Warning: The following post is really long and optimistic.
Obviously moving up would have been fantastic, but I'm actually pretty happy the Jazz are drafting at 5, especially in a 4 player draft. I know it sounds a little weird, perhaps you think I’m crazy, but I actually think we’ll be better off drafting 5th than we would have been drafting 4th. Here’s why:
The Top 4
The consensus top four in the draft are split into pairs. Wiggins and Parker are considered the safest top prospects, while Embiid and Exum are more uncertain. All of them have their flaws, and all of them have excellent potential. As much as we consider these four to be ‘sure things,’ any of them could bust. In fact, if you look back over the last 30 years of draft history, you see at least one bust (a career below average player) in the top four in all but 2 or 3 years. By picking at 5, we avoid the possibility of being the team that missed on a ‘can’t miss’ prospect.
Let’s look at the bust potential for each one:
- Embiid could be Greg Oden
Embiid’s back is a big concern. If he has lingering injury issues, he’s the next Greg Oden. Not only are his injuries a concern, but his basketball experience is limited as well. Project big men are big risks. As impressive as his play was this past year, there’s a reason why he wasn’t very high on anyone’s board one or two years ago. (DraftExpress had him as a bubble first rounder in April of 2013)
- Exum could be Ricky Rubio
The limited amount of footage on Exum is the main reason why he could bust. He’s high on draft boards now because of his measurables, but there is just too small of a sample size on his play. While he has great size for a combo guard, he’s not a great shooter, and without more data, we can’t tell how solid he is defensively. The hype around Exum reminds me a lot of last years hype around Schroeder. He was another foreign prospect who played really well in an international competition, but then vanished once he reached the NBA. He could also be Rubio, who had a lot of hype, but just hasn’t quite put everything together.
- Parker could be Derrick Williams
Parker runs the risk of being a ‘tweener.’ He’s too small to regularly play the 4, despite his excellent post-up game, but he’s too heavy to defend the more mobile 3s in the league. Parker’s ability to score helps alleviate his defensive problems, but if he struggles to translate that scoring to the NBA he’s going to be labelled a bust very quickly, even if he’s a decent player.
- Wiggins could be Rudy Gay/Marvin Williams
Wiggins’ is considered the top prospect because of his elite athleticism and his defense. The most common complaint is that he sometimes loses focus, or seems disinterested. This is very similar to Rudy Gay’s profile. Gay had all of the physical gifts (if more disposed to offense than defense), but couldn’t put everything together and become a star. Wiggins may be in the same boat. Wiggins is almost guaranteed to be a solid starter in the NBA, but if that’s all he becomes, then he’s more like Marvin Williams than Tracy McGrady.
I'm not trying to say that all of them will be busts, or even that one of them is guaranteed to bust, but history is not on their side.
2nd Tier Players
Going back 30 years, there have only been 7 drafts that haven’t seen an All-Star caliber player drafted between 5 and 10. Everyone knows that this draft is deep, but I think there are a lot of people underestimating the second-tier talent based on how good they see the top-tier talent. There are, again, 4 players commonly mentioned as the best of the second tier group: Vonleh, Randle, Gordon, and Smart. Each one of these players has some fantastic skills and could be a legit star if things work out. Their games aren't as well rounded or polished as the top 4, but that doesn't mean that they don't have high ceilings.
- Vonleh could be Chris Bosh
Vonleh is big enough to play the 5 in the NBA, much like Bosh does, but he'd really thrive as a stretch 4. Like Bosh, he's got a solid jumper that can be devastating if he gets hot. While Vonleh is a decent post defender, and his massive wingspan and huge hands (2nd largest ever recorded) allow him to pick up a fair amount of blocks and steals, his lack of foot speed and quickness means he'll have to play smarter defense. In Miami, Bosh has focused much more on defense than offense due to his teammates, if Vonleh can start his career with that mentality it will do a lot to show that the occasional talk of him going top 3 is justified.
- Randle could be David Lee
Randle has a high motor, excellent rebounding skills, a solid post offense and decent shooting. David Lee started out the same way and it's gotten him some All-Star appearances. Zach Randolph is sometimes given as a Randle comp, but unlike Randle, Z-Bo has a massive wingspan (7'4). In New York, Lee really struggled to do much on the defensive side of the ball due to his lack of length, and Randle will have the same issues. With the Warriors, Lee has shown that, while not a defensive presence, he can at least be respectable. Randle is going to have to do the same. If Randle can land with a team that can really teach him the intricacies of team defense, David Lee may be his floor.
- Gordon could be Scottie Pippen
This may seem like a huge stretch (in my first draft I had Shawn Marion here), but I actually like how Gordon compares to the Hall of Famer. Pippen was never a great shooter, in fact he spent his prime making less than 70% of his free throws. He developed an outside shot, but averaged less than 30% from three during the Bulls first 3-peat. Gordon is going to have the same struggles. He's not a good shooter, but has the work ethic and the drive to become respectable. Like Pippen, where Gordon will really have to shine in the NBA is on defense. He's insanely athletic and has fantastic instincts. He also has great court vision and rebounding skills. He has the ability to guard at least three positions, and possibly all 5 if he grows a little more. If he can fix his shot (and all reports say that he's willing to put in the effort), he may end up being the best player in the draft.
