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Utah Jazz: 23rd pick was good last time, team says

Stevenson has consistently started for Jazz, Wiz, Magic

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Last time they owned the No. 23 overall selection in the NBA Draft, the Jazz took a chance.

They drafted a player straight out of high school, something quite out of character for a franchise with a reputation for relative conservatism.

The year was 2000.

The selection originally belonged to Miami, acquired in a 1996 trade for the draft rights to Martin Muursepp, a forward from Estonia whose NBA career lasted all of 83 games over two seasons.

It was the first Jazz draft conducted by current general manager Kevin O'Connor, and Utah tapped shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson — then a 19-year-old from Washington Union High School near Fresno, Calif.

Eight years later, Stevenson will soon begin his ninth season in the NBA — and the Jazz again hold the No. 23 pick, this time in Thursday night's draft.

Good pick?

Bad pick?

Something in between?

With the benefit of hindsight, O'Connor wastes no time in making a case for "good."

"DeShawn Stevenson is a starter in this league, so that would answer the question," he said.

Stevenson has started 82-of-82 games over each of the past three seasons, including the last of his two-plus seasons with the Orlando Magic and each of the last two with a Washington Wizards club that took part both years in postseason play.

He even started 54-of-54 games in his fourth and final season with the Jazz, before being shipped to the Magic at the 2004 trade deadline.

But O'Connor is the first to acknowledge that the athletic Stevenson's career in Utah did not pan out precisely as envisioned, and that the Jazz largely helped oversee his growth for the benefit of what is now the Wizards.

"Developmentally," he said, "I think we contributed to him being a starter in the league.

"For talent level, I think (the pick) was good," O'Connor added. "The maturation of DeShawn — certainly we contributed to it. But it didn't help us."

Stevenson once notably clashed with Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, to the point he was sent home from a playoff trip.

He could dunk with the best of them, but never could figure out how to knock down 3-pointers, hitting just 17.7 percent during his Utah career.

And while he did start 87-of-222 games for the Jazz, he never was able to plug — to Sloan's full satisfaction — the void left by now-retired shooting guard Jeff Hornacek.

His final Jazz numbers: 5.9 points per regular-season game, 41.2 percent shooting from the field and 45 minutes in five playoff games.

O'Connor, though, looks beyond all that.

He sees Stevenson as an asset who begat via trade swingman Gordan Giricek, who started 104-of-286 games over all or parts of five seasons in Utah and who partly begat Kyle Korver, now the Jazz's backup shooting guard and a frequent fourth-quarter finisher following his December acquisition from Philadelphia.

That in mind, O'Connor said, "I think the 23rd pick was a pretty good pick for us."

And it was a chance he was glad he took, especially considering that the first-round selections following Stevenson were, in order, Dalibor Bagaric (out of the league after three years), Jake Tsakalidis (not in the league last season), Mamadou N'diaye (69 career NBA games), Primoz Brezec (played for three different teams last season), Erick Barkley (27 career games) and Mark Madsen (69 career starts).

"You look long-term," O'Connor said.

"When you're drafting 23rd," he added, "you're looking at a situation where you say, 'Who can we get that possibly can contribute to our team.' And when you do that, maybe it doesn't have to be next year. But hopefully sometime in the future."

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com