SALT LAKE CITY — For all of the hype and hoopla surrounding the potential star power of the top tier of NBA-bound talent, what happens at the other end of the first round might be what sets this year’s draft apart.
You’ve heard of Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum and Joel Embiid, of course.
While they are the cream of this particular crop, NBA teams are also excited and intrigued about the possibilities of guys who aren’t household names yet.
“I think it's outstanding. I think it's one of the deepest drafts and one of the most talented that we've had in maybe a decade,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said in a conference call Tuesday. “It is full of players that can not only come in and contribute, but guys that could be starters and potential stars. It's deep with that. So you can go deep into the second round and get good players. That's not always the case.”
That’s particularly good news for the Jazz.
While the fifth pick has everybody’s attention — and there are some intriguing possibilities with that high lottery spot — the organization’s 23rd and 35th selections could also prove to play important factors in Utah’s rebuilding process.
“I think it’s a deep draft. I think you can find players, pretty good players, at both positions, maybe even behind us at 35,” Jazz vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin said.
“It’s just trying to figure out, ‘OK, is this one or is this the one? Who would be the best fit for us?’ But I think it is a good draft. Yes, I think there’s pretty good value at 23 and 35.”
Jazz brass reflexively answer with a “best player available” reply when asked what they’re looking for with each particular pick. But it stands to reason that Utah, whose defensive struggles overshadowed its shooting deficiencies last season, needs to come out of Thursday’s draft with a bolstered backcourt and another shooter or two.
If the Jazz keep their No. 5 pick, the common assumption is that Utah will end up selecting one of the highly regarded power forwards available — whether it be Indiana stretch-four Noah Vonleh, Arizona’s versatile Aaron Gordon or Kentucky’s powerful Julius Randle.
In that scenario, it seems likely the Jazz would look to pick up a point guard to back up sophomore-to-be Trey Burke or a wing player with offensive upside with their other two picks.
Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis, Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier, Missouri’s Jordan Clarkson and UCLA’s Zach Lavine are among the point guards who could possibly be available in the mid-to-late stages of the first round.
Wing players who might still be available at No. 23 include the likes of Kentucky’s James Young, North Carolina’s P.J. Hairston, UCLA’s Jordan Adams, Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels, Memphis’ T.J. Warren and Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III.
Two other possible considerations include UCLA’s Magic Johnson impersonator, 6-9 point guard Kyle Anderson, and Pleasant Grove sharpshooter C.J. Wilcox, who established himself as a solid shooting guard during his Pac-12 career at Washington.
Anderson, Adams, Clarkson, Robinson and Wilcox each had workouts in Utah. Hairston came to town but was unable to participate in a tryout session due to back spasms.
The Jazz could also use one or both of their latter picks to enhance a trade, either to move up or possibly get an established veteran to add depth to a young roster featuring Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors.
“We think those are terrific assets and we feel really good about them,” Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said, referring to all three draft picks. “We’ll see if we can aggregate them and move up. We’ll see if we want to move out via trade.
"There are several good options and I think we’ll have a ton of interesting conversations. I think we’ll have a dilemma — and I say that in a good way because we’re going to have several good options. Our job is to pick the best option.”