Tonight is the night Jazz fans have been looking forward to ever since the season ended and we won the non-coin flip against Boston: the NBA Draft Lottery. Currently slotted 4th, we are statistically more likely to be bumped back to 5th or 6th than we are to jump ahead into the Top 3 or to stay in 4th place. I hold the personal belief that this draft is four deep, even though I only want three of those players1. So I’m trying to brace myself for the inevitable disappointment, while clinging on to a glimmer of hope that we’ll get lucky and get into the Top 3.
As part of that bracing/clinging effort, I’ve reflected back on two very pivotal drafts where the Utah Jazz moved up—either by the luck of the ping-pong balls or by a shrewd trade.
In the 2011 draft, we were slotted 6th before the Draft Lottery, thanks to the pick we received from the then-New Jersey Nets in the Deron Williams trade. In a draft that didn’t seem to have any sure-fire future All-Stars after Kyrie Irving, there was still plenty of talent, especially when we look back with the 20/20 vision that hindsight brings: Enes Kanter, Klay Thompson, Alec Burks, Kawhi Leonard. Luckily, we rocked the 9.4% chance to move up to the third spot and were able to select Enes Kanter instead of, say, Jan Vesely or Bismack Biyombo. Now, it’s still too early in Kanter’s career to know good of a player Kanter is going to be—partially because of lack of playing time, partially because of injuries, and partially because of lack of playing in college to continue development, plus any number of other reasons his development’s been slowed at times. But I think we can all agree that Kanter was a much better selection than the two gentlemen picked at 6 or 7, where we would have been without a bit of luck on our side.
Also, remember Kanter’s enthusiasm about being drafted by the Jazz on draft night? That was fun and refreshing. 2
We started the slotted-6th-in-the-draft schtick in 2005 after winning just 26 games in the 2004-2005 season. That draft class included Andrew Bogut, Marvin Williams, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Raymond Felton, Andrew Bynum, Danny Granger, and David Lee (and C.J. Miles!). Having struggled at the point guard position since John Stockton’s retirement, the Jazz were aggressive and traded their 6th and 27th 2005 picks to Portland, along with their 2006 first-round pick, in exchange for Portland’s 3rd pick, picking Deron Williams. Essentially, the trade ended up being Williams for Martell Webster, sometimes Jazz-killer Linus Kleiza, and Joel Freeland.3
I remember the Chris Paul vs. Deron Williams debate pretty clearly from those days but I also remember how excited Deron was to come to Utah, to play for Jerry Sloan, and for how professionally he handled the pre-draft and post-draft process. He made it very clear that Utah was where he wanted to be. Good times. 4
Feeling Lucky and Creating Luck: A Mix of the Two?
So, we have two recent drafts that will hopefully be mirrored by the one tonight/next month: one where we created luck and one where we got lucky. Where will we end up this year? Dennis Lindsey certainly did the best he could to “create luck” in this situation, letting Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson walk and filling out the roster with Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins, and a coming-off-knee-surgery Brandon Rush in a salary-dump trade with the Warriors. Lindsey did exactly what many fans wanted: cleared the deck to give the Jazz the best chance possible to get as high of a pick as possible.
Will we also get a little lucky with the ping-pong balls tonight? Or will Lindsey try his hand again at creating more luck by finding a way to move into the Top 3 or Top 4 if we don’t luck out tonight? Jazz fans, tell us what you think is going to happen tonight. Move up? Move down? Stay at 4?