SALT LAKE CITY — With the NBA Draft just two days away and the NBA on the verge of welcoming its latest class of prospects to the league, the Utah Jazz are one of the most popular teams in the league.
This comes for several reasons.
The Jazz have three picks in the first round. As such, they have worked out close to 100 players during the pre-draft process, including most of the first round, a good portion of the projected second round, and even prospects not expected to be drafted at all.
Those workouts are now complete and the Jazz are forming their final big board in preparation for Thursday night. The front office has been consistent in what the franchise is looking for. The Jazz value length and athleticism throughout their position pool. They value shooting to fit into head coach Will Hardy’s offense. They value toughness, competitiveness and guys who are able to play both ends of the floor.
How will their draft be? Well, it can go several ways. Because the Jazz hold three No. 1 spots, because the Jazz hold all kinds of future assets, they can move in any direction on the board. They are able to act up. They are able to trade down. Their phone has rung and they have answered. General manager Justin Zanik and general manager Danny Ainge have proven to be an aggressive duo when it comes to shaping a roster.
But the Jazz maintain an air of unpredictability for this draft, mainly because they’ve cast a wide net for where their interest lies and mainly because the current roster is so incomplete.
Lauri Markkanen, Walker Kessler and Ochai Agbaji are Utah’s mainstays, which puts the Jazz in an advantageous position. Markkanen can start next season at either small forward or power forward. Agbaji can play both wing positions. Kessler is a center, but the Jazz are unlikely to draft one at either pick No. 9 or pick No. 16. That means the Jazz can draft almost anyone at nine without worrying about fit. If Houston power forward Jarace Walker is on the board, he would be a great fit in Utah’s frontcourt. If Taylor Hendricks is available, the Central Florida power forward is also a good fit in Utah’s frontcourt because of his ability to protect the rim and shoot the basketball.
If Cam Whitmore is available, the small forward from Villanova could be a good fit. The field goal just slides over to the power forward spot to make room. If Anthony Black or Ausar Thompson are available, the Jazz could easily add one of the two to their backcourt.
The biggest need for the Jazz is at point guard, and there are a ton of them within reach of their first two first-round picks. Black and Ausar Thompson are both expected to be drafted in the top nine picks. Michigan’s Kobe Bufkin, Kentucky’s Cason Wallace, Baylor’s Keyonte George and Jalen Hood-Schifino are all projected in the top 20.
What’s hard to predict at this point is just how the draft is going to go down. The Jazz have been talking to teams for a few weeks about various scenarios, but nothing beyond general discussion has crossed their desks as of Tuesday morning. The Jazz likely won’t know what they’ll have available to them at No. 16 until they draft at No. 9, which will make one particular combination of players more sensible than the next.
One certainty is that Utah will select who it feels is the best available player on its board. This is a team that missed the postseason together for the first time since the end of the Gordon Hayward era. This is a team that traded Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell last summer. This is a team that traded Mike Conley and a host of veterans at the February deadline.
There will be a significant amount of roster spots potentially available in the coming days, which means the current Jazz rebuild is still in its infancy. But this is a good draft to have three picks. There is depth and length and athleticism throughout the first round. There will be expected value throughout the first round, and the Jazz are confident they can find value at all three picks.
What we almost know for sure about the draft is that Victor Wembanyama will go first to the San Antonio Spurs and that a combination of Scoot Henderson and Brandon Miller will likely go second and third in some order to the Charlotte Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers , respectively … that is, if neither team switches. We know Amen Thompson will likely be the best player available after the first three are gone, but we can’t say for sure where he will end up.
We also know that Walker, Hendricks, Black, Ausar Thompson and Whitmore are pretty much at the same level, which makes the order in which they are selected interesting as well. What happens with Houston at No. 4 and the Detroit Pistons at No. 5 will likely affect who is available to the Jazz in some way. But in some ways Jazz is a good place because they can choose who is available at nine o’clock.
How it all lands on Thursday night will be fascinating to unfold. But the Jazz are a team with a lot of options heading into their first draft after an era change. And it’s good to have options.
(Photo by Jarace Walker: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)