The Utah Jazz went into draft night with a good chunk of its offseason work already done, having secured another play-maker in the form of Mike Conley. Getting the veteran cost Utah it’s top pick in the draft, the 23rd overall selection, leaving Dennis Lindsey with just the 53rd overall pick.
That didn’t stop Lindsey and the rest of the front office staff from being very active late in the draft. They acquired two extra second-round picks — the 50th and 58th — and ended up taking three players. In order, these players were forward Jarrell Brantley, combo guard Justin Wright-Foreman and shooting guard Miye Oni.
There’s a consistent theme with each of these players. All three are small-school guys (two, Brantley and Wright-Foreman, came from the Colonial Athletics Association) who excelled in these small environments. Oni and Wright-Foreman each won back-to-back Player of the Year Awards in the Ivy League and CAA, respectively. And Brantley made the First Team All-CAA and All-CAA Tournament team this past season.
Bringing in guys from smaller conferences can be pretty risky (hence, why a lot of them go late in the draft or end up being busts when picked high). Utah’s GM, Justin Zanik, brushed aside some of these concerns when asked about it by the media.
“Whenever you move up a level, there’s always a transition,” Zanik said to the media. “If you work hard, you have a skill set and a game that translate or could translate and a coaching staff that could help you get better — there is a saying: if you go play in college and you’re good enough, the NBA will find you. These guys were all known commodities. They all had very successful careers, so it wasn’t something where they just came on the radar, maybe on a public level or a media level. From a scouting level we’ve known about these guys for a while.”
The notion of having the skills and attributes that translate to the NBA and fit with the Jazz as presently constituted was something Zanik harped on multiple times during the post draft media availability.
“All of these guys, we’re really excited to have them and they fit what we’re looking for as far as Jazz players now and going forward,” Zanik said.
An important thing to keep in mind, however, is the fact that each of these guys were picked more than 50 spots into the night. That doesn’t happen without cause and it never bodes well for a player when they slip this far. Plus, Zanik hinted, quite strongly, that there’s no guarantee these guys will be on the roster after the initial phase of free agency.
“There’s a chance that we can have a lot of roster flexibility going forward,” Zanik said. “And we will continue to be aggressive in free agency with that coming up.”
Still, what is intriguing about each of these three players is the potential they can bring. A lot of guys from mid-major and below teams tend to be the high floor/low ceiling kind of players. Athletes with a lot of skills but not much in the way of athleticism and star potential. These guys don’t seem to be that way. They’re the kind of late picks that could blossom. It’s highly unlikely they become stars, but it’s at least conceivable in some cases.
Brantley is capable of being an upgraded version of Jae Crowder, Wright-Foreman holds a lot of scoring and shooting potential without being way undersized (he’s 6-foot-2 but has a 6-foot-7.5 wingspan) and Oni is a solid 3-and-D prospect. They each have plenty of things to work on, but again, that’s something every GM, including Zanik, in inherently aware of.
“Every guy that comes in the league needs to work on things,” Zanik said. “They’re not fully formed players. They’re all in their early twenties, and we have a great developmental and coaching staff that will help these guys along. They’re all, from what we see, willing to learn.”
The road for second round picks is significantly harder than lottery or even mid-first round prospects. Luckily for these three, Zanik wasn’t lying when he talked about the great developmental and coaching staff of the Jazz. They’ve managed to find several gems like Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale by even less conventional means. If Brantley, Wright-Foreman and Oni put in the work, they can find success in Utah.