Don't expect Corbin's squad to be down long.
Over the past 23 years, Utah has been the model of consistency in all of professional sports. Today, they appear to be a franchise in turmoil.
Coach Jerry Sloan and longtime assistant Phil Johnson resigned mid-season. Gone even are the pieces of the "new" Jazz, who a few years ago were playing in the Conference Finals and seemed destined for a run at the title with one of the league's youngest rosters.
For a franchise that has made the playoffs 19 of the last 22 years (missed the playoffs three years following end of Stockton and Malone era) and have been over .500 21 of the last 22, things seem to be in panic and desperation mode in Utah.
However, you can hold off on writing Utah's eulogy. Utah is 5-12 since the trade of All-Star PG Deron Williams to the Nets, however, they have been far from a healthy team in that stretch. In those 17 games, Utah has not had Paul Millsap for 6 games, Andrei Kirilenko for 4 games, Devin Harris for 4 games and Derrick Favors for 2 games.
No question Utah has struggled in a stretch of futility the franchise has not seen since the 80s, but to say this franchise is not in great position going forward would be short-sided and irresponsible.
First off, Utah FINALLY gets rid of its albatross (Andrei Kirilenko's six-year $86 million) and looks to have a very cap-friendly roster. Also, Utah has one of, if not the best front office in the NBA.
It is no small task putting a team together with much less revenue and market than other power teams, yet making the playoffs 19 of 22 seasons. The Larry H. Miller family, team President Randy Rigby, and GM Kevin O'Connor just flat out do their jobs better than most in the league.
Utah has a great core of players locked into favorable long-term contracts. Al Jefferson ($14M for 2 years), Paul Millsap ($6.7M for 3 years), Devin Harris ($8.9M for 2 years), Derrick Favors ($4.8M for 3 years) and Gordon Hayward (2.6M for 3 years) are all players who are underpaid for their respective production and talent.
The team has a decision to make on the up-and-down play of CJ Miles, who can look like an All-Star or a bad Euro-League player, depending on the night. The team has an option on Miles for $3.7 million, which isn't bad for a player that averages 13 ppg.
Most importantly, Utah has two lottery picks in the top 12 (barring a lottery miracle). Because of this, Utah will not be down for long. In fact, as long as they draft smart, they will most likely end their playoff drought at one season.
Here is a list of what Utah's draft-board should look like on draft day. Since Utah's picks will both be in the top 12, and they have no other picks, there is no reason to have more than 12 players on their board.
Note: I am taking Jared Sullinger at his word that he will be returning to Ohio State. Even if he decided to enter the draft, he would not really affect the Jazz draftboard as, while a great player, he doesn't fit a need for the Jazz. Utah has too many holes not to draft for their needs and Sullinger is MUCH higher on boards of other teams than he would be for Utah.
Unfortunately for Kanter, he never actually got to wear this Kentucky jersey in a game. The NCAA made the decision that Kanter was ineligible after received $33,000 in educational expenses from his European team. If that was not the case, Kentucky would have been even better this year (tough to imagine given their Final Four Appearance).
Let's get to the obvious, the Utah Jazz do not need Enes Kanter. Utah already has Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and will likely be adding 7'2" Ante Tomic (2008 2nd Round pick who many have compared to Pau Gasol) for the 2011-2012 season.
However, of the three European bigs all slotted in the top 10 by scouts (Kanter, Vesley, and Valanciunas), Kanter seems to be the only one that would be on Utah's radar. Vesley is a project player and may not come to the NBA for several years, and Valanciunas is a scrawny, less-athletic, and even more raw version of Derrick Favors. Kanter, on the other hand, would be a HUGE value pick at 12 for Utah and could play right now.
Kanter is the only lottery player who is a legitimate Center at the NBA level. At 6'11", 260 pounds, Kanter has an NBA body and a great skill-set. Though not an explosive athlete, Kanter is a great rebounder, has great hands, can shoot and has a high basketball IQ.
In short, Kanter is a physical version of Mehmet Okur who plays defense with a mean streak. Though keep in mind, the addition of Kanter would likely mean Utah moves either Millsap, Jefferson or Tomic for most likely a veteran scorer on the wing.
Kanter is a great value with Utah's second lottery pick, but doesn't fit a big enough need to take with their first.
This is going to be a recurring theme on Utah's draft board. As one Jazz beat-writer put it, "the Jazz need wings like they need oxygen!"
Utah's pick of Gordon Hayward was widely criticized by fans, however he has shown athleticism few thought he had, and developed a three-point game most thought would take years to develop. He is the one and only legit wing player on Utah's roster—good teams are 3-4 deep. Sure, CJ Miles shows flashes, but he is a guy who can just as easily shoot you out of a game as he can shoot you into it.
