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2023 NBA Draft Lottery Team Preview: Utah Jazz
Tyler Metcalf and Tyler Rucker preview the Utah Jazz and what options the team could have with the 9th pick
Rucker: The Utah Jazz were expected to be in contention for the number one overall pick heading into the 2022-23 NBA season. As my partner for this piece Tyler Metcalf knows all too well (he’s a Timberwolves fan), the Jazz hit the reset button last offseason after trading stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert for a treasure chest of draft compensation and assets.
Many of us were penciling in the Jazz as potential suitors for the Victor Wembanyama tank-a-palooza. Instead, Utah shocked the world and gave opponents fits on a nightly basis. There’s a lot trending in the right direction for Utah. Rookie head coach Will Hardy had the team battling on a nightly basis and looks to be a rising star amongst the coaching ranks.
Forward Lauri Markkanen was sensational last season after being acquired from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Donovan Mitchell trade. Rookie big man Walker Kessler impressed as well, and he looks to be a popular candidate to take another step forward in his sophomore campaign. Utah posted an overall record of 37-45, an impressive feat considering the preseason expectations for the club.
When the Utah Jazz brought executive Danny Ainge on board, the wheels were starting to turn about what that could mean for the organization. Ainge has showcased his ability to “cheat” the lengthy rebuild process with calculated moves and his ability to accumulate large quantities of future draft capital. So far, it looks as if the plan is on the right path. The Jazz find themselves with three first round picks for the 2023 NBA Draft (#9, #16, and #28)
That means that while we are focusing right now on Utah’s 9th overall selection, the ramifications of having two more throws at the dartboard could make the direction of their lottery pick go in a variety of ways.
Metcalf, there are a lot of pieces on this roster that are starting to get intriguing—not to mention 2022 NBA Draft lottery pick Ochai Agbaji, who I believe is a serious breakout candidate for the upcoming year. Most young teams that seem to “jump” on the league and surprise tend to have a bit of a “come back down to earth” season.
Do we think that’s the case here or does Utah have the chance to take another step forward if they can put together a solid 2023 NBA Draft haul?
Metcalf: Based on what they showed us last year, it would be a surprise if they completely fell off the map. Coach Hardy implemented some really fun concepts and had the team executing and competing on a nightly basis from top to bottom of the lineup. Additionally, Markkanen looks like a stud now, Kessler is the second coming of Rudy Gobert, and Agbaji progressed nicely throughout the season. There is a lot to be excited about going forward, but there are also plenty of question marks.
While I don’t think this team will completely fall off, I’m also not locking them into guaranteed improvement. Before the All-Star break, Utah won 48.3% of their games. After the All-Star break, where they traded away Mike Conley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the Jazz won only 36.4% of their games. Jordan Clarkson emerged as more of a true point guard, and there were flashes from Talen Horton-Tucker and Collin Sexton, but there doesn’t seem to be a long-term plan for the backcourt to get really excited about.
With three first round picks, though, there are a lot of fascinating directions the Jazz could go down. Whether it’s waiting for one of Kobe Bufkin, Cason Wallace, Anthony Black, or maybe even a Thompson twin to fall to them, or it’s using those picks and moving up a few spots to take a bigger swing on a superstar talent. Looking at the Jazz roster, would you be content sitting on those three picks and drafting for need and taking calculated swings on multiple pieces, or would you rather try to move up for a much bigger swing on a singular prospect?
Rucker: I think the board could fall perfectly into the laps of the Utah Jazz, especially at #9. Look we know who the top three guys should be in this class. It’s going to most likely involve Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson, and Brandon Miller in some order. After that, chaos should be at an all-time high on draft night. Chances are that some players of the group of Amen Thompson, Jarace Walker, and Cam Whitmore could be off the board before Utah selects. You throw in names like Ausar Thompson and Taylor Hendricks, and we have just mentioned eight potential names. All it takes is one trade or “wildcard” for one of those players to fall into the laps of the Jazz.
But even if there’s not a wildcard selection, Utah would have their selection of all of the names that you mentioned previously in Kobe Bufkin, Cason Wallace, and Anthony Black. Here’s the thing about Utah that everyone needs to remember. This is the final stage of the first entire rebuilding season for the Utah Jazz. They made the big trades before the 2022-23 season, went on to have a year in which they completely overachieved, and now it’s time to see what the trade capital is going to deliver.
You could argue that they are already ahead of schedule. But this roster still is a definite work in progress. Danny Ainge has shown before that he’s patient with the development of young pieces. He drafted Jaylen Brown third overall, who managed to average 6.6 points per game in 17.2 minutes during his rookie year before starting to blossom in his second year. One of his most impressive draft hauls came in 2004, when Ainge had three first rounds picks that he turned into Al Jefferson (#15), Delonte West (#24), and Tony Allen (#25).
That means that Utah could be realistic with allowing the board to develop and then having a plan for not just this year, but down the road. While the Jazz have a number of pieces on their roster that have flashed in the backcourt, I think that could be the route at #9. Anthony Black seems to be a potential home run addition for Utah, given his skills, size, and versatility, especially with an organization that should be patient with allowing the tools to groom.
Cason Wallace would give the Jazz a tone-setting defender with a strong feel for the game and the idea of a “safer” selection. Kobe Bufkin could be the wildcard there that the Jazz FO could see the serious two-way upside. But there’s also another route that’s starting to get my attention. What if Utah goes for “the swing” at #9 and uses their later selections to get lower floor type of prospects.
Is there a world in which names like Bilal Coulibaly start to make a lot of sense here for the Jazz? Could Utah look at someone like Keyonte George potentially as an offensive force? What’s your thought process on which direction the Jazz should go?
Metcalf: With three first round picks, one of them has to be an absolute home run swing. They have the roster flexibility and timeline where they can weather missing one if they do. I like Coulibaly a lot, but I’m not sure I love him for the Jazz at #9 given the names we’ve mentioned.
I think the ideal combination of fit and upside is one of Black or Wallace. Both of them can run more of a traditional point guard role while providing excellent defense. I think Bufkin would really improve their offense, but I worry that they’d still be lacking that solidified playmaking presence.
When we look later in the first round, though, that’s where I start to get excited about them taking a lottery ticket type of prospect. Even if they package #16 and #28 to move up a few spots or sit tight with them, there are some really exciting options. Players like Nick Smith Jr., Dariq Whitehead, GG Jackson, Jalen Hood-Schifino, and Max Lewis come to mind. Even if they take the swing at #9, they can then target prospects like Colby Jones, Julian Strawther, or Kris Murray to provide a bit more of a day one ready skill/impact.
Drafting for need in the Top 10 is never ideal, but when there are prospects who also have the upside that Wallace and Black do, it’s tough to pass on. I think going that route and then adding experienced wings later in the first who can provide shooting and defense would be the route I would explore.