Owning a trio of first-round picks in Thursday night’s NBA draft gave the Utah Jazz an excellent opportunity to shape the franchise’s future for years to come.
General manager Justin Zanik noted immediately after the season that the team would not be rushed into an accelerated timeline, making this draft an opportunity to take upside.
They did just that.
With the No. 9 overall pick, the Jazz went for Central Florida forward Taylor Hendricks, who had a meteoric rise up the board. At No. 16, they took a gamble on a backcourt player and went after the creative juices of Baylor combo guard Keyonte George. And at No. 28, they went after high-scoring Ohio State wing Brice Sensabaugh.
“The way the draft went down, it took a really fortunate turn for us,” Zanik said Thursday night from the team’s Zions Bank Baksetball Campus headquarters. “We got two of the guys that we had in our top 10 — players that we honestly debated who to take at 9, and we ended up getting both of them. And at 28, we got a player who which we had in our top 18.
“… It’s not like we’re leaning toward youth, we’re leaning toward talent,” Zanik added.
Hendricks went from afterthought to top-10 pick in a year due to a sensational freshman season that combined incredible athleticism, 3-point shooting and defensive versatility.
The 6-foot-8, 214-pound forward averaged 15.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game, shooting 39.4% from 3-point range. He is considered a great multi-positional defender with the ability to switch.
“A couple of things stand out — his length, his ability to make open shots already, he has very good instincts as a help-side shot blocker, he’s smart,” Zanik said. “… He has some athletic genes, but also the brains for it. The development side for him is where can we get his individual game as far as attacking closeouts and getting stronger? He needs to get stronger.”
Hendricks came to Salt Lake City for an interview, although he did not practice for the team because of a minor injury he suffered during an on-field practice with another team.
George was something of a polarizing prospect, with some teams loving his offensive creativity and ability to create open looks, and others pointing to his lack of efficiency and high turnover rate.
The 19-year-old, 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists for Baylor last season, shooting 37.6% from the field, 33.8% from deep and 79.3% from the free throw line. He was also praised for being a competitor on the defensive end.
“Keyonte probably has the most diversified offensively developed skill set, maybe in the draft … Keyonte has done it for a long time at a very, very high level. He’s got all the shots — shots that some people can never learn,” Zanik said. “He’s done a great job on his body over the last three months, he’s got a confidence that he’s a scorer, but he has very good eyesight. We need to work on where he fits into the team and how he fits in and grows. But right now he’s already an offensive weapon.”
When asked if he could foresee George playing point guard, the GM said unequivocally yes, before noting that there aren’t many players who fit the old-school definition of the position anymore, but that the Jazz were simply looking for players , who can dribble. , pass and shoot.
“And he can do all three,” Zanik said. “… He’s smart. I can see him playing on the ball and off the ball.”
Sensabaugh, meanwhile, was considered one of the best pure scorers in the collegiate game this past season, despite not having a ton of athleticism and there being some questions about a pair of past knee injuries.
The 6-foot-6, 235-pounder averaged 16.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. game on high-efficiency shooting numbers: 48% from the field, 40.5% from the 3-point line and 83% from the free range. – throwing line.
“I didn’t expect him to be here at 28. So when he started to slide a little bit, but — at least in our rankings — we started getting a lot of calls from teams trying to move in,” Zanik said. “… We actually even made some attempts to move up after we drafted Keyonte. But he fell for us. … He makes and takes NBA pro shots. Continues to get better on the defensive end [is important]. He has a body that you cannot teach, he is very athletically gifted.”
The GM said the Jazz had Hendricks and George ranked Nos. 9 and 10 on their board, and expressed some surprise at how the first half of the draft played out in particular, noting that many of the picks other teams made was not necessarily what he would have done.
As a result, there wasn’t a ton of desire to trade any of their picks, even though they started getting phone calls galore.
Zanik joked that with the Jazz being the only team with three first-round picks this year and having a bunch more in future drafts, “we were very popular.” There were some scenarios the team’s decision makers put in place to potentially trade up in the top 10, but he said they felt OK the entire time just standing around clapping and using the picks in hand.
They ended up liking the results.
“All three guys can shoot. All three have different bodies, but athletic. All three are smart. All three are high character,” Zanik said. “… We talk about what can you teach and what can’t you teach? These guys have things you can’t teach.”