The offseason for the Jazz this year may be the most important in the history of the franchise for several reasons. First, they are in the process of hiring a new head coach for the first time since moving to Utah. For more on the search and potential candidates see here. They will have a lot of financial flexibility to either resign players or bring in free agents as they only have a little over $32 million on the books for player contracts next season according to basketball-reference (assuming they pick up all player options for next season). They have 3 picks in the top 35 picks in this years draft, which is widely viewed as very deep. Finally, the first pick could fall anywhere between 1-7 depending on how the ping-pong balls fall May 20 during the NBA Draft Lottery.
The results of the lottery will go a long way in determining whether this offseason will be viewed as a success. The Utah Jazz official site recently published a look at the history of the lottery results of the team in the 4th spot. The results however, are a bit discouraging as 58.3% of the time the 4th team fell, 33.3% of the time they moved up, and 9.3% of the time they stayed 4th. To break it down even further the current format of the lottery was first introduced in 1990. Since then 10 times (41.6%) the 4th spot fell to the 5th pick, the team moved up to 3rd four times (16.6%), the pick fell to 6th three times (12.5%), has moved up to the 1st or 2nd pick two times each (8.3%), and once (4.1%) three teams moved ahead dropping the pick to 7th. The averages even hold up over the last 10 years as the 4th spot has moved up three times, down six times, and remained the same once.
At first glance this is very discouraging for Jazz fans, especially when you take into account the chances or moving up are smaller and down are greater due to finishing with the same record as Boston. However, may the past results will give comfort to some fans who believe the NBA rig the draft. Many did not think the Jazz had a chance of winning the tie breaker with Boston because they are a big market team. I’ve also heard you can pencil the Lakers in as a team moving up because the NBA wants them to be relevant. But maybe, just maybe the league does not tamper with the draft and let the ping-pong balls fall where they may. Either way the fact remain the same the Jazz have a 33.3% chance of moving up (10.4% for 1st, 11.2% for 2nd, 12.09% for 3rd), a 9.85% chance of staying put at 4th, and a 56.46% chance of moving down (37.29 for 5th, 17.75 for 6th, 1.42% for 7th).
I believe this has four players that are clearly above the rest in Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, and Dante Exum. These four could potentially go in any order depending on workouts and which teams have the top four picks (also assuming Embiid has no lingering back issues). People could argue Julius Randle should be added, but I just don’t think he is quite there. One of the biggest aspects of Randle’s game coming in to his freshman season was the range on his jump shot. Maybe he does have a jump shot, but it was never fully put on display while at Kentucky. Additionally, he struggled defensively and I worry that he will be able to dominate offensively at a level to outweigh his defensive struggles.
If the unfortunate happens and the Jazz do end up dropping in the draft and miss out on a top-tier player I do not see much difference between the 5th, 6th, and 7th picks. The reason for this is whether the Jazz pick Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, or Noah Vonleh I do not see much difference. In Randle you have a player who came into the season in the discussion for the 1st overall pick due to his potential. Would the Jazz be able to pass up on his potential if he they drop and he is still on the board? It would, however, be difficult to pass up on Gordon’s defensive abilities, high motor, and athletic ability. Vonleh is raw, but it is hard to argue his measurements (6’8″ in socks, 7’4.25″ wingspan, 247 lbs, and 9′ standing reach) in addition to his ability to shoot, defend, and rebound.
Others may argue that Marcus Smart should also be in consideration. Unless the Jazz trade back in the draft I do not see any reason to draft him. He measured at 6’2″ at the combine, two inches shorter than listed, and I am a little uneasy with his inability to hit jump shots. Also, the one thing people always mention when arguing for Smart is his leadership ability. That is huge, but Trey Burke also received raves for his leadership ability, so what does Smart bring to the Jazz that is worth such a high pick when the Jazz traded up last year to draft Burke? If the Jazz drop and miss out on one of the top players will the offseason be seen as a failure?
If the Jazz simply do not draft Jabari, but get Wiggins, Embiid, or Exum how many Jazz fans will still be disappointed? The bottom line is, the Jazz will have the opportunity to draft a quality player no matter how the draft shakes out. The problem is to win in the NBA you almost have to have a star player (I only say almost because of the ’03-’04 Pistons). If the Jazz drop will Randle, Gordon, or Vonleh develop into franchise players? If the Jazz win the lottery who do they take? Do they take Parker (the popular pick among fans) and risk watching Wiggins reach his potential elsewhere? Or Embiid being the next great big man? Or Exum, (who is just as tall as Michael Carter-Williams but longer, heavier, younger, and more potential) light up the league for the next 10-15 years? Only time will truly allow us to know all the answers, but the Jazz are in a great spot to position themselves for future success.