SALT LAKE CITY — Remember when Mateen Cleaves was tearing up the NBA? When Rich King was making a bid for the Hall of Fame? When Roger Phegley mesmerized the nation?
Maybe that’s because it never happened.
With the Jazz picking 14th and 21st in the NBA Draft on Thursday, there’s always the hope they’ll do better than that.
There has to be another Tim Hardaway out there somewhere.
For all the speculation regarding the Jazz’s draft selections this year, they aren’t likely to acquire a major player unless they trade up. They say they’re going to aggressively look into that possibility. That’s good news for Jazz fans, because after first few picks, it’s like swinging blindfolded at a piñata.
There are occasionally pleasant surprises, such as Hardaway, a No. 14 pick in 1989 by Golden State. He went on to become a five-time All-Star. Clyde Drexler, a 14th pick in 1983, was a 10-time All-Star. But realistically, what are the odds? The majority of No. 14s have been closer to King than Hardaway and Drexler.
In a high-end scenario, the Jazz will end up with someone like Troy Murphy, an 11-point, 8-rebound player who just finished his 12th season in the league. But the number of No. 14 picks in the past four decades who became big stars can be numbered on two fingers: Hardway and Drexler. High-end players at that spot: Dan Majerle, Peja Stojakovic and maybe one or two others.
So it’s safe to say if the Jazz don’t move up, this year’s draft pick will be unproductive at worst, respectable at best. Previous Jazz No. 14s: Ronnie Brewer and Kris Humphries.
One had a fairly famous dad, the other a very famous wife.
Both are still in the league — which says something — but neither is an All-Star.
Whether the Jazz take Shane Larkin, Dennis Schroeder, Michael Carter-Williams or someone else probably won’t matter all that much.
Naturally, there are exceptions. Though Karl Malone went at No. 13 and John Stockton No. 16, odds of repeating those scenarios are increasingly small. Scouting has become so competitive and video so available, almost no one slips surreptitiously into the draft. Of the 2013 All-Stars, only five of 25 selectees were drafted below 14th.
Here is a snapshot of what the Jazz have done when picking between Nos. 14 and 21: In 2009 they got Eric Maynor at No. 20, but kept him only 26 games before moving him in a trade. Brewer was No. 14 in 2006, a guy with a lot of athleticism but poor range. In 2004 it was Humphries at No. 14 — an improved player, but one who still gets more credit on the society pages than sports. He was briefly married to socialite/reality TV star Kim Kardashian.
Humphries’ website bio says he is “best known for his career in the NBA” (not) and is “one of the most dominant players in the league.” (What?)
Same year as Humphries, the Jazz drafted Kirk Snyder, the troubled guard, at No. 16. They also took Pavel Podkolzin at 21, but traded his rights immediately. Sasha Pavlovic was drafted at No. 19 in 2003 but traded after a year. Notre Dame’s Ryan Humphrey was the No. 19 pick for the Jazz in 2002 but was moved the same day for Curtis Borchardt, whose bones were as delicate as fine china.
Other unfruitful picks: Quincy Lewis (No. 19, 1999), Luther Wright (18, 1993) and Jose Ortiz (15, 1987). Fair-to-middling 14-21 picks: Dell Curry (No. 15, 1986) and Eric Murdock (No. 21, 1991), both of whom did better after leaving Utah.
Blue Edwards (21, 1989) was a useful but mid-level player who had two stints with the Jazz.
But the team hasn’t drafted a Hall of Fame prospect — or even a star — in the 14-21 range since Stockton and Malone in the mid-80s. General manager Dennis Lindsey has admitted a player drafted in that area in 2013 isn’t likely to be a superstar.
This doesn’t mean the Jazz have been foolish. (OK, they were foolish when they skipped Tony Parker at No. 24 in 2001; so were 27 other teams.) It’s just that there are only two or three can’t-miss players in any draft. Everything else is a crapshoot. A team might end up with Malone, but on the other hand, it could be Dwayne (Pearl) Washington, the No. 13 pick by New Jersey a year after Malone.
So naturally the Jazz are trying to change the odds. Lindsey has flown in dozens of prospects for workouts. Maybe he’ll find an actual pearl in the bunch.
More likely it’ll be a guy who gets famous on a reality show.
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