As the percentage of teams still in the hunt for 2013-14 glory continues to narrow with another two sent packing just last night, at least one eye in every front office but the few remaining in the title hunt turns to the upcoming NBA Draft, with the draft lottery just four short days away in New York.1
The Jazz have been in summer mode for longer than most, but they do share one quality with some of their peers who made playoff appearances – courtesy of Golden State, the Jazz hold a 23rd pick that’d typically be reserved for a better team, along with their own top pick. Unlike their lottery selection, for which they won’t know the exact placement until Tuesday, they’re locked in to this 23 spot – and it has the potential to be an impactful pick, with this year’s class among the deepest in recent history. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few of the best prospects who could remain on the board with that pick and their potential fit for the Jazz:
This list is in no particular order, but I’m putting Payton first because he is, indeed, my favorite non-lottery prospect in this year’s class – both from an overall standpoint and in terms of fit for the Jazz. I’ve gushed about the former UL-Lafayette point guard in my draft work with Layne Vashro on Beacon Reader2, and Layne’s objective and historically retrodictive draft models peg him as one of the largest potential steals on the board. He’s fifth overall in Layne’s base Estimated Wins Peak (EWP) model despite a mid-to-late first round billing from most popular scouting consensus, and shows relatively close statistical comparisons to the college seasons of such names as John Wall and Derrick Rose3.
Payton is already a solid two-way player, an excellent defender who won the Sun Belt’s Defensive Player of the Year award last season. He’s sharp both on and off the ball, attentive as a help defender, and has the hands to create steals (2.6 per-40-minutes last season). He has the lateral movement to stay with quick guys and the size to check most shooting guards (he’s 6’4 with a 6’7 wingspan), and he’s clearly unafraid of a physical challenge defensively – in Lafayette’s NCAA Tournament matchup this year against Creighton, he spent much of the game on consensus All-American power forward Doug McDermott, and held his own despite giving up a 45-pound weight disadvantage.
Payton’s jumper will need work, but jump-shooting is one of the most widely varied skills from college to the pros – that is, it’s common to see subpar shooters from college become strong ones in the NBA and vice versa4. He’s an accomplished ball-handler and distributor, and has the athleticism to get to the hoop with ease. He’s also a speedy and smooth presence on the break:
Combine all this with a high basketball IQ, and Payton is a major sleeper who could fit in extremely well in Utah as a backup point5. With improvement to his jumper, he’d be a lock as a solid NBA starter, with an All-Star ceiling he’s easily capable of hitting.
Coming off his junior year at Clemson, McDaniels trails perhaps only Andrew Wiggins and Aaron Gordon as a raw athlete in this class. He’s explosive and extremely long, having just registered slightly over a 6’11 wingspan at the combine, absolute monster length for a small forward who stands 6’6 in shoes. For these reasons he projects as an elite defensive prospect who can guard at least three positions in the NBA, if not four. He registered excellent block and steal numbers last season, and is a great rebounder on both ends6. He has the speed to stick with quick wings, and the lift to make them think twice:
Offensively, he’s very raw but shows great potential. Like Payton above, his jumper is a work in progress, and he’s still learning the nuances of team offense. He can handle the ball reasonably, but not well enough to create regular separation in isolation versus NBA defenders. One strong area offensively is his transition game, where he was a menace and the top wing player in per-possession efficiency (1.45 PPP), per DraftExpress, and the same leaping ability that makes him a lob threat here could see him become a strong weapon as the roll man in pick-and-rolls also. His fit with the Jazz could obviously be determined by their earlier pick7, but McDaniels would be a welcome addition defensively and has a very high ceiling.
One of the most unique players in the history of NCAA basketball, Anderson is another of my personal favorite prospects who will likely be available outside the lottery. There are realistic concerns regarding his speed and defensive abilities at the next level, but I see basically no way a player with his once-in-a-generation skill set doesn’t find at least some niche in the NBA. Anderson projects as a small forward but played almost exclusively as a point guard at UCLA, boasting a 6’9 height in shoes and a ridiculous 7’2.5 wingspan and a finesse to his game basically unheard of for people that size with a first name other than LeBron, Kevin or Magic:
He averaged 7.4 assists per-40 minutes pace adjusted, and is one of the most intelligent players in the class. He’s an excellent rebounder with great instincts, and improved his shooting touch in a big way from his freshman to sophomore seasons, albeit on a slightly small sample.
The big questions are whether he’s speedy and capable enough defensively to survive at the next level, but the move to small forward will surely help him a bit here. He’ll never be a stopper or an explosive player, but he’s smart and can fill passing lanes, and if he can leverage his size into average showings in those areas early in his career he could make some major noise. Both he and teammate Jordan Adams8 could be available at 23, though Anderson in particular has gained some popularity in recent months and may get snapped up by a smart team in the late teens.
Bursting on everyone’s radar as a 19-year-old, Porzingis may be the hidden gem among a strong “snatch and stash” group of foreign players in the first round that includes Dario Saric and Jusuf Nurkic. Jazz fans can think of Porzingis as a slightly less freakishly long Rudy Gobert, with a similar defensive impact (in Europe, at least) – but also with a dramatically more polished offensive game and far more athleticism. Listed at 7’0, Porzingis is mystifyingly nimble for such a size, with freakish lateral movement and speed that competes with many wings. He’s already comfortable in the post, both with his back or front to the basket, and has range that extends out to the 3-point line. He hasn’t stabilized his shooting consistency just yet9, but the mere fact that he’s capable of such range at his size raises his NBA ceiling right away.
He’s a scary prospect as a shot-blocker – opponents simply aren’t prepared for a person that size to jump that high. He put up 6.6 (yup, that says six point six) blocks per-40 at the U18 European Championship this past summer, and put up a per-40 block rate for his Spanish club Cajasol Sevilla that was higher than Serge Ibaka’s at the same age. He even has quick enough hands to clog passing lanes, averaging 1.7 steals per-40. Rather than post a single clip, I’ll simply link to my friends at DraftExpress for his full video scouting report.
There are several question marks, of course, given his age and the relative lack of information American scouts have on him, the largest of which is likely his frame and weight. He’s a string bean at the moment, not capable of defending bulkier post types with any consistency. This also contributes to his underwhelming rebounding numbers, particularly on the defensive glass where boxing out is paramount, and he will need to bulk up before he comes over to the NBA or risk being bulldozed by bigger athletes. He has other smaller areas he can refine, as well, but if he commits himself to this process he could easily end up the steal of the 2014 draft. From a Jazz standpoint, worries about his skill set overlapping with Gobert’s shouldn’t be much of a concern – Porzingis is almost certainly a player who will be drafted but remain in Europe for at least one more year, if not two, and the Jazz should have a handle on Gobert’s realistic prospects by that time. If they were stashing Porzingis and both turned out to be viable NBA assets, it’s not all that difficult to move one of them. And, with no offense to the lovable Frenchman, Porzingis’ ceiling is just miles higher at this point, particularly on offense, and if the Jazz are high on him then having Gobert in the fold already shouldn’t stop them from making the pick.
These are just a few of the guys who the Jazz could see available at the 23rd slot, and their scouting in this department could be just as impactful as for their high lottery pick. Nailing a late first-round selection like this can be a huge boon for a franchise, and the Jazz already have many of the pieces in place for a run back to relevance in the upcoming couple years.