Twelve it is.
The Utah Jazz went into Tuesday evening’s lottery draw with long odds of moving up from their #12 position for the June 25 draft, and left without any major surprises. Just minutes into the nationally-televised lottery ceremony, NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum erased the team’s 2.5% chance at a move into the top three when he opened an envelope marked “12” with the Jazz’s logo inside.
After a posting a 38-44 record and losing a mid-April coin toss to Indiana, the Jazz had a 93.53% chance at landing exactly where they did. Now, they can start preparing more definitively with that asset in hand. As far as basketball boss Dennis Lindsey is concerned, he likes the quality of the players that should be available in that range.
“As we study this deeper and get to know the players better, we feel better every day,” the Jazz’s General Manager told Salt City Hoops minutes after the live broadcast ended in a Midtown Hilton ballroom.
“In my opinion,” Lindsey continued, “I think this is a sweet spot in the draft. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in front of us, but I think we can get well past 12 players.”
If you believe the latest mock drafts, the Jazz could have options on the table like Kentucky’s Devin Booker or Trey Lyles, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky or Sam Dekker, or project guys like Kevon Looney and Kelly Oubre. Should the Jazz stay put at #12, they’ll certainly have some prominent names left to choose from. What they won’t do, Lindsey vowed, is take a player based solely on a short-term need.
“Best player will rule the day,” the GM said. “But as we start tiering players and assigning risk to players, then a need could conceivably jump once you get into a particular tier where there’s more than one player.”
An increasing number of teams use draft tiers as a way to keep themselves from overreaching for a specific need. As the logic goes, might look at positional need if you’re picking between players you perceive as being roughly equal in terms of overall talent and potential, but the tier system keeps teams from talking themselves into someone who is clearly not on the level of another available guy.
We’ll see later1 how certain pundits are grouping those tiers for this draft, but there does seem to be a breaking point somewhere in the early teens. There’s a fair amount of consensus around the top six to eight draftees2, followed by another group of seemingly similar skilled prospects that gets us past the Jazz’s spot, but not much further. That is probably what Lindsey had in mind when he repeatedly referred to his draft position as a “sweet spot.”
“The 12th pick is a valuable asset,” he averred. “We’ll add that up and see if it’s better for us to flip. We could very easily trade out, trade for multiple futures, or trade for a veteran. So again, we’re in a sweet spot in the draft and we’ll have a bunch of options because of that.”
Of course, it benefits Lindsey and the Jazz to have the perceived value of that spot be stronger than the perceived value of, say, #14. So even if the “sweet spot” line is true, there’s a good chance it’s also Lindsey’s sales pitch for the next five weeks3. He confessed on local radio that the front office had “tempting” conversations at the February trade deadline that centered around that pick, and there has been speculation from a number of local and national pundits that the Jazz may choose to leverage #12 as an asset rather than take a player. Perhaps most notably, Grantland’s Zach Lowe raised the question of whether the Jazz should “think about trading their first-round pick… for an established veteran who could help them make a leap now.”
Lowe posits that “the ideal trade target is a mid-career guy not much older than Utah’s foundational players and in the early part of a long-term contract.” That’s a pretty finite list, and when you further cull the list based on fit, talent level and how gettable a particular guy would likely be, it gets even shorter. But it’s clearly an option Jazz brass will consider as they contemplate ways to turn Utah’s promising young roster into a competitive team.
On Tuesday, though, Lindsey took a night off from being a roster shaper so he could be just another pretty face on a Manhattan stage. He served as the team’s on-stage representative for the proceedings, the first time he has drawn that particular chore. Last year, Bryan Miller represented the Jazz, and the year before that, team president Randy Rigby got the air time. On each of the Jazz’s other five trips to the lottery, they were represented by Lindsey’s predecessor, current emeritus executive Kevin O’Connor.
Lindsey told me it was team owner Gail Miller and her family that asked him to take his turn smiling for the ESPN cameras. He joked that it wouldn’t have been his first choice, calling himself a “behind-the-scenes” guy, but the bosses asked and he obliged.
“I serve at their behest,” he said. “Gail can be pretty convincing.”
Lindsey attended last year’s event, but instead took part in the actual lottery draw that happens behind closed doors and is monitored by auditors and a representative from each team. This year, Jazz president Randy Rigby took that task. “Randy made sure there was no monkey business going on,” Lindsey said with a smile.
So no monkey business, but no amazing turn of luck, either. Consequently, the Jazz will wait their turn while 11 other teams conduct their business on June 25, and then will be on the clock with that many fewer options. But you won’t hear Lindsey complaining.
“We’re going to add a good young talent again, so we’re excited.”
Top 5 players drafted in the lottery era at #12, by Win Shares4:
Other notable #12s: