SALT LAKE CITY — When the Utah Jazz pick in one of the top seven spots in the NBA draft on June 26 — and then at No. 23 and again early in the second round — it’s unlikely they’ll select any of the players they worked out Wednesday morning.
NBA hopefuls Taylor Braun, Bryce Cotton, Stephen Holt, Akil Mitchell, Mike Moser and Ronald Roberts Jr. wore Jazz jerseys with numbers between 51 and 84, and most of them aren’t even rated that high in pre-draft player rankings.
While the recent collegians are hoping to show they belong in the NBA despite a lack of mock-draft support, the Jazz didn’t just bring them in to evaluate whether the organization should use one of its three top 35 picks on them.
Like the team’s front office and scouting staff did last year, the Jazz simply want to gather as much information as possible. That’s why general manager Dennis Lindsey convinced the Millers to budget for dozens and dozens of prospects and free agents to work out in their practice facility last spring and again this year.
“Last year, I know I broke the record,” Jazz vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin said, smiling, when asked about how many players the team would audition this time around.
“I think it went great,” Perrin said, “because not only are we looking at guys for this year’s draft, but you’re also getting information and you’re getting a feel for players.”
That info, including reports compiled by team scouts during the college season and in international play, might come in handy at the draft, to build a camp roster or for potential midseason pick-ups and 10-day contracts.
Perrin said the Jazz are just beginning the arduous process of compiling data on prospects who might be picked up on draft night. One challenging aspect now is that the team won’t know exactly what spot it will select from until the draft lottery takes place on May 20. The Jazz are in the No. 4 position going in, but could end up anywhere from 1-7, depending on how the ping-pong balls bounce.
“Once we figure out where we are come lottery (time),” he said, “then we can concentrate on those particular players in that particular area.”
Jazz brass will get an up-close-and-personal evaluation of the top talent of this hyped draft class next week (May 14-17) at the annual NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. Teams will be allowed to interview and observe premier players such as Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Dante Exum and Julius Randle.
If the Jazz end up with a top pick, Perrin anticipates that those players will visit Utah for another evaluation and workout.
“We hope so,” Perrin said. “If we’re at one, we’ll get everybody in that we want in because we have the top pick.”
Though the Jazz have a ways to go before deciding who they want to pick, Perrin said there are multiple areas in which the team knows it needs to improve on after going 25-57 in this rebuilding season.
Specifically, what is the team looking for?
“Franchise players, All-Stars. That’s what we’re looking to get,” Perrin said. “But we also understand that we need depth. We need rotation players. We have a lot of needs in terms of shooting, in terms of defense, also in terms of rebounding. We’re looking at a lot of different things.”
If the talent evaluators and experts are right, then they should have a bevy of top-notch talent to choose from this June, right?
“I don’t know if anything ever lives up to the hype. Is this draft going to be similar to the year LeBron (James), Carmelo (Anthony) and Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Kirk Heinrich and all those guys (came out)? I don’t think so,” Perrin said, referring to the loaded 2003 class. “But is it going to be a better draft than we had in the past? It can be, yes.”
In the meantime, the Jazz will continue to work out guys who might prove to be diamonds in the rough. Another group of six will go this morning at Zions Bank Basketball Center, including guard Travis Bader (Oakland), guard Justin Cobbs (California), forward Cameron Clark (Oklahoma), guard/forward Fuquan Edwin (Seton Hall), forward Josh Huestis (Stanford) and guard Joe Jackson (Memphis).
After Wednesday’s workout, Cotton said Jazz player development coaches Alex Jensen and Johnnie Bryant had the prospects go through agility and athleticism testing, shooting reps and three-on-three scrimmages.
“They were able to evaluate all aspects of the game,” Cotton, a 6-1 guard from Providence, said.
Mitchell, a 6-8 forward from Virginia, said he’s not worrying about what mock drafts or so-called experts are projecting leading up to the draft. He’s just trying to seize opportunities like this one.
“I’m just working my butt off,” Mitchell said. “I feel like everything will work itself out in the end.”
Ditto for the Jazz.