SALT LAKE CITY — Unless the Jazz trade away all their picks in Thursday's NBA draft, they’ll know everything possible about the selections, right down to their favorite toothpaste. That’s an exaggeration, but not by much.
Anyone recalling the Luther Wright boondoggle 24 years ago knows there’s no such thing as over-preparation on draft day. Hiding secrets has become a near-impossibility for potential draftees. Teams know a player’s vital statistics and have studied hours of film, as always, but they’ve also pored over the metrics and done the analytics, breaking down tendencies, preferences, strengths and weaknesses. Even players’ social media activity is monitored.
That’s just the outside data. They also do psychological profiles, project injury potential and study whether a player seizes up under pressure, loses his temper or pouts.
Nowadays there’s little left to chance.
In 1993, it might not have been a lack of preparation when the Jazz took Wright with the 18th pick, but it was clearly a lack of skepticism. They had scouted him at Seton Hall, and seen a 7-foot-2, 270-pound center with soft hands, an easy shooting stroke and a childlike sense of wonder.
He also had mental health and drug issues, but the Jazz didn’t know that.
Apparently hoping to help a troubled kid from Elizabeth, New Jersey — or unaware of the circumstances — former Seton Hall coach P.J. Carlesimo recommended Wright, who became among the worst failures in club history. Wright signed a $5 million contract but played just 92 minutes.
Years later, he said he was sexually abused as a child. Wright arrived in Utah with bipolar and attention deficit issues, as well as drug problems. Meanwhile, he had a gift for finding the wrong kind of friends, i.e. gunrunners, drug dealers, etc. Teams didn’t do deep medical and psychological workups, beyond normal physicals, and couldn’t predict he would skip practices, miss flights or get kicked out of a circus show at the Delta Center.
He ended his career high on Ritalin and marijuana — by his own admission — when police stopped him at gunpoint off I-80 in Tooele County, where he was smashing car windows and damaging garbage cans. He was jailed, then taken to a psychiatric hospital.
The following season, the team cut him before its first game.
A player with Wright’s problems couldn’t sneak past the screenings nowadays — unless a team wanted it to happen. The Jazz brought in Damyean Dotson from Houston for a workout last week. He was accused in a sexual assault scandal when he played at Oregon in 2014, but no charges were filed against him.
Jazz vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin says the Jazz did extensive research on Dotson’s history anyway.
“There would be major apprehension if he had been convicted of anything. But he wasn’t convicted, not even charged,” Perrin says. “We’ve done our background on him and found out it … wasn’t him.”
Yet as much data as there is on players, there’s always the possibility there’s actually too much information. How can one team process it all?
“Good question,” Perrin says.
Each year, he says, the ways to gather information grows.
“When it first started, you would do your detail work, do a lot of video work, do interviews, get the physical and make the decision,” he says. “Now not only do you have all that, you’ve got to throw in all the analytics.”
Meanwhile, the pool of Jazz people that have input into the draft has grown.
Perrin, who has been involved in drafting players in Utah, Detroit and Minnesota since 1974-75, admits great talent can still get overlooked. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told NBA teams that Draymond Green could be a star, yet the Golden State forward languished until the 35th pick of the 2012 draft. That year the Jazz didn’t have a pick until No. 47. Numerous lesser players were selected ahead of Green, including Royce White, Miles Plumlee and John Henson.
Perrin says aside from physical dimensions, another advantage today’s players have is outside help.
“I think they’re probably a little more worldly, more mature,” he says. “I think the agents have been involved more. Colleges are having media training. So I think they’re a bit more savvy, aware and knowledgeable on how to act than they were 20 years ago.”
Today, dialing a college coach and asking about a player is helpful, but inadequate. If someone has a slew of problems, the Jazz will almost certainly know about it.
They learned their lesson the hard way.
For them, there’s no such thing as too much information.