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Chris Paul is headed to the NBA Finals. Looking back at the Utah Jazz’s decision to draft Deron Williams over him

Former Utah Jazz guard Deron Williams and former New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul go after a loose ball.
FILE - Former Utah Jazz guard Deron Williams and former New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul go after a loose ball at EnergySolutions Arena on Feb. 4, 2008. How did their careers pan out? We take a look back, with Paul heading to his first NBA Finals with the Phoenix Suns.
Michael Brandy, Deseret News

As Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul makes his first trip to the NBA Finals in his 16-year career, Utah Jazz fans may be looking back at the 2005 NBA draft when the Jazz took Illinois guard Deron Williams with the third overall pick and Paul went fourth to the then-New Orleans Hornets.

The Williams-Paul debate raged throughout the years they both played (Williams last appeared in an NBA game in 2017, while Paul is still flourishing), but two things before we go any further: Williams was tremendous in over five seasons with the Jazz, and there’s no telling how long Paul might have stayed with the Jazz had they drafted him.

Nevertheless, here’s a look back at how the Jazz arrived at the decision to take Williams over Paul.

2005 NBA draft lottery

The Jazz finished the 2004-05 season with a 26-56 record, their worst mark since 1982, and had the fifth-best odds of winning the 2005 draft lottery. The Hornets had the second-best odds, and there is one other pertinent team here: The Portland Trail Blazers had the fourth-best odds.

As it turned out, the Hornets fell to No. 4, the Blazers rose to No. 3 and the Jazz fell to No. 6. The prevailing thought that night was that the draft’s top two point guards, Williams and Paul, would be gone by No. 5, and point guard was the Jazz’s biggest position of need.

In other words, they would need to make a trade to move up if they wanted to get Williams or Paul.

Luckily for the Jazz, they also had the 27th pick in addition to No. 6, and they traded those and a 2006 first-rounder to the Blazers to move up to No. 3.

“Certainly we were disappointed we wound up at 6,” then-Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor told Craig Bolerjack the day after the draft with Williams and the late Jerry Sloan sitting at his side, “and we felt our biggest need was a point guard, and in coordination with that, we felt the guy we really wanted (is) sitting next to me.”

Chris Paul or Deron Williams?

Throughout the predraft process, there was a debate about which point guard, Williams or Paul, was the better prospect. Williams was much bigger and more of a scorer, while Paul was a real floor general.

Bolerjack asked Sloan what the separator between the two prospects was. O’Connor answered the question, saying, “The biggest thing was the decision, I guess. Chris is going to be a terrific player. He’s in New Orleans, Deron’s sitting here. That’s the separator. I think a comfort level that we felt with (Williams) in the role for a long time.”

Bolerjack then asked Sloan about both players’ defensive capabilities. Sloan replied, “I think that had something to do with it. Chris Paul will be a terrific player. We just felt some of the intangibles that (Williams) showed us when he came in and worked out would make a difference in making that decision. It was a tough decision, but we were very happy.”

Comparing their careers

Paul has obviously had better longevity than Williams, as he averaged 16.4 points and 8.9 assists per game this season alone, but their early pro careers were quite similar.

Through the 2010-11 campaign when the Jazz traded Williams to the then-New Jersey Nets, Williams was averaging 17.5 points and 9.2 assists per game, and that was after a rookie season in which Sloan was slow to hand the starting point guard reins over to him.

Paul, on the other hand, averaged 18.7 points and essentially 10 assists per game in his first six seasons in the league.

The bottom line

On the whole, Paul has clearly had the better career, which may leave Jazz fans asking, “What if?” but Williams certainly justified the No. 3 selection in his years with the Jazz, and there’s no telling how long Paul would have stayed with the Jazz had they drafted him.