Flash back to June 23rd, 2011. It was the night of the NBA Draft, and the clock was ticking. The Jazz were on the clock with the 12th pick. Having selected the raw Enes Kanter with third pick, the onus was on the Jazz to select a guard to possibly help fill the Deron Williams shaped-hole in the collective hearts of Jazz Nation. This year’s draft had been full of surprises, with many perceived reaches in the first few picks (Tristan Thompson, Jan Vesely). But with rumored Jazz targets Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, hometown favorite Jimmer Fredette, and sharpshooter Klay Thompson selected in that order right before the 12th pick, pickings were slim in the guard department. Enter Alec Burks.
Reaction towards the pick was generally mixed. Alec Burks was relatively well regarded going into the draft, with most mock drafts placing him around 8th - 10th. However, there was a feeling that, at that point, it could have been better for the Jazz to trade down in the draft, and grab a player that had a lot of potential but needed time to develop. As AllThatAmar wrote all the way back in 2011, “[Alec] was a projected lotto pick and deservedly so. But why didn’t we trade down to get MarShon Brooks?” Other (somewhat) popular options included Jordan Hamilton, Tyler Honeycutt, and Chris Singleton. The Jazz had a lot of options at point guard and shooting guard (Devin Harris, Uncle Jamaal, Uncle Earl, CJ Miles, Josh Howard, Raja Bell), so without truly standout talent, #potential was all that was left.
So why didn’t the Jazz pick Kawhi? Perhaps one reason was the fact that he never worked out for the Jazz, and thus Jazz scouts were generally turned off by his relatively bad shooting and form. Kevin O'Connor (remember him?) acknowledged in an interview before the draft that Leonard believed he wouldn’t “be taken with Utah's No. 3 and 12 picks, and will instead be selected somewhere between the two choices, which is why he canceled his Jazz workout.” Most people saw his enormous defensive potential, but his offense was rarely regarded as up-to-snuff.
And, of course, just three picks after Alec Burks was selected, Kawhi Leonard was infamously picked 15th in the 2011 draft by the Pacers, and traded to San Antonio in exchange for George Hill. Zach Lowe, formerly of Grantland.com (RIP), created a deep, highly intriguing must-read about that 15th pick. I’ll just sample some quotes Mr. Lowe to understand Spurs’ side from here on out, but I highly suggest reading the entirety of that amazing article.
The Spurs were not sure of their decision to trade George Hill for Kawhi, however. As Zach Lowe notes, Hill was so precious for Dennis Lindsey that the Pacers had to throw in the rights to Erazem Lorbek and Davis Bertans (who is actually now playing for the Spurs!).
But we all know what happened from there. In between the draft and the lockout, Kawhi took Chip Engelland’s advice and just worked hard, developing into the Finals MVP, 2xDPOY, MVP candidate player we know him as today.
Meanwhile, Dennis Lindsey is now working on the opposite side of the aisle, heisted by the Jazz just over a year after the 2011 draft. He’s continued the fashion of building by the draft while making the right trades for the right personnel, such as the steal of giving up a 12th pick for none other than George Hill. And don’t sleep on Alec either. While he (really) needs to get healthier, we’ll always have memories of him like these in our hearts.
As the Jazz head into their second matchup this season against the Spurs, this time at home, it seems that the divergent fates of rockstar Kawhi Leonard and the oft-injured Alec Burks (with a dash of George Hill) have come to meet yet again. But hey, at least we didn’t pick Chris Singleton, right?