- Smart could be Dwyane Wade
Wade came into the league as an athletic, undersized shooting guard who couldn't shoot, but could get to the line at will. Smart is an athletic combo guard who can't shoot, but can get to the line and be a defensive menace. Wade became a star by becoming a respectable shooter while maintaining his ability to get to the line. Smart has the potential to do the same thing. As a combo guard he'll need to improve his court vision, but he has all the tools he needs to surpass those drafted before him.
I understand that it's not likely that any of these four actually reach this level, but we can't simply dismiss the 2nd tier simply because we're so enamored with the top tier. Good players come from everywhere in the draft, who knows, our #23 pick may turn out to better than our #5.
Opportunities to Move
There have been quite a few ideas discussed about this recently. If the Jazz do decide to move their pick, they are in a great position to do so. We don't have a lot of player assets to move around, but Dennis Lindsey has built up a nice stock of draft picks to play with.
If DL does decide to start moving assets there are three ways he can do it:
- Move up in the draft
This seems to be the most popular choice among Jazz fans. The Cavs have talked about trading their #1 pick and there are very few teams that really have the assets to put together a package that they would consider. (Personally, I think this is just an attempt to get Kevin Love, and they won't move their pick for anything else.) It's more If DL does decide to move up it would likely take a combination of picks and players. We'd have to move our #5 pick, and likely Kanter or Burks (possibly Burke). I'm not a big fan of moving up. I don't think the Cavs, Bucks, or 76ers will move down for less than Favors, Burks, our #5, at least 2 more picks (at least 1 unprotected), and a bad contract. That's too much, in my opinion. I think that the most realistic option would be swapping picks with Orlando, and unless all they want is our 5th, a 2nd round pick (the 35th or future), and cash, I don't think it's worth it.
- Move down in the draft
This is the option if DL is still in asset accumulation mode. If the Jazz don't really view any of the 2nd-tier players as good fits, they may move down in the draft for role players or future picks. There will be a lot of solid role players available in the teens, and some decent options available in the twenties. The Jazz could also trade out of the draft altogether in order to pick up an established player and/or future picks. I think this is more likely to happen then the Jazz moving up, but not much more likely. My best guess is that the Jazz would only move down if they really like two or three of the 2nd tier players and are willing to swap picks with the Lakers or Celtics. That would give the Jazz a prospect they like plus an additional asset (likely a future, protected pick).
- Move picks for a player
This could be called the 'Kevin Love' option. I don't actually think the Jazz will trade for Love, but if a star player we like does become available, DL has the pieces he needs to put together an attractive offer. It probably won't happen before the draft, but this may be the season we start seeing the Jazz move from assets to long-term players. More likely, though, would be a small move. For instance, a combination of our 23rd and 35th picks may be enough to get a decent bench player from a cash-strapped team. Or we could package some of our non-guaranteed contracts with some picks for a multi-year contract.
Personally, I don't think any of these happen. What I like about our draft position, however, is that we can make the moves if we need to. We're in a really good spot to move in either direction, or our pick is high enough that other teams will pay a premium to get it. That's a good place to be.
This is the most important reason why I prefer the #5 pick to the #4. We all hoped the Jazz would win one of the top 3 spots, but that didn't happen, and now expectations are being adjusted. These new expectations are great for us; they offer different, but more likely, hopes.
These are the new possibilities I see:
- One of the top 4 slips
Last year, Noel and McLemore slipped, despite being consensus top 4 picks. The year before that it was Thomas Robinson, and the year before that Kawhi Leonard. Someone always slips, and it's regularly a consensus top 4 player. I don't see any reason why this year will be different. Also, if one of the top 4 slips to us, then it will likely temper our expectations of him. If, for example, we are able to get Embiid, I think most of us will see that as a sign that he may be injury prone and we'll understand any minute limitations that may be imposed. I see this as a good thing, since it will relieve some of the pressure we, as fans, may put on the player, while hopefully increasing the internal pressure they put on themselves to show that they didn't deserve to slip.
- Our #5 pick meets/exceeds expectations
In my opinion, this would be the absolute best case scenario for the draft, even better than having one of the top 4 slip. The 2nd tier group of players seems to have all of the potential of the top tier, but are higher risk. Any one of the second tier could became the best player of the draft class, and it would be a real coup if we can claim him. Not only would it give us the star we need, but it would increase our confidence in Dennis Lindsey, which we'll need once he starts moving pieces we're attached to.
- Our #5 pick doesn't meet expectations
Obviously this is the worst case scenario, but drafting a bust at #5 in a 4-man draft isn't nearly as bad as drafting a bust within the top 4. If nothing else, we'd have the justification of saying, 'Hey, at least we didn't screw up a top 4 pick... none of the 2nd tier guys were sure things.' Also, as we've seen with several busts in the last couple of years, rookie contracts can be traded, meaning at the very least, we'd have another asset to move when the time comes. I really think that the biggest blow would be to our confidence in Dennis Lindsey, he had such a great 1st draft, that not living up last year will cause us to doubt him more than necessary.
No matter what happens in the draft, the Jazz are in a good spot. We have a young roster, lots of cap space, and a high draft pick in a deep draft. As long as we're not setting our expectations unreasonably high, this upcoming season will be a lot of fun to watch.