Utah Jazz keeping options open with how to use the 23rd pick in 2020 draft
Trade, move or keep their first-round pick? These are among the questions Jazz brass face heading into Wednesday’s NBA draft.
The Utah Jazz’s front office group is acutely aware of the team’s shortcomings.
The Jazz used to be a team characterized by their defensive prowess, but they’ve lost some of that identity, and part of that was by design.
After being walloped by sharp-shooting juggernauts year after year in the playoffs — most notably the Golden State Warriors and then the Houston Rockets in back-to-back seasons — the Jazz purposefully sacrificed some of their defensive players in order to punch back offensively.
“We made a conscious decision,” Dennis Lindsey, Jazz executive vice president of basketball operations, said Friday. “We’re aware and we publicly acknowledge that we were first, second and second defensively (for three years) and we’ve moved to 12th or 13th. So it’s the most obvious question, can we get someone that fits what we currently do but maybe adds a defensive piece that maybe we’ve lost the previous two years?”
Though it’s possible that the Jazz need to “dial that back,” as Lindsey put it with regard to their recent strategy, there is certainly the temptation to use the Jazz’s draft pick to add even more offensive fire power, which is a real possibility according to Lindsey.
With the NBA draft Wednesday and free agency opening Friday, the team has to come up with the right answers, and quick. That, of course, is easier said than done.
The Jazz have one pick in this year’s draft — No. 23 — but even with just that single pick, there are an incredible number of decisions to make and scenarios that could play out.
They could trade the pick and move completely out of the draft in order to acquire an established NBA player; they could trade to move up in the draft if they want someone who might be off the board at 23; they could move back in the draft if they think they’ve discovered a sleeper prospect who could be taken later; or they could keep the pick, which is a decision besieged with another mountain of variables.
Jazz general manager Justin Zanik said that the team has always tried to take the route of drafting the best player available when it’s their turn to make a pick, but that best available doesn’t always mean the most talented or physically gifted.
“Sometimes that’s a guy that needs some time and has potential,” he said. “But you can also come by where the best player available is a guy that can maybe get on the floor at the beginning of the year.”
Lindsey did admit it would be nice to be able to address one of the team’s more pressing needs with a draft selection since free agency doesn’t always go as one would hope. But neither he nor Zanik were willing to commit to saying whether the team would prefer to pick a player who needs time to develop versus one that is more experienced and could make an impact in the immediate future.
On top of everything else, they’ve also had to contend with a draft process that is unlike anything they’ve ever dealt with. Where they usually would have been able to schmooze with agents and players with unlimited opportunities to see prospects work out in singular or competitive settings, they’ve been relegated to watching tape from international or college games and deliberately choosing who they are going to work out in person since the league is only allowing each team 10 in-person meetings with prospects.
“But we’re well prepared and there are good players in this draft — there are good players in every draft.” — Justin Zanik
“We’ve spent a lot of time taking a step back and deciding how we’re going to decide,” Lindsey said. “There were just major adjustments. … But it’s our job to still execute and make good decisions and we’re confident that we came up with a really good process given these limitations.”
Since normal draft workouts in group settings and draft events have been thrown out the window, a large chunk of Lindsey and Zanik’s time these days is spent strategizing and having fluid conversations and debates on what type of player to add and what to do with their lone draft pick.
“Two real simple ways that we’ve juxtaposed different prospects: those who add something that we don’t have, or those who fit our current scheme really well,” Lindsey said. “These conversations are quite dynamic. Literally if you were to ask Justin or I today who we’d be taking, we couldn’t tell you the truth because we honestly don’t know.”
There’s still too much to be done to have made a final decision. There are still physicals to be done, interviews to be had, meetings with the coaching staff and ownership and possible last-minute workouts with prospects.
“But we’re well prepared and there are good players in this draft — there are good players in every draft,” Zanik said. “The draft is one of our many tools to try to move forward.”