The Big Dance has already officially started, but tomorrow night is when all of the cool kids show up and make it an event worth attending. Jazz fans will have a little extra incentive to watch closely, not just because they can compete for cool Jazz prizes. The Jazz are probably going to have two lottery picks this upcoming draft and at least one. For the second straight year Jazz fans get to watch and become NBA scouts for a week and analyze games and picture college stars in Jazz uniforms. Today, I am going to give my take on the best college talent and more importantly, how they would fit in with the current Jazz team. I'm going with my favorites first, but they will all be playing in the NCAA tournament. Be sure to slam or uphold my arguments in the comment box below. I know you will all do an admirable job of both. Without further ado...
Before I roll out my list, I would like to explain two things about how I compiled my list and make further ado. One is that the Jazz aren't going to draft a person if they think there is a decent chance that the player could be a bust, even if their ceiling is very high. The Jazz have and are going to play it safe with a top pick. If they had a top 3 pick last year, they would have passed on Demarcus Cousins and drafted Derrick Favors. I am sure of this. For this reason, Perry Jones is not an option. He has the body and athleticism to be amazing, but look at his numbers. He plays almost the entire game and averages 14 points and 7 rebounds a game? For a guy with his athleticism and size, he should be getting those numbers sleepwalking in a BIg 12 conference that isn't very deep. I can almost guarantee that the Jazz won't draft Jones. Sorry if that is a disappointing stance to any of you.
Secondly, if I am deciding whether to draft the best player available or to draft for a need, I am drafting the best player available every time. I know Jazz fans will be upset if the Jazz don't draft a defensive big or a scoring wing, but the best player available may not be one of those two things. I can't fathom why GMs fall into this pitfall almost every year. But we can all list the times that teams passed on a player because they already had that position covered and got burned. But can you think of a time when someone drafted the best available player over a position and it backfired? And before you bring up Minnesota drafting Johnny Flynn and Ricky Rubio back to back, no one agreed with that move at the time. That was just bad drafting on all accounts. The caveat to the "drafting for position" rule is that you can use positional need to break a close decision. If it is hard to determine the better player, then you draft for need. Seems simple, but just watch how many times teams will overlook this rule come Junetime.
1. Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke
There is no Derrick Rose or John Wall in this draft. There is no Blake Griffin. So while most draft prognosticators have Irving as the number one overall pick, it is mostly done with apprehension. I am not that apprehensive about Irving as I believe he has the best chance of any of his draftmates of becoming elite at his position.
Strengths: While Irving won't blow you away with his quickness or athleticism, he is strong and quick enough. He isn't as quick as Chris Paul, but at 6'2" and 180 pounds, he's also already taller, longer and stronger at the physically immature age of 18. While he can get to the rim and score, he has a point guards mentality, often setting up his teammates at the expense of his own buckets. But the thing I love most about Irving, as seen in this highlight, is his ability to take strong contact while in the air and maintain his balance and finish. Carlos Boozer would love him for all of his potential "And-1s."
Reservations: He isn't Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook. He isn't as athletic. But I think he already has as good of an outside jumper as either of those guys. He's going to be really good.
NBA comparison: Chris Paul with less speed, more size.
How he fits with the Jazz: If the Jazz are lucky enough to get the top pick, they draft Kyrie Irving and they don't look back. They could then either try to trade Devin Harris, or else play them together and let Irving get a season under his belt of understudying. Either way, Irving is a better long term point guard than Harris and would help Jazz fans forget that the best point guard in the world is in Jersey wearing a headband.
2. Jared Sullinger, PF, Ohio State University
While Irving is the surest thing at the point guard position, Sullinger is the best big man to be a lock as a contributor in the NBA.
Strengths: Sullinger knows how to play basketball. He gets position early and uses his big body to his advantage. He can use either hand to score and has good footwork in the paint, especially for a man his age. He is a great rebounder with very good hands.
Reservations: He's not in terrific shape, although he could turn that into an asset with effective physical training. He's undersized at his position, which will have Jazz fans especially nervous. He also plays below the rim, just like the Jazz's last two power forwards. Lacks some lateral quickness.
NBA comparison: Big baby Davis with longer arms and another inch of height.
How he fits with the Jazz: This is a tough one. If the Jazz draft Sullinger, there would be an even bigger logjam at the 4 spot than there already is. Sullinger will only be able to play power forward in the NBA. But like I said, you take the best player and figure it out later. Sullinger is the best player at this spot.
