13 June 2012
Sometimes You Have to Make Your Own Luck
WRITTEN BY PETER J. NOVAK | 12 June 2012 Follow Peter on Twitter.
“You make your own luck, Gig. You know what makes a good loser? Practice.” – Ernest Hemingway
The above quote was made by Ernest Hemmingway to his son. I do not pretend to know the context of the quote but I do believe it is a perfect reflection of the Utah Jazz’s current draft lottery situation. While Golden State did what Golden State does best (LOSE!!! BUNCH OF STUPID LOSERS!!!!), the Jazz fought hard to earn the 8th seed in the Western Conference Playoffs and (alleged) valuable experience for its youngish roster along the way. The end result was that the Jazz lost (for the time being) two valuable draft picks in the upcoming NBA draft. While the team may have overachieved this year, it still only finished the season tied with two other teams with the 13th best record in the league, which in a 30 team league means the Jazz are almost dead in the middle.
While we can all speculate and hope that the Jazz’s young team will improve with age, it is time for Gig…er…Kevin O’Connor, to show us what he is made of and make his own luck. The upcoming NBA draft has been touted as being one of the best in a long time. It is not hard to contemplate why that is, since there were so many projected top ten picks last year (Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones III, John Henson, Kendall Marshall, to name a few) who elected to return to college in light of entering prematurely into the labor instability that was projected by some to wipe out the whole NBA season. The result is that the upcoming draft, while only having 1 elite prospect, is much fatter than most drafts in the mid- to late-lottery. Thus there may not be a better time than now for O’Connor to parlay some of his NBA capital assets into some upgraded prospects at positions of need.
In a typical draft, most teams will feed you the line that they are looking to draft the best player available. While this may be partially true (best player available at position of need seems more accurate), the Jazz are in a situation where they currently do not own a draft pick, and thus if they are looking to acquire a player it is likely going to be one that they target ahead of time and trade into the draft to acquire. Figuring out who that player might be is a tough task, but it is fun to speculate on who the next Jazz man may be.
Who the Jazz Will NOT Target
Predicting what any NBA team wants to do in the draft, let alone one that is led by Kevin “No Comment” O’Connor, is a near impossible task…and yet as fans we still obsess over it. In order to help deconstruct who the Jazz might have interest in, I have tried to eliminate the players and positions that the Jazz should not have interest in. This is not to say that the Jazz do not like (or even love) some of these prospects, but rather, these guys would mostly be deemed to be a luxury to add to the team and thus not worth the NBA capital it would cost to get back into the draft.
Power Forwards: The one position on the team that Utah has undoubtedly filled is the power forward position. With depth on the roster currently and with Derrick Favors late season emergence, the Jazz are covered at power forward both now and in the future. Coincidentally, this may be the deepest position in the top half of the draft, which means that players at greater positions of need for Utah could fall down into more attainable draft slots. Players Eliminated: Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson, John Henson, Jared Sullinger, Arnett Moultrie, Andrew Nicholson.
Shooting Guard: The second deepest position for the Jazz may be at shooting guard. I say “may” because it is too early to tell if both Hayward and Burks become starter caliber players at this position long-term. The Jazz may look to add a more pure shooter to the team and play Hayward at small forward more often. For now though, I do not see the Jazz investing much capital in the shooting guard position unless a player they really love takes a big dive on draft day. Players Eliminated: Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters, Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Ross, Austin Rivers, Evan Fournier, John Jenkins.
Center: This positional need may be debatable. The Jazz have Kanter as the heir apparent at center with Jefferson holding down the position for now. The team may however look to acquire a taller shot blocking center to pair with Favors and Kanter long-term. I’m completely in favor of that. While this draft has a few guys with length, none are so great that I think the Jazz would feel compelled to jump back into the draft. Players Eliminated: Andre Drummond, Meyers Leonard, Tyler Zeller, Fab Melo.
So Who is Left?
