Tobias Harris or Khris Middleton leaving the Philadelphia 76ers or Milwaukee Bucks for Utah would be shocking. The idea of Klay Thompson joining the Jazz aspires to be a pipe dream. Even getting D’Angelo Russell to sign an offer sheet in free agency feels like a full-court heave (not to mention the fact that the Brooklyn Nets would probably match).
So, yet again, it’s time to ride or die with the second half of the first round of the NBA Draft.
Maybe Utah can still make a trade this summer, but it won’t have nearly as much salary-matching fodder with Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh all in the final years of their contracts right now.
Other than internal development, finding a gem in the draft is the best shot at improvement over the summer.
As of the All-Star break, Utah is slated to have the No. 20 pick. That, of course, could change as teams jockey for position in the standings between now and the postseason. So, for the sake of argument, we’ll say the Jazz’ range is Prospects 15 to 25.
The players in that range on Tankathon’s latest big board:
- Nassir Little (North Carolina)
- Sekou Doumbouya (Republic of Guinea)
- Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Virginia Tech)
- Kevin Porter (USC)
- Tre Jones (Duke)
- Grant Williams (Tennessee)
- Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s)
- Dedric Lawson (Kansas)
- P.J. Washington (Kentucky)
- Goga Bitadze (Republic of Georgia)
- Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga)
Here are some thoughts of three of the players from that group who might fit well with the 2019-20 Jazz.
Rui Hachimura (PF/SF, Gonzaga, 6’8”, 21 years old)
- 28.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.1 blocks, 0.6 threes per 75 team possessions, .648 True Shooting Percentage, 9.3 Box Plus-Minus
Ever since Jae Crowder was acquired by the Jazz in February, 2018, Utah’s best high-volume lineups have been with him at the 4. And it’s not because Crowder is a better player than starting 4 Derrick Favors. Statistically, he’s not.
A combo forward like Crowder just makes more sense next to Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. Gobert controls the paint on both ends of the floor. A good chunk of Mitchell’s offense comes from slashing. So, it helps to have a 4 who can more naturally work outside-in.
Cue Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura, who was forecast for the lottery by many prior to this season. Hachimura’s star has faded a bit as draft analysts have fallen for teammate Brandon Clarke. But there’s still plenty to like, especially if you get him in the 20s.
Hachimura has been fancied as a small forward, but he spent much of this season with his back to the basket, playing more like a traditional 4.
Ten years ago, this would’ve been positional confusion. Now, it’s positional versatility.
Forwards who can naturally shift between the 3 and 4 have been all the rage for a few seasons, and Hachimura should be able to do that.
He should be able to handle the ball a bit and attack closeouts at the next level. And, for the first time in his college career, he’s showing signs of life as a three-point shooter. After going 9-of-40 (22.5 percent) from three in his first two seasons, Hachimura is 11-of-25 (44 percent) as a junior.
That’s obviously a minuscule sample size, but his jumper doesn’t look beyond hope and statistical good signs are good signs, even if they have to be taken with a grain of salt.
Finding a use for Hachimura’s advanced back-to-the-basket game would be a little trickier for Utah, a team that almost never posts up (it’s dead last in the NBA with a total 127 post-ups this season).
A lot of the skills that make him a good post player could be reapplied elsewhere, though. His size, athleticism and touch around the basket could make him valuable on cuts, duck-ins and maybe even some pick-and-rolls.
The other end of the court is where Hachimura will really need to be coached up. He has respectable steal and block rates in college, but defending fellow combo forwards will be a chore. Utah’s coaching staff and Gobert are as well-equipped to help him as anyone.
Nassir Little (SF/PF, North Carolina, 6’6”, 19 years old)
- 20.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.2 blocks, 0.9 threes per 75 team possessions, .564 True Shooting Percentage, 6.2 Box Plus-Minus
North Carolina’s Nassir Little is another player who’s seen his preseason stock dip a bit as the 2018-19 campaign has played out. But, in the limited playing he time he gets with the Tar Heels (18.8 minutes per game), you see flashes of what made him Rivals’ No. 2 recruit for his class.
And a recent uptick in scoring (prior to an ankle injury against Virginia) seems to have coincided with more minutes at the 4.
“When I’m in at the four, we don’t really run plays much, we’re more into our freelance,” Little said after a 23-point performance against Virginia Tech, per CL Brown of The Athletic. “I’ve been really dangerous in that kind of setting because I’m neither playing inside/outside. I can kind of be free. That’s allowed me to be more versatile.”
Little may not enjoy that level of freedom in Quin Snyder’s heavily-structured offense, but his versatility as a 4 would absolutely be explored.
Little is the same height as Crowder, but his wingspan (7’2”) is five inches longer. With his length and athleticism, he could be a prototypical modern combo forward. And he’s just 19 years old, meaning there’s plenty of time to develop the areas where he struggles.
Grant Williams (PF, Tennessee, 6’7”, 20 years old)
- 26.1 points, 10 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 2.1 blocks, 1.6 steals, 0.5 threes per 75 team possessions, .596 True Shooting Percentage, 14.4 Box Plus-Minus
Tennessee’s Grant Williams is another 4 who spends a lot of time playing like the 4s of yesteryear, but that may just be the product of the system in which he plays.
Over the course of the season, he’s shown an ability to attack from the perimeter. And while his career three-point percentage of 27.6 suggests he’d struggle to space the floor in the NBA, there are signs he can develop into a shooter.
Some draft analysts have posited that college free-throw percentage is a better indicator of future shooting prowess than college three-point percentage. Williams’ form from the line is pure, and he’s shooting 83.2 percent on 7.5 attempts per game from there.
In January, he went 23-of-23 from the line in a 43-point performance against Vanderbilt. Two games earlier, he went 14-of-14 from the stripe against Arkansas.
Hoping Williams could figure out how to shoot NBA threes would not be without merit.
But what’s perhaps most intriguing about Williams is his 19.7 Assist Percentage, third among Volunteers rotation players.
Williams sees the floor well and generally knows when to hunt his own shot and when to move it to the open man. Ball movement and IQ are huge in Utah’s system.
So, while he sometimes looks like your father’s power forward for Tennessee, there’s certainly evidence to suggest he can be a playmaking 4 at the next level.