3. Derrick Williams, PF, Arizona University
Williams has been one of my favorite college players the last few weeks. And having another Dwill on the team, just seems right.
Strengths: Can score in a lot of ways: dunks, circus shots, jumpers. He draws fouls at a high rate and is shooting a meager 61% from the field and 60% from the 3 point line. He only shoots a couple 3s a game and this season is most likely a statistically anomaly, but he has a pretty jump shot that you expect to go in. He is a good rebounder and plays good defense, especially for being the "star" of the team. He knows where to be to get in scoring position, even if his teammates don't know how to get the ball to him.
Reservations: He is a classic tweener. He's only 6'7" so he is too small to be a full time NBA power forward and possibly too slow to guard small forwards. This is really his main problem. He can also seem a little passive at demanding the ball or getting in position to get it.
NBA comparison: A less athletic Thaddeus Young with a better jump shot and range.
How he fits with the Jazz: I love Derrick Williams. I think he would be a great for the Jazz. But I see him as a big small forward mostly with some power forward duties. Most experts don't think he can play the small forward in the NBA. If that is true, then maybe he drops a spot because I like the guys behind him as well.
4. Harrison Barnes, SF, UNC
I'm not as high on Harrison Barnes as most Jazz fans, but he's probably going to be very good. No one has been as highly touted as Barnes since the arrival of Lebron James to the NBA. He hasn't dealt with the pressure as well either.
Strengths: A mature and strong body. He's 6'8" and muscular. Does a little bit of everything and can score in a lot of different ways. He's a pretty good athlete. Barnes is a smart player who knows where to be on offense and defense. His best trait thus far is probably his ability to hit clutch shots.
Reservations: This will sound weird, but Barnes just doesn't flow. His body movements and mechanics look a little rigid and unathletic. He's not a great spot up shooter. He is only shooting 42% from the field which is really low for a guy with his skills. Barnes is shooting a decent 35% from 3s, but that is likely to go down when he moves to an NBA 3. Hasn't handled hype and attention very well. Took him half of the season to really figure out how to play at the college level. It could have been due to getting a better point guard on his team too.
NBA comparison: A stronger Marvin Williams. Which is disconcerting.
How he fits with the Jazz: I've already revealed that I am not as high on Barnes as most Jazz fans. I do like his game. At worst, he is going to be a serviceable player in the NBA. But if you expect him to be the best player on any team at any time in his career, you will probably be disappointed. Or you are counting on the Cavs to draft him. He would help the Jazz as a guy who can probably defend a bit, rebound a little and finish in the open floor. But he's not going to help the Jazz become a better outside shooting team. At least not right away.
5. Terrence Jones, SF, Kentucky
This is where the draft gets interesting. I don't see any other sure thing starters left on the board. I'm not sure what to make of Terrence Jones.
Strengths: You only need to watch Terrence Jones play basketball for about 30 seconds to see the potential. He's the opposite of Harrison Barnes in that he is so fluid. It looks like he is playing basketball on an air hockey machine. He has the body and athleticism that NBA scouts drool over. He is 6'8, muscular, and has arms that don't stop. He looks like he is playing basketball in a Roger Rabbit movie. He also has point guard instincts and skills. He recently played the point, but then had a substantial growth spurt. Very good rebounder, especially from the small forward spot.
Reservations: While he makes the game look easy, look at his shooting numbers. Forty-four percent from the field. Thirty percent from 3 and 66% from the free throw line. Those are bad numbers. He'll be able to play in the NBA, but those numbers will HAVE to improve if he wants to play longer than a few seasons. He could play the 1-4 in the NBA. He is destined to join the Warriors. I'm not kidding.
NBA comparison: Anthony Randolph plus 20 pounds and minus 2 inches.
How he fits with the Jazz: Similarly to Harrison Barnes, Jones would fill a lot of needs for the Jazz: youth, speed, finishing off the break. He would have all the tools to be a lockdown defender, but would have to develop the work ethic to do so. Would not improve the team's overall shooting which is probably what the Jazz are looking for in a wing player. The more I think about it, Terrence Jones is probably closer to Perry Jones in his high ceiling and bust potential, but he has produced a little better. If he could impress the Jazz in workouts, I could see the Jazz taking him and making him their next AK.
I will look at 5 more prospects tomorrow in preparation for the tournament.