Over the past several weeks, the Utah Jazz have dug for unearthed talent, hosting numerous workouts ahead of the NBA draft and a free agent minicamp that featured players with previous NBA experience.
Dozens of players have filtered in and out of Zions Bank Basketball Center, and the team’s brass has gotten a first-hand opportunity to find possible steals.
Utah owns the 24th, 30th, 42nd and 55th overall picks in this year’s draft, and the prospects who have worked out for the team are projected to go anywhere from the middle of the first round to undrafted.
The NBA has incentivized finding “diamonds in the rough” by adding two-way contracts, giving teams room to add two more players to their rosters. The rights to players under two-way contracts will be held by NBA teams, but the players will spend most of their time in the NBA Gatorade League (formerly known as the NBA Developmental League). These contracts can only be used on players that have less than three years of professional experience and cannot exceed $275,000 for a signed season.
A number of potential draftees that have showcased their talents in front of the Jazz have been overlooked by scouts and pundits curating mock drafts.
These four have worked out for the Jazz and seem to have the makings of players that make will eventually make general managers regretful for passing on them.
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State, point guard
Projection: Late first, early second round
Point guards have dominated this year’s NBA draft class. Washington’s Markelle Fultz is projected to go first overall and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, much to the chagrin of his father, is expected to get picked second. De’Aaron Fox out of Kentucky is also projected to go in the top five.
But Jawun Evans has a higher player efficiency rating than Ball and Fox, yet hasn’t gotten the attention that the others have.
Per-40 minutes, Evans averaged 25.9 points and 8.8 assists per game. He only turned the ball over 3.8 times, which makes him one of the most effective distributing guards in the country.
According to Nick Prevenas, Evans was the only player to play fewer than 30 minutes per game and finish in the top 10 in assists. When Evans is on the floor, he makes sure his team’s offense is operating smoothly.
So why has he fallen down the draft boards? He’s small.
At 5-foot-11, Evans is smaller than most NBA point guards today. During last year’s NBA draft combine, the average height for a point guard was over 6-2. In the NBA, every inch matters.
Evans does have a 6-5 wingspan, but his size, especially defensively, could be a problem at the next level. Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, who’s 5-9 on a good day, averaged nearly 30 points per game this past season but often struggled defensively. Thomas was the final player selected in the 2011 draft.
Defense, contrary to what casual NBA fans think, is important to teams. If Evans scores and creates points, but gives up points on the opposite end, his production becomes nullified.
The Jazz, with George Hill becoming a free agent and Dante Exum still coming into his own, have a need at point guard. Evans has the offensive tools to help an NBA team, but he needs to show them he can defend at a respectable level.
Josh Hart, Villanova, shooting guard
Projection: Late second round
Normally, graduating college is looked at as a positive milestone in someone’s life, but NBA scouts have a different take on it.
Josh Hart averaged 18.7 points and made 40.4 percent of his 3-point attempts at Villanova last season while attempting more than five 3-pointers per game. Teams want players that don’t hesitate to take threes, and more importantly, ones that can make them.
Hart improved statistically each of the four years he spent in college. His age, though, has hurt Hart’s stock.
Hart will turn 23 in the middle of the NBA season next year. The upside that NBA scouts look for just isn’t there. There are some players in the league with four years of professional experience that are the same age as Hart, who’s yet to play a second in the NBA.
If Hart can quickly adjust to the culture change, he’ll be able to contribute immediately. He was likened to Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon by Max Holm of Hoops Habit. Brogdon, like Hart, was considered an older rookie but cracked Jason Kidd’s rotation by becoming a reliable 3-point shooter and is one of the finalists for the 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year award. Brogdon was taken with the 36th overall pick last year.
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State, small forward
Projection: Late second round/undrafted
Physically, there’s no question that Dwayne Bacon can play in the NBA. He’s 6-6 and has a 6-10 wingspan, capable of matching up with any wing player in the league. The problem is, everybody in the NBA is tall, fast and strong.
Bacon dominated in college by overwhelming other small forwards with his size. He scored at will, often disregarding teammates in pursuit of buckets. Teams see that tunnel vision and aren’t very impressed though. Teams view his stubbornness as a serious obstacle, especially since he wasn’t able to shoot it well consistently. Bacon made just 33 percent of his threes at a distance that’s shorter than the NBA line.
Second-round picks aren’t guaranteed contracts, so Bacon might be worth the gamble if he’s available at 55. The coach, in this case Quin Snyder, would be tasked with getting Bacon to accept a small role and keep working on his jump shot.
Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina, shooting guard
Projection: Late second round/undrafted
Sindarius Thornwell is a proven, multidimensional scorer. He averaged 21.4 points, displaying an offensive arsenal that’s transferable to the next level. He shot the ball well in spot-up situations, scored out on the open floor and created shots off the dribble for himself in the half-court. Against Alabama, Thornwell scored 44 points and grabbed 21 rebounds.
Thornwell’s draft downside is one that he didn’t have much control over. South Carolina relied on him as its first, second and third option. He touched the ball every single time he was on the floor and that won’t be the case in the NBA.
He has a knack for scoring, but he’s not incredibly explosive nor quick. Scouts worry that his scoring will be rendered useless against long, physical defenders in the NBA. His outstanding numbers might’ve been inflated by his situation, too.
Thornwell made the most of his opportunity at South Carolina and shouldn’t be held at fault for doing so. At 23, like Hart, Thornwell doesn’t have a ton of room to grow. If he slips through the cracks, a team might find a way to use his talent. He shot 47.1 percent from two and 39.2 percent from three. That can’t be overlooked just because he took advantage of lesser competition.