Enter our first wing scorer, Jordan Hamilton. At 6'7", 220 pounds, Hamilton is no doubt physically NBA-ready. Hamilton is not the elite athlete that other wings in this class are, but he is still athletic and already developing into a deadly shooter.
Hamilton would be a good option for Utah's 2nd pick. However, if I had to compare him to someone in the NBA it would be ... well ... CJ Miles. A long, semi-athletic wing who can shoot, but has been criticized for shot selection. Keep in mind the knock on Miles in certainly not his ability, more his head and his heart.
Maybe the Jazz would have better luck with a guy with a similar skill-set, but with a better head and more effort?
Burks is the best pure shooting guard prospect in this draft, and that alone will put him on Utah's draft board, as their production from that position has been abysmal.
The only problem is, he is a shooting guard who can't shoot.
Alright, so that is being a little hard on Burks, but his struggles from downtown (29.7% percent) have overshadowed his exceptional slashing skills and solid mid-range game. He also shoots a solid 82 percent from the FT line, which for a 19-year-old sophomore is exceptional. He has a smooth shooting stroke and should be able to develop his three-point shot.
Burks' slashing style, as well as athleticism and defense, draw an almost uncanny resemblance to longtime Jazz-man Ronnie Brewer. There is no question that Burks has a better shooting stroke than Brewer. The only question is, will he develop that shot much like former Jazz-man Matthews, or will his jumper remind us more of...well...Brewer?
The fact is he is already a better shooter at 19 than Brewer is in his sixth NBA season. Whether he can become an elite SG will depend on how much he can improve his shot as a pro. Given what the Jazz got from this position in 2010-2011, it would be worth the 12th pick to find out.
Kawhi is a great overall player and would be a great fit for Utah. He is a 6'8" SF who loves to rebound, has a high motor, and is a freakish athlete. One of the major problems with the 2010-2011 Utah Jazz is that they got little to no rebounds outside of Jefferson, Millsap and later, Favors. That is where Kawhi could really help them.
Kawhi is skilled enough to play the 3, but could see some time at 4. He needs to add a little bulk to continue to rebound at a high level in the NBA, but is a great all-around player and would be an excellent addition to Utah.
If Kawhi is so versatile and fits the Jazz needs, why isn't he higher? Well, there we come to the problem. If rebounding if Utah's biggest issue, shooting the three is a close second (some would say it their biggest problem).
While a good shooter, Kawhi doesn't have college 3pt-range, much less NBA range. He has a good mid-range jumper and a solid FT percentage, but he doesn't have the range. There is no question his stroke is solid and he could develop this range, but he is not giving you NBA 3-pt range for at least two seasons. That may not be soon enough for Utah. Couple that with the fact that this draft is overflowing with athletic small forwards, and Leonard is slotted as the ninth best player for Utah.
Let me preface this by saying, I LOVE Kemba Walker. I am not on the hater bandwagon which thinks his game won't translate. I think it will translate and I think he will be a borderline All-Star as a pro. Many want to compare him with Ben Gordon, I think that is mostly due to the UConn on their jerseys.
I think of Kemba as a pre-injuries version of Jameer Nelson. In fact, look at their college stats and watch them play—they are almost identical.
That being said, I don't see Kemba's game fitting well in Utah. He is a PG and is not tall enough to play or defend the two. Kemba is lightening quick, a great ball-handler and an underrated shooter. Utah's system is built on a distributing PG. While Kemba could learn this, I am not sure it is his natural game.
Let's also not overlook the fact that Walker is Bronx-bred and went as far as Connecticut to play college ball. Utah is going to be a little sensitive building their team of the future given recent defections. Kemba doesn't exactly scream, "I wanna spend the next 15 years of my life in Salt Lake City and become the next John Stockton!"
All things considered, Utah could do well to take Walker with their second lottery pick, based on his talent, leadership abilities and marketability, and try to shape him into their PG of the future.
There is not a more polarizing prospect in this year's draft than Jimmer Fredette. For many teams, I would say that Fredette shouldn't be in their top 20 draftboard, but Utah is an exception to this.
First of all, let's deal with the doubters. Many scouts say Fredette's game doesn't translate—he doesn't play defense, can't guard the point or the two in the NBA and isn't athletic enough to be a star in the NBA.
I am not going to tell you these scouts are wrong, just that this kid is a gamer and his career can't be written before he has played a game. In fact, I would counter with the fact that he is more athletic and a better shooter as a prospect than both John Stockton and Steve Nash were coming into the league.
How did that work out?
Let's first give the "worst case" scenario for Fredette. He is JJ Redick, that is it. Although I personally believe this argument is based solely on shooting ability and skin color (Fredette's game is much closer to Steph Curry or Jose Calderon than Redick), I am not sure this is a bad thing for Utah.