Just like that we’ve eliminated 17 of the projected 30 first round draft picks. That leaves the following players:
Point Guard: Damian Lillard, Kendall Marshall, Marquis Teague, Tony Wroten
Small Forward: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Harrison Barnes, Terrence Jones, Perry Jones III, Moe Harkless, Quincy Miller, Draymond Green, Jeff Taylor, Royce White.
I think we can cut this list down a little further based on a few criteria the Jazz appear to consider highly in their prospects. First, the Jazz are big on high effort guys, accordingly, guys who have reputations of not putting in work may be deemed to risky for the Jazz to trade for. From what I have read, I think that eliminates Terrence Jones, Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller. The Jazz also typically avoid the “head case” type players and that would cut out: Tony Wroten and Royce White. Finally, there are few guys who are late first round draft picks, which likely would not pose enough of an upgrade to interest the Jazz to give up anything of significant value, I think those guys are Moe Harkless (although he has been rising after the draft combine), Marquis Teague, Draymond Green and Jeff Taylor.
Potential Jazz Targets
Just like that we are down to 4 potential targets. The following is a list of prospects that the Jazz could have interest in based on the team’s needs and the value of where they would have to trade into in the draft. This is a range of players that could go anywhere from #2 in the draft all the way to about #17. In order of projected draft position:
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, University of Kentucky
Physical Stats: Height: 6’7.5”, Weight: 233, Wingspan: 7’, Reach: 8’8.5”, Max Vertical: 35.5”, Sprint: 3.18
Current Projected Draft Range: 2-5
Why the Jazz might have interest: By all accounts Kidd-Gilchrist is one of the safest picks in this year’s draft, although he might lack the upside as an offensive player of some of the other wing prospects. Kidd-Gilchrist is often credited for being a team leader during Kentucky’s championship run and appears to have the work ethic that the Jazz would drool over. As a player he reminds me of Andre Iguodala, who has been a target of Jazz fans for years and who would seem to compliment both Hayward and Burks at the wing positions.
Harrison Barnes, SF, University of North Carolina
Physical Stats: Height: 6’8”, Weight: 228, Wingspan: 6’11.2”, Reach: 8’5.5”, Max Vertical: 39.5”, Sprint: 3.16
Current Projected Draft Range: 4-8
Why the Jazz might have interest: Barnes had a somewhat disappointing sophomore campaign but appears to be a mature kid who wants to become an NBA star and is willing to work for it. The most recent comparisons of his game are to Glenn Rice who had a successful career as a spot up shooter. I am not sure that Barnes will ever shoot as well as Rice did but he almost would certainly become the Jazz’s best 3-point threat the minute he is drafted. Some have questioned his athletic ability but the recent results from the combine had him as one of the highest leapers and one of the quickest in the ¾ court sprint.
Damian Lillard, PG, Weber State University
Physical Stats: Height: 6’2.75”, Weight: 189, Wingspan: 6’7.75”, Reach: 7’11.25”, Max Vertical: 39.5”, Sprint: 3.34
Current Projected Draft Range: 6-11
Why the Jazz might have interest: Lillard has been shooting up draft boards since about the middle of the NCAA season. He is a four year Junior who missed almost a full season due to injury but really caught on fire this past year as a lead scoring guard for local school Weber State. Lillard isn’t a traditional point guard like the Jazz have had in the past but the current trend in the NBA is shifting to scoring point guards and there was some recent buzz out of the NBA combine that Lillard reminds some scouts of Russell Westbrook. While that is a laudable comparison for Lillard to shoot for, Lillard appears to be a better outside shooter than Westbrook but does not have the same elite ability to attack the rim. The Jazz organization would no doubt be hopeful that Lillard’s school ties and friends he has made there might make him more desirous to keep his roots in Utah long-term.
Kendall Marshall, PG, University of North Carolina
Physical Breakdown: 6’4.25”, Weight: 198, Wingspan: 6’5.5”, Reach: 8’0”, Max Vertical: 37”, Sprint: 3.23
Current Projected Draft Range: 8-17
Why the Jazz might have interest: Marshall was the leader of the North Carolina team this last year that many thought would be a championship contender. However, once Marshall injured his wrist, North Carolina was all but done for. Marshall is a big point guard in the Andre Miller mold and may have the best court sense of any player coming into the NBA since Ricky Rubio. There have been knocks that Marshall isn’t athletic enough to play defense in the NBA, but his athletic numbers from the combine were superior to Lillard’s and were surprising to most scouts. Utah has always loved its traditional point guards, even preferring those with size as was demonstrated in the Deron Williams over Chris Paul selection.
WHICH TEAMS ARE SELLING DRAFT PICKS?
So I have identified 4 likely targets. The next question is how the Jazz position themselves in a place to get one of these guys that they may have their eyes on. Luckily, as is par for the course at this time of year, the rumors are running rampant on which teams want to trade up or down or out of this draft. Here are a few teams which a deal for the Jazz may be possible:
Sacramento Kings #5
Why they’d want to make a deal: For at least the second year in a row Sacramento was the youngest team in the NBA. More telling, their best player, Demarcus Cousins is perhaps one of the most immature players in the league. Cousin’s has the skill set of a legitimate NBA superstar and adding another rookie may not help his development as much as surrounding him with a talented veteran influence.
Proposed Trade: Sacramento trades John Salmons (2yr $8.0m, $7.6m Team Option “T/O) and pick #5 to
Utah for Paul Millsap (1yr $8.5m) and a future conditional 1st round draft pick.
Why this trade works: Millsap does not have the reputation of being an off court leader. Instead he leads by example in putting the time and effort in to maximize his abilities on and off court. This may be a better fit for Cousins as opposed to a teammate that gets in Cousin’s ear and upsets him. On the court, the Kings could use a versatile power forward to play next to Cousins and someone like Millsap fits that bill. Sacramento may prefer to draft a power forward like Thomas Robinson (if he falls) or John Henson but neither of those prospects are guaranteed to be better than what Millsap is today.
Who does Utah target here: At number five the Jazz would likely hope that Kidd-Gilchrist slides to them and provides them with the wing defender they have been lacking for seemingly forever. If Kidd-Gilchrist is not available and if Barnes makes it past Cleveland at #4, then this would be a good spot for Utah to add its shooter. Finally, if Utah believes that Portland is going to take Lillard at #6, which many mock drafts are currently projecting, then this pick puts Utah in position to steal Lillard from their divisional nemesis.
Toronto Raptors #8
Why they’d want to make a deal: The rumors out of Toronto are flying in several different directions. On one hand many speculate that the Raptors have a draft guarantee in place for Dion Waiters. On the other hand there are rumors that Toronto is making a strong play for a veteran wing player as part of a plan to entice Steve Nash to sign with them as a free agent. Toronto is also bringing on their lottery selection from last year, Jonas Valanciunas, so they may not be inclined to add a second developmental player at the same time.
Proposed Trade: Toronto trades Ed Davis (2yrs $2.2m, $3.2m, $4.4m Qualifying Offer “Q/O”) and Linas Kleiza (1yr $4.6m, $4.6m P/O) to Philadelphia and pick #5 to Utah
Philadelphia trades Elton Brand (1yr $18.2m) to Utah and Andre Iguodala (2yrs $14.7m, $15.9m P/O) to Toronto
Utah trades Al Jefferson (1yr $15m) and Raja Bell (1yr $3.5m) to Philadelphia and a future conditional 1st round draft pick to Toronto.
Why this trade works: Toronto obtains the veteran small forward they are looking for and rolls over its first round pick from this year into next. Philadelphia is able to add the post scoring player they were lacking in Jefferson and a decent prospect in Ed Davis. Additionally, this trade cuts about $10m off of Philadelphia’s payroll for next season and would free up some cap space to re-sign Lou Williams, Lavoy Allen and to shop the free agent market. Philadelphia would also have an approximate $10m traded player exception created by the net deficit of returning salaries it receives in this trade. Utah gets the #8 pick in the draft and also an adequate bench big man in Brand, whose contract expires after the season.
