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Guest commentary: Utah Jazz’s search for modern-day power forward continues

SHARE Guest commentary: Utah Jazz’s search for modern-day power forward continues
Tennessee forward Grant Williams (2) drives past Vanderbilt forward Yanni Wetzell (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 58-46. (AP photo/Wade Payne)

Tennessee forward Grant Williams (2) drives past Vanderbilt forward Yanni Wetzell (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 58-46. (AP photo/Wade Payne)


SALT LAKE CITY — Ever since the Golden State Warriors won the championship in 2015, fueled by the emergence of Draymond Green, the power forward position has been turned upside down. This prompted ESPN's Zach Lowe, one of the best writers in the game, to write an article titled: "We Interrupt this Eulogy for the NBA Post-Up Game To Bring You Its Rebirth."

The premise of the article is that the power forward position has evolved from being a post-up big to more of an oversized small forward, Swiss Army knife type. Power forwards in today's game need to be able to do a little bit of everything: shoot, dribble, pass, protect the rim, defend multiple positions and rebound and go. Lowe called this new kind of power forward a playmaking four, Green being the model for this. Since then the league has seen players like Tobias Harris and P.J. Tucker evolve from being average players to high-level starters on really good playoff teams.

The Jazz might be the last team that hasn't fully embraced small ball. They start two bigs, with Derrick Favors playing alongside Rudy Gobert for the past four seasons. When Favors entered the league eight years ago he was the classic NBA power forward, but the league is changing fast and now his best position is as a center. The Jazz play about three-fourths of their time with a spread floor using Jae Crowder and Thabo Sefolosha at power forward. The Jazz’s offense has flourished during these times.

The Jazz have been trying to find a high-level playmaking four since the 2014-15 season. In the 2015 draft, after Green came onto the scene, Utah's Dennis Lindsey drafted Trey Lyles out of Kentucky. Lyles is a 6-foot-10 forward who had the look of what the new playmaking four should be. After a couple of years of the Lyles experience, the Jazz moved him to the Nuggets in the Donovan Mitchell deal. Since then the Jazz have used players like Crowder, Sefolosha and Jonas Jerebko at that position. They have performed well in this role but are better served as backups than starters.

Free agency is one way to add a playmaking four, but almost every other team in the league would like to add one, making this very difficult. This offseason the 76ers’ Harris is the top option available and the Jazz are rumored to be very interested. Trading for one is another possibility because a player like Kevin Love or, on a smaller scale, like Dario Saric could help elevate this position for the Jazz. Even if the Jazz do add a playmaking four in either of these two ways, they should still look into drafting one at 23 in this week’s NBA draft. Having depth is a very good thing.

Green, Tucker and Paul Millsap are players who have thrived in this new role but were second-round draft picks, showing that players like this are there to be found. This draft has a few to consider but the Jazz don’t need to look any further than Grant Williams out of Tennessee. Williams is a 6-6 junior forward who weighs 237 pounds.

At Tennessee, Williams earned SEC Player of the Year honors two seasons in a row. As a power forward, the Vols ran their offense through him, usually operating at the elbow or in the post. The Ringer's draft guru Kevin O’Connor wrote in his Williams profile, “He loves absorbing contact, can finish over either shoulder, and throws accurate fastballs to cutters and shooters.” Watch a scouting report on Williams and his passing abilities stand out.

Williams wasn’t a great 3-point shooter in college, averaging just 32.6 percent on 44 attempts. His free throw percent was strong at 81.9 percent, which is a great indicator of future 3-point success at the NBA level. He was also a good mid-range shooter, averaging 56.4 percent, and has a nice, soft touch around the basket. After the Jazz worked out Williams, Utah VP of player personnel Walt Perrin said he "has extended his range since college.” A positive sign for Williams’ draft value.

Williams did score a lot from the post-up in college, something that he won’t be able to do against bigger and more athletic NBA players. This shouldn’t be anything to worry too much about since the Jazz won’t want Williams doing a lot of that anyway (it is the least efficient way to score). One of the key aspects of the playmaking four is that if a smaller player switches onto him, he can take advantage of the switch, like through a post-up. This is something that teams like the Jazz should be comfortable with Williams doing well at the next level.

Defensively Williams is solid despite his height. He’s built pretty thick and is immovable in the post. He is a good rebounder and should be sufficient enough to help protect the rim (averaging 1.5 blocks a game). O’Connor wrote that Williams is “a high-IQ defender who is always in the right position rotating as a help defender, and plays with strong fundamentals moving laterally.” This sounds a lot like Green, who is one of the best and smartest defenders in the NBA. The question mark on Williams’ defense is can he stay in front of smaller, quicker players? This wasn't something he did in college often but hopefully he can show some ability to do this in his workouts.

Forbes selected Williams for the Jazz in its mock draft. Forbes contributor Andy Bailey wrote, “Prior to the 2012 draft, you may have seen similar analysis on Michigan State’s Draymond Green, who went in the second round that year. Draymond has forced teams to pay closer attention to players like this. And while that’s a lofty comparison, you can see similar elements in Williams.”

Williams won’t be Green, but he can still be a very good player in the league using the blueprint that Green has put forth, a poor man’s version of Green. Williams is also a terrific kid off the court. Combine this with his work ethic and smarts, and he has what Lindsey likes to call “Jazz DNA,” making it a perfect match.