A 40 percent three-point shooter that shoots 90 percent from the FT line coming off the bench would be a big help for this team who can't hit a three with any consistancy. Fredette could play the point (something Redick can't do) and at the very least get his shot off better than Redick. Also in a market that is already obsessed with Jimmermania, you get a "hometown" hero who will sell jerseys as a bench player.
Now for the best case scenario, "hometown" Fredette takes the place of John Stockton as the next great Jazz PG and, unlike Williams, he actually WANTS to play for the Jazz. No doubt Fredette has a LONG way to go in his game to get there—he will need to show he wants to, and can be, a lock-down defender on the point. He will also need to get his teammates involved and become a distributor. I believe he actually sees the floor better than people think, just wasn't ever asked to distribute at Brigham Young.
Bottom line, he is a lights out shooter with unlimited range, a great driver who can create his own shot, has good body control and finishes well after contact, and he has an exceptional basketball IQ. The case could be made he will be a BETTER pro than he was in college, due to the simple fact that he will take open shots as opposed to the stupid shots he took at BYU.
Fredette is a great option with Utah's second lottery pick, a shooter like him couild open up the middle for Jefferson, Millsap and Favors to really punish opposing defenses. However, Utah would be really reaching to take him with their first pick. Keep in mind that Fredette should not be considered if Utah has already drafted Kyrie Irving, Brandon Knight or Kemba Walker with its first pick. They have far too great a need for a wing scorer to take two PGs.
P.S. I watched the Jazz play last week and witnessed Andrei Kirilenko take the technical free-throw for Utah. Kirilenko shoots 77 percent on the season, that alone makes Fredette worth consideration for Utah.
This is the guy Utah should be targeting with their second pick, and I believe would be the worst case scenario for their first pick. Believe me, if this kid is the worst case scenario, Utah will be getting a great player with their first pick. If you haven't seen Knight play, you can catch him in a little thing called the Final Four this weekend.
Knight is a do-it-all guard who can be a lock-down defender on the point and, at 6'4", can guard the 2 as well. Knight is a quick, super-athletic guard who has already proven he can shoot the lights out when needed. Knight is an intense gamer who is incredibly competitive and can impact the game on both sides of the ball.
Knight could very well become the next great Jazz PG of the future. The big knock on him is he is more of a combo guard and not a true PG at this point of his career. That is just fine for Utah, who already has a former All-Star PG in Devin Harris locked in for the next few years and could use Knight as a backup while getting him valuable minutes at the 2.
Playing Knight alongside Harris, Utah would have the luxury of going with a double PG back-court, yet still having plenty of size with Harris at 6'3" and Knight at 6'4".
Knight could very well develop into the PG or a scoring combo guard in the NBA. Utah should have no problem with either scenario as they have glaring needs at both positions. It will be easy to find minutes for Knight as a rookie due to his versatility.
The other half of Kentucky's freshman one-two punch and a big part of their Final Four season, Jones has it all as far as talent and fills a big need for Utah. Jones gets the nod over his teammate Knight simply because of Utah's need for scoring on the wing.
Jones is listed at 6'8", 244 pounds, and has an NBA body at 19 years old. Jones is big enough to bang in the paint at the NBA level, but truly thrives on the perimeter. Jones is a great ball-handler and has played positions every position except center at Kentucky. A freakish athlete and a solid shooter, Jones is a lefty scorer. His best comparison at the NBA level is likely a player like Lamar Odom.
That Odom comparison comes with a tendency to get lost on the floor at times, and the only knock on Jones is his occasional lack of effort. This would have to change for him to fit in with the Utah fan-base who are used to Stockton and Malone, and crucified Carlos Boozer for his softness and lack of effort. If Jones can put in the effort and the work, he has all the talent to be a star at the next level.
At 6'11", 235 pounds, it would seem Jones would be a PF at the NBA level, but that is not his game. Though listed as a PF, he is really a 2-guard trapped in a 6'11" body. Because of this, Jones probably has more upside than anyone else in this draft, but he is very raw.
Though a different type of player and position than Favors, Jones is just as raw, just as long and just as freakishly athletic. Jones needs to develop his jumper to become a deadly SF in the NBA, but his ceiling is Tracy McGrady with Kevin Garnett's length. Jones is also a great rebounder, something Utah needs from their 3 position.
The knock on Jones is that he hasn't taken over the college game as expected (also the knock on Favors last year). He has a great motor, but can be passive and is almost too unselfish. However, his talent and upside are incredible ,and a front-court of Tomic (7'2"), Favors (6'10") and Jones (6'11") would give Utah the option of having the tallest, longest, and most athletic front-line in the league.
Williams is the first of the Big Three (Irving, Barnes, Williams) to show up on our list. The explanation of this kid's talent is redundant for anyone who watched him play Duke and single-handedly knock the Blue Devils out of the tournament.