Who does Utah target here: At #8 the Jazz would miss out on Kidd-Gilchrist and there is a good chance Barnes would be gone as well. Assuming Lillard doesn’t go #6 to Portland, it would be him or Barnes in this slot.
Detroit Pistons #9
Why they’d want to make a deal: Detroit is looking at a handful of bad contracts which stifle its ability to make any meaningful improvement over the next several years. The team is also looking for an upgrade in the front court with a complimentary piece to put next to Greg Monroe.
Proposed Trade: Detroit trades Ben Gordon (1yr $12.4m, $13.2m P/O) and pick #9 to
Utah for Paul Millsap (1yr $8.6m); Raja Bell (1yr $3.5m) and a future conditional 1st round draft pick
Why this trade works: This trade helps eliminate one of Joe Dumar’s ill-advised free agent contracts and at the same time, adds a power forward next to Monroe who can compliment Monroe with both an inside/outside game. Utah frees up minutes for Favors and may be able to use Gordon in a limited role as a combo guard off the bench for the next two seasons.
Who does Utah target here: At number nine the Jazz would again be hoping that Lillard falls to them and if not, they would be in position to draft Marshall before point guard needy New Orleans at #10 scoops him up.
New Orleans #10
Why they’d want to make a deal: New Orleans has allegedly put their #10 draft pick on the block in order to prevent having to bring in a second rookie next to Anthony Davis. The Hornets are also allegedly looking to unload some salary in order to maintain financial flexibility to match any offer it receives for Eric Gordon and to give them the ability to add additional wing players in free agency.
Proposed Trade: New Orleans trades Emeka Okafor (2yrs $13.5m, $14.5m) and pick #10 to
Utah for Al Jefferson (1yr $15m) and a future conditional 1st round draft pick
Why this trade works: This is virtually the same trade I proposed in my previous trade column, and it actually might make more sense today. While Davis is the future of that franchise his current size make it questionable on whether he will be able to have an offensive impact in the post for the next few years. Jefferson could provide a good complimentary piece for Davis and take some pressure of him as he is eased into the role of franchise savior. Utah could use the defense Okafor brings (health permitting), as a reserve center, and in lineups next to either Favors and Millsap.
Who does Utah target here: This is the floor for Lillard, but there is good chance that either Portland or Toronto scoops him up at #6 or #8. If he’s not available then Marshall is the pick.
Houston #14 and #16
Why they’d want to make a deal: Houston by all accounts is trying to package some of its depth and acquire an all-star talent. Those trade rumors include Houston allegedly wanting to package #14 and #16 to move up in the draft. Houston has had a number of draft picks over the recent years and is already planning on brining over Donatas Montiejuans, a 2011 first round pick, from Europe this season. If Houston is unable to move up then they could be looking to trade one of their picks this year for a pick in a future draft.
Proposed Trade: Houston trades pick #14 or #16 to
Utah for cash considerations (up to $3m) and a future conditional 1st round draft pick
Why this trade works: This would be a punt for Houston rolling over a current asset for when they have more use for it. Utah could (and should) have two first round picks next year and thus could be willing to move one to get into the current draft.
Who does Utah target here: At this point Lillard will be gone but Marshall may be available with either 14 or 16 (Philadelphia at 15 does not need a point guard). The Jazz would hope that Marshall falls to them here.
So What Will the Jazz Do?
O’Connor and the rest of the Jazz front office has scouted this draft and according to Chad Ford from ESPN, they really like some of the prospects and may be looking to move back into the draft. I suspect that the Jazz are fondest of Lillard, which would mean they would likely need to move into the 5th-9th spot in order to make sure they get him. However, the cost for doing so appears to be much more expensive then if the Jazz were able to patiently wait to see if Marshall slides into the late lottery. I suspect that the Jazz will hope Lillard falls to around #10 and if he does not, they will turn their attention to Marshall and hope they can scoop him up by trading future draft selections and cash and/or taking on bad contracts. For my money, I think I would focus on Marshall as he should be more attainable and may be a better fit for the Jazz’s traditional point guard based system.
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