The great question every time the NBA draft rolls around is whether to draft the best player available or the player that fulfills the biggest need? Most teams today follow the Best Player Available philosophy, a direct result of the Portland Trail Blazers famously passing over one Michael Jordan in the 1984 draft. After Akeem Olajuwan went first to the Rockets, the Blazers took center Sam Bowie because they already had two solid shooting guards in Jim Paxon and a young Clyde Drexler. No team wants to make that mistake again.
Picking the Best Player Available, however, has always been a very subjective and error-prone affair.
In 2005 the Atlanta Hawks had Josh Childress, Al Harrington, Joe Johnson and Josh Smith as four wings who were 6-8/6-9 in height. Their point guards were Tony Delk and Tyronn Lue. Going into the draft they had an obvious need at point guard, but choose 6-9 small forward Marvin Williams. The Hawks must have thought that Williams was the Best Player Available because the next two draft picks were point guards Deron Williams and Chris Paul. In this case, the Hawks not only missed out on filling a need, they also missed out on better players available.
This year’s draft class is full of unproven, inexperienced players like Enes Kanter and Brandon Knight. It’s hard enough to statistically evaluate any one-and-done player, but what to do with a player like Kanter who had a non-season at Kentucky?
Given the difficulty in finding best player in this year’s draft, let’s highlight the biggest needs for the Jazz. I took a look at the players, contracts and production per position and ranked them in order of team strength. In the rankings I include the PER difference by position as found on 82games.com. This shows us the Jazz player production by position compared to their opponents. Below is a ranking of the team’s strengths, so to find the team’s biggest needs we take the inverse ranking.
1. Power Forward: +2.1 PER difference.
- Paul Millsap (2 years/$7M per year)
- Derrick Favors (4 years /$5.8M per year)
- Jeremy Evans (1 year at $788K).
- Analysis: This position is full of young, talented, players, and all three are signed to team-friendly contracts. The Jazz are stocked with power forwards that they should build around.
2. Center: +2.4 PER difference.
- Al Jefferson (2 years/$14.5M per year)
- Mehmet Okur (1 year at $10.9M).
- Analysis: It was a little bit of a surprise to see the center position ranked ahead of the power forwards with a +2.4 PER difference. Still, I can’t rank the center position as a bigger strength than the power forward position because of a few factors: age, salary and growth potential. Jefferson and Okur are older, more expensive and don’t have as much room to grow as the Millsap/Favors/Evans group. Even though this is a position of strength it doesn’t mean the Jazz couldn’t use help there. Neither Jefferson or Okur are known for their defense, and it would be extremely valuable to have a defensive presence at the 5 position. A defensive-minded center would do wonders to improve the 24th ranked defense. Did you ever think we’d reach the day when Jazz fans are nostalgic for the Greg Ostertag Era?
3. Small Forward: +0.9 PER difference.
- C.J. Miles (1 year at $3.7M)
- Gordon Hayward (4 years/$3.3M a year).
- Analysis: Both Miles and Hayward could be considered shooting guards, but I went with the position that they played the greatest percentage of minutes. This also happened to the position of Andrei Kirilenko, who is a free agent this year after his max contract finally expired. Kirilenko’s status is still up in the air, but my guess is that he won’t be with the Jazz next year. Still, this position isn’t terrible, especially considering the assumption Miles (still only 24) and Hayward (21) will improve with age. I have my doubts about both players, even considering some of the great games both had at the end of the year.
4. Point Guard: -2.2 PER difference.
- Devin Harris (2 years/$8.9M a year).
- Analysis: Was it really only a year and a half ago that the PG spot was most solid position on the team? The Jazz had a long-term star in Deron Williams and a capable backup with Eric Maynor. Now that the dust has settled on the implosion of last year’s team, all that’s left are two expensive years of Devin Harris (and draft picks!). Neither Ronnie Price or Earl Watson are signed with the Jazz for next season and really, does it matter if either one comes back? The Jazz desperately need a backup (or replacement) for Harris, especially considering his injury history. More likely they will use this draft to find a more capable, long-term solution.
5. Shooting Guard: -4.7 PER difference.
- Raja Bell (2 years/$3.3M a year)
- Analysis: Ah, the 2 spot. The Jazz shooting guard position was recently rated as the one of the worst positions in the entire NBA (Insider). Coming in at 5th, Kevin Pelton had this to say about the Jazz shooting guards:
The biggest shortcoming of the Jazz’s shooting guard rotation (which also included Ronnie Price as part of a small second-team lineup with Earl Watson) was inaccurate shooting. Despite attempting a combined 7.3 3-pointers a night, the three players shot just 32.8 percent from beyond the arc, well below league average (35.8 percent). Since Bell — under contract through 2012-13 — isn’t getting any younger, Utah will likely exercise the team option on Miles’ deal and hope he can grow into a starting position.
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that shooting guard is the biggest position of need. The Jazz need someone on the wing to knock down open shots and also somebody who can defend enough to keep the Kobe Bryants and D-Wades of the NBA from circling the calendar when they see Utah. Easier written about than accomplished, of course, but the Jazz absolutely must improve in all aspects at this position.
Use these numbers as your guide as you play armchair GM.