The 2013 NBA draft could be a very important one for the Utah Jazz. With three picks (including two in the first round) and the possibility of a rebuilding on the horizon, a lot is riding on Thursday night.
Utah has needs across the board, and none are more pressing than finding a point guard. The rotation of Mo Williams, Earl Watson and Jamaal Tinsley could not keep pace with the NBA's rising generation of playmakers led by Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose.
They may also be in the hunt for a big man with both members of the starting frontcourt (Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap) set to explore free agency this summer. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter may be ready to step into the starting lineup, but the team could find depth at those positions in the draft.
The Jazz may also look to bolster the wing rotation with starting shooting guard Randy Foye and utility man DeMarre Carroll entering free agency as well.
They'll have plenty of options to address these needs each time they're on the board. Since everything is up in the air until after each pick is actually made, it's tough to guess who will be available when. So I'll widen the margin for error and rank three possibilities for each time Utah selects.
First Round: Pick No. 14
Most people will be expecting the Jazz to go right after the need at point guard the first time the commissioner announces they're on the clock. That makes the most sense. Their best player there last year was soon-to-be-free agent Mo Williams.
Even if he does return to the team for next season, the fact that he was 28th in efficiency at his position and will be 31 in December doesn't exactly cast rays of sunshine on the future.
Utah could also go with a big here. If the Jazz plan to let both Jefferson and Millsap walk, they'll certainly need one. In his latest mock (subscription required), ESPN's draft guru Chad Ford has the Jazz taking Brazilian center Lucas Nogueira at No. 14.
1. Shane Larkin (PG, Miami)
I've been pretty high on Shane Larkin for a while now. He's small (5'11" with a 5'10" wingspan), but has the kind of NBA athleticism (44" vertical) to make up for that.
His stats were impressive before the NBA combine, too. As a sophomore, he averaged 14.5 points and 4.6 assists while dropping 41 percent of his threes.
In terms of intangibles, Larkin has proved he can win as a team's floor general, leading his Miami Hurricanes to victory in last season's ACC Championship Game.
2. Dennis Schroeder (PG, Germany)
Dennis Schroeder is more of an upside pick than Larkin. Overseas players generally are. But as we've all heard, high risk yields the possibility of high reward.
The 19-year-old, 6'2" German has a 6'7" wingspan. His frame is clearly more suitable for defending NBA point guards than Larkin's.
Schroeder isn't just impressive next to a measuring tape either. On the court, he wowed at the Nike Hoop Summit, where he went for 18 points and six assists, leading the World Team to a 112-98 victory over a USA squad that featured Duke's Jabari Parker. And in his second pro season in Germany, he averaged 12 points and 3.2 assists in 25 minutes.
3. Kelly Olynyk (PF/C, Gonzaga)
As I said earlier, Chad Ford thinks Nogueira is the guy if Utah goes big at No. 14. I like Kelly Olynyk quite a bit more.
Nogueira is a project a lot like Charlotte's Bismack Biyombo. His length (7'6" wingspan) might make him an asset on defense, but he's completely unproven.
Olynyk's just the opposite. He's already shown a polished offensive game. The 7-footer from Gonzaga averaged 18.1 points and 7.3 rebounds in just 26 minutes last year. He handles the ball well for his size and can score away from the basket.
First Round: Pick No. 21
Obviously, what Utah does here depends on who it takes with its first pick. Since I think the Jazz will probably go point guard at No. 14, size should be the next priority.
1. Rudy Gobert (C, France)
Rudy Gobert will almost certainly need to get stronger (just 238 pounds on his 7'2" frame), but his length could make him an instant defensive factor in the NBA.
The 20-year-old Frenchman has a 7'9" wingspan and averaged just under two blocks in 23 minutes a game in France last season.
He also shot a red-hot 72 percent from the field, showing he knows his limitations on offense and takes smart shots.
The Jazz would have to be willing to spend some time developing Gobert. He's not extremely mobile or athletic and would likely get pushed around fairly easily by NBA big men.
However, we just saw what this kind of size can do when Roy Hibbert torched the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. I'm not saying he's the next Hibbert, but 7'2" with a 7'9" wingspan screams potential.
2. Mason Plumlee (C, Duke)
Mason Plumlee was one of the most productive centers in the country last season, averaging 17.1 points and 9.9 rebounds.
He also had a good showing at the NBA combine, displaying the kind of athleticism that made him a hard-to-catch nightmare in the open court for Duke's opponents.
3. Isaiah Canaan (PG, Murray State)
If Utah does go with a big man at No. 14, it'll almost certainly try to take care of the need at point guard here.
As is often the case with prospects from mid-major schools, the biggest knock on Isaiah Canaan seems to be where he played and the lack of competition it afforded him.
Based purely on raw numbers (his stats last year and his measurements in athletic testing at the NBA combine), Canaan looks like a lottery pick.
I don't think many Jazz fans would complain if a 22-point, four-assist-a-game point guard with a 41" vertical falls to their second overall pick.
Second Round: Pick No. 16
Contracts aren't guaranteed to players taken in the second round, so this is where teams generally roll the dice.
If whomever Utah takes with the 46th overall pick succeeds, great. If not, the team can cut him. No big deal.
1. Erick Green (PG, Virginia Tech)
Despite leading the nation in scoring last year at 25.0 a game, Erick Green has received almost no attention heading into this draft.
The lack of attention could be attributed to the Hokies' lackluster 13-19 season, but that shouldn't discredit Green's production. The 6'3" combo guard shot 48 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range. He also led his team in assists with a respectable 3.8 a game.
2. Nate Wolters (PG, South Dakota State)
A lot of scouts have questions about Nate Wolters' ability to cover NBA point guards on defense and to create his own shot on the other end. Wolters didn't take part in the athletic testing at the combine, so that only adds to the mystery.
But he's been a prolific scorer and leader for four years at South Dakota State, posting career averages of 18.5 points, 5.3 assists and 4.7 rebounds.
3. Colton Iverson (C, Colorado State)
After transferring from Minnesota, Colton Iverson had a great year in the Mountain West Conference. He banged inside for the Rams and produced 14.2 points and 9.8 rebounds a game while shooting 60 percent from the field.
Iverson has plenty of the one thing you can't teach in basketball, too. At 7'0" with a 7'2" wingspan, he has legitimate NBA size.
Coming from a smaller market, Utah needs to follow the formula the San Antonio Spurs have used to win championships: Grow your team within and through the draft.
They've made some solid selections over the last few years in Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter. If the Jazz add three more in 2013, they could be dangerous a few years down the road.
Check back on Friday morning to see grades and analysis on who they picked.
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