SALT LAKE CITY — Théo Maledon has been playing professional basketball in his home country of France for three years. He is the protégé of former San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker, has trained with Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert on the French national team, and is just weeks away from beginning his NBA career, likely as a first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Oh, and did I mention that he’s just 19 years old?
The young basketball prodigy has already interviewed with roughly nine NBA teams ahead of the Nov. 18 draft, and the Jazz are one of those teams. They were actually one of the first teams to speak with Maledon earlier this summer, before a draft date was even established.
Like many of the players in this year’s draft class, where Maledon will fall in the draft is a little uncertain, but most seem to believe that he’ll land somewhere in the late teens, just outside the lottery selections. While that’s probably where Maledon deserves to be selected, based on his play, the teams that are in that range might not have the need for his services.
Maledon is a ball-dominant guard who is great in the pick-and-roll, is comfortable scoring in and out (38% from three-point range) and is a great passer. That being said, there is some concern about whether or not he’ll be able to play in a system where he isn’t the primary ball handler.
It could be those concerns that lead some of the later teen teams in the draft to pass on Maledon, which leads me to the Jazz.
The Jazz already have a lot of ball-handling players with Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Joe Ingles, Jordan Clarkson and Emmanuel Mudiay, but it’s very likely that Conley will be gone after next season, there’s no telling whether or not the Jazz will be able to keep Clarkson or how long Ingles will be a reliable option and Mudiay is not good enough for the sole backup point guard minutes if the Jazz want to make a deeper run in the playoffs.
All that being said, Maledon could be the right choice for the Jazz. He’s certainly young enough to develop more of an off-ball game in situations where he could be on the court with Mitchell, he shows flashes of increased defensive potential being able to fight around screens, and he’s already familiar with playing in PNR situations with Gobert after spending time on the court with the Jazz center in the run up to last year’s World Cup games.
“Playing with Rudy is really something that makes the game easier,” Maledon said on Wednesday as part of the NBA’s virtual draft combine. “He really facilitates the offense by setting good screens and catching lobs and especially his biggest part is on defense. It’s really great to play with players like that.”
But, the Jazz also could be better served in the draft by putting defense first. That’s not saying that Maledon is a bad defender or that he can’t develop into a very reliable defender, but the Jazz should be looking at more lengthy defensive players who can switch through multiple positions. At 6-foot-4 Maledon is a great size at his position but doesn’t have the length, strength, or skill set (yet) to move around on the perimeter, especially if he gets switched onto a larger player.
But, there is definitely something to be said about players that already have a rapport with one another and that paying off in the end.
“That’s a good relationship,” Maledon said of his friendship on and off the court with Gobert. “I’ve texted him a couple times about stuff I wanted to know or congratulations about being an All-Star. It’s a good relationship and I could learn a lot from him.”
Additionally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the benefit of a young player having already played professionally for multiple years and thriving in those situations before coming to the NBA. We’ve seen that international competition can separate those who are ready from those who are not. And for many, with the most obvious example being Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic, it can prepare players so that their development can happen while already being ready to contribute at a high level.
The Jazz are just one of the many teams that has shown interest in Maledon, and that doesn’t mean that they will end up selecting him or even that he’ll be available for him to select. Either way, Maledon is one of the most intriguing prospects of this draft, especially of the international players who have declared, and it’s very likely he’ll make an impact, no matter where he lands.