The Utah Jazz are building this team primarily through the NBA Draft. As a small market team in an unattractive (for free agents) market that has a brutal winter and usually very few national TV games you almost have to. Many teams do try, though, and fail. The adage exists: you can't build through the draft if you don't know how to draft. The San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers, and Oklahoma City Thunder are all good examples of smaller market teams that have mined the draft all over the first two rounds to find real NBA Talent. The Minnesota Timberwolves look like they've finally found a rich vein of gold themselves. Without a doubt the Utah Jazz deserve some manner of respect here as well.
They aren't like a rich team in warm-weather California or Texas. So impact free agents are few and far in-between. So being smart in the draft is really the only way for this, and other smaller market, franchises. For a team that found Hall of Famers at #16 and #13 in consecutive drafts it's clear that Utah has that pedigree. Decades later the Jazz continue find more hits than misses and this year's rookie class is a fine example.
Four players have suited up for Utah this year, and started their NBA careers. One player, J.J. O'Brien, went undrafted -- continuing a long line of impact undraftees for this team behind and . The point guard Neto has started most of the season for this team, reeling in the wake of a -less season. Lyles has gotten solid looks this year as both starting bigmen and have each missed 1/3rd of the season. Potential "three and D" candidate O'Brien worked his butt off all summer long to impress in pre-draft workouts, two NBA Summer Leagues, and training camp; to the point where he earned his place in the pipeline with the Idaho Stampede. And 7'3 bigman Pleiss has done everything asked of him while he waits his turn in the United States., was a lottery pick. Another, , was traded for on draft night. A third, , is almost the poster boy for a European draft-and-stash. And the fourth,
All four are from different nations, three from the Americas, and one from Europe. One from the lotto, and three not. One player is on the wrong side of 25, but the other three are still young enough to fit in with the Dennis Lindsey youth culture.Two are NBA players from the start, while the other two have mainly gotten burn in the NBADL.
NBA: Utah Jazz Player averages
NBADL: Idaho Stampede Player averages
None of these players are up for Rookie of the Year, though both Neto and Lyles were World Team invites to the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenges this year. These two appear to be on the right track towards being solid rotation (or better) players for Quin Snyder's team. O'Brien is actually in a pipeline down in the D League -- a place where previous Jazz regimes just used to use as a scouting tool for 10-Day contract tenders. Pleiss is big, and he can shoot, and he's making the tough adjustment from Euro big to big who can bang against shorter, stronger, more athletic players.
But how will these four guys match-up with the last few harvests for the Jazz?
- The 2010-2011 Utah Jazz rookies had building blocks and talent with Derrick Favors, Marcus Cousin.
, , and
- The 2011-2012 rookies had potential in a lockout shortened season with Alec Burks.
- Because of tie breakers and coin flips the Jazz missed out on Kevin Murphy.
in 2012-2013 and had to settle for just a second rounder in
- But they came on strong in 2013-2014 with Ian Clark.
, Rudy Gobert, and
- Last season there were too many injuries and a revolving door at the bottom of the roster, but still a number of things to be happy about with Dante Exum, Jerrelle Benimon. , , Elijah Millsap, , , , , and
In direct comparison the 2015-2016 haul of Trey Lyles, Raul Neto, Tibor Pleiss, and J.J. O'Brien don't look flashy -- but none of those rookie classes did during their rookie years either. Utah is building through the draft. They are forced to. And thankfully, they know how to draft. (Or make draft day trades, or select undrafted players, or be patient enough to sit on international players in difficult contracts in other leagues -- as the case may be.) And, after all, it's not about these rookie classes competing against one another. It's about how they all fit together. And that's precisely how you go from being good at drafting to being a good team.
Your 2015-2016 Utah Jazz rookies:
- J.J. O'Brien -- The Long Road
- Tibor Pleiss -- The Romantic Comedy
- Raul Neto -- The new "Old-School"
- Trey Lyles -- The modern era power forward / future overlord