It is easier to list what is not elite about Derrick Williams,than list all of his qualities that make him special. Williams is a physical presence and may be better suited as a 4 than a 3. If he is a 4, he is a little undersized (though longer than Paul Millsap). He also was not an elite prospect coming out of high school, ranked 72nd. That is it for the knocks.
To counter the suggestion that he is a tweener, all Williams did this year from the perimeter is shoot 56.8 percent from three. If that doesn't erase all doubts about his ability to play the 3 at the next level, I am not sure what it will take.
Williams is a monster athlete and can change the game on both sides of the floor. Williams is in the conversation for the No.1 overall pick, and has all the skills and attitude to make a strong case.
He is only ranked behind the other two for Utah because those two are more set in their position, which would suggest an easier transition to the next level. It would shock absolutely no one if Derrick Williams became the best player from this draft, but due to his need to change positions, he has a slightly greater chance of being a bust than Irving or Barnes.
If the ping-pong ball gods smile on Utah and the Jazz come away with the number one pick, they will have a BIG decision to make, and it will not be easy. The case could VERY easily be made that Irving and Barnes should be flip-flopped on this list.
However, for Utah, I like Barnes for a number of reasons. Some of which have nothing to do with the individual or basketball skills.
First let's look at Irving. Irving is the quintessential PG for the Utah system. He is a great athlete, but not an elite athlete like John Wall was coming out last year. He is, however, a much better athlete prospect than Deron Williams was coming out of Illinois and has a MUCH better head, basketball IQ and character than John Wall.
That is how good I think this kid is. I would much rather have Irving leading my team for the next 10-15 years than John Wall. Scouts don't share my opinion, but give me a PG who is a floor general and can shoot the rock over a freakishly athletic PG any day.
Irving would be a great fit for Utah, a clear PG of the future in the mold of John Stockton (better athlete and shooter than Stockton). If there is one aspect that doesn't fit Utah, it is that Irving was a score-first PG at Duke. Deron Williams was also a score-first type PG and some would suggest Stockton didn't shoot or look to score enough. Unfortunately, Irving was hampered by a toe injury, so his progression as a player didn't get the bump he should have in his year under Coach-K.
Irving is a lightening quick PG who can penetrate, lock down on defense and may have been the best shooter in college basketball (yes BYU fans, even better than him). He is a smart, high character kid that would flourish in Utah's system and would play well with the culture of the State.
Let me get this straight—a potential perennial All-Star PG who fits the system and the community like a glove, for a team that just traded its perennial All-Star PG, and you have him ranked #2? How is the possible?
Meet Harrison Barnes.
Though Utah could not go wrong with either Irving or Barnes, should they get one of the top two picks, Barnes is the perfect selection for Utah. Though Irving fits a need for Utah, Barnes fits the greatest need.
It could be argued that with Devin Harris as PG for Utah, it might be easier to find minutes for prospects Brandon Knight or Jimmer Fredette than Irving. Irving would most likely be a backup PG for his first few years.
Drafting Barnes first, followed by a player like Brandon Knight, would allow the Jazz to groom Knight while still having a solid contributer as a combo guard. I view Barnes and Irving as almost equal prospects. Irving is the safest pick, but Barnes has slightly more upside.
The tie breaker goes to Utah's need for wing scorers, and ability their to replace grab a PG with their second pick. Utah would have options that may include Brandon Knight, Jimmer Fredette or Kemba Walker to add to the team with Barnes.
Selection Irving would most likely give you Kawhi Leonard, Alec Burks or Jordan Hamilton, who are all great players, but not ready to step in and contribute like Barnes.
Barnes is the PERFECT Utah prospect. A high character kid, from a small town (Ames, Iowa), Barnes can defend the other team's best player at SG or SF. At 6'8", 210 pounds, Barnes would be a big, long, freakishly athletic three, with the shooting ability and range to play the 2.
A 2-3 combo of Barnes and Gordon Hayward would be impossible to defend, and have the length to flat out shut-down the top wings on other teams.
Barnes is a kid who loves to rebound, has a silky smooth jumper (best looking jumper of all prospects), a high motor and loves to play defense. He has been compared favorably to Kobe Bryant at the same age. While that comparison may be unfair, his talent and NBA body at 18 years old warrant it.
Bottom line: Worst case scenario: Barnes is Luol Deng. A long, athletic 3 who plays defense, rebounds, can score, but doesn't develop an elite offensive game.
The ABSOLUTE best case scenario any NBA prospect can hope for: Barnes is Kobe Bryant and that other kid from North Carolina who crushed the Utah Jazz's best hopes at a title.
Maybe this time with Barnes, Utah would find itself on the other side of that coin!