“I think totally, in terms of the draft, I think there’s some pretty good players late, but I think it’s more they will have to be developed to become the players that we think they can become,” he continued. “So it’s going to be a developmental draft, more so than it has been in the past.”
Also, Wednesday, May 29, is the NCAA early entry withdrawal deadline for underclassmen to retain their eligibility, which will also weed out some guys from the draft board. Some agents are also holding out their clients to make the trip to Utah because they feel their guys won’t go that late in the draft, but the Jazz have picked guys in the past without actually bringing them in for workouts, which could be the case this time around.
Once a guy is picked, Utah then trusts in its player development process to help him reach his full potential. Some of it is just getting experience by playing and learning to read the game, but it also comes down to his work ethic. Perrin and the Jazz brass will sometimes go as far as calling former high school, college and AAU coaches to get the lowdown on guys before picking them.
“If a guy’s not going to work, he’s not going to develop, so that’s a huge part of what we try to figure out with these guys,” Perrin said.5 comments on this story
As a fellow All-OVC First Team member with Morant of Murray State, Windler certainly hears the chatter and excitement among the top guys of this year’s draft class, but also sees it as an opportunity for later picks. Sunday’s visit to the Jazz practice facility only cemented his outlook on the draft.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity, so going into these workouts every other day, you have to prove yourself and you’ve got to come prepared and come ready to play, because there’s a lot of separation late in the first round, early in the second,” Windler said. “So you’re just trying to separate yourself in all these workouts, and that’s what I came to do.”