As the Utah Jazz’s front office has made clear over the past month, the team has myriad ways to move forward this offseason.
They could trade some of their haul of picks to try and add an established young star. They could package some picks together to try and move higher up in the June 22 NBA draft. For now, though, they’re one of two teams slated to make three first-round picks, as they have selections at Nos. 9, 16, and 28. And with the NBA Draft Combine just wrapped, they now have a lot more intel of many of the prospects.
If they stay put at the ninth pick, who are some of the most likely options?
Some of these names likely won’t still be around by the time the Jazz are on the clock. But for now, with no real consensus of who’s going where beyond Victor Wembanyama to the Spurs, there’s a moderately wide range on when certain players will get picked — even among the top prospects.
So then, here’s half a dozen players the Jazz will consider who figure to be in the ballpark of the ninth selection.
In alphabetical order …
Anthony Black, Arkansas
Could he be the team’s point guard of the future? He’s got good positional size, checking in at roughly 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds. And he’s certainly got the basketball IQ, with excellent court vision, a willingness to move the ball, and the ability to locate teammates in the right place at the right time. He’s already advanced at changing speeds and making good decisions.
He would also help the team accomplish the front office’s stated goal of getting better defensively. He’s good both on and off the ball, he’s slippery enough to navigate screens and keep up with most guards, and big enough to handle himself vs. many wings. That IQ translates to defensive awareness, too.
So, what’s the issue? Well, he doesn’t exactly have a killer first step, and while his athleticism is decent, he’s not jumping out of the building. The bigger issue is that his shot mechanics are quite wonky for now, to the point that opposing defenses are sure to go under screens until he consistently proves he’s not the 30.8% 3-point shooter he was with the Razorbacks.
Gradey Dick, Kansas
For years, Jazz fans have pined for wings with size, and when draft prognostications first started rolling out, many instantly turned to the Jayhawks sharpshooter to help Utah fill that void.
Turns out, he’s a bit smaller than initially advertised, as he measured in at a touch over 6-6 at the combine. That’s perfectly adequate size for a switchable wing these days, but it could disappoint some who were under the impression he was a 6-8 two-guard.
So that’s the bad news (along with, y’know, him being so lacking in the strength and lateral movement departments that he’s a straight-up bad defender at this point). The good news? He might be the best perimeter shooter in this whole draft class, having buried 40.3% of 5.7 deep attempts per game. He’s also a willing playmaker with good court vision.
Taylor Hendricks, Central Florida
Do you remember what a big deal it was for the Jazz’s Lauri Markkanen to total 200 3s and 100 dunks this season? Hendricks has that potential. He’s a bouncy athlete and is consistent lob threat, plus he shot 39.4% from 3 last season on 4.6 attempts per game, and also shot 78.2% on his FTs, which is a good indication that the shooting will translate.
Defensively, he’s an exceedingly switchable piece — he measured in at just over 6-8 and has a 7-1 wingspan, plus he goes about 214 pounds. Hendricks is an intense, tone-setting defender who is very good on the ball, and perhaps even better as a weakside help defender, as he became known for blocking the shots of myriad players he was not the primary defender on.
Lest we border on hyperbolic, he does have weaknesses — he’s never been a ball-in-hand guy, and so is not much of a playmaker at all. Also, his his lack of games against elite-level competition have prompted some to wonder if he’s simply been starring against lesser opponents and will struggle acclimating to the massive leap in talent that is the NBA.
Ausar Thompson, Overtime Elite
While much of the focus on the Thompson twins tends to revolve around what they can and can’t do offensively, Ausar Thompson would have a chance to make an impact early thanks to his efforts on the other end.
He’s an elite athlete with incredible speed, which augments his 6-6, 218-pound frame (he also has a 7-foot wingspan). He has great on-ball fundamentals, but also makes his presence known by getting into passing lanes, and by blocking a surprising number of shots as a weakside helper.
Offensively, as alluded to, the jump shot remains a big question mark. He’s not much of a spot-up shooter yet, though he has had more success in the midrange. Still, even as he works through the shooting inconsistency, he remains an offensive contributor by being a force in transition, and as a surprisingly adept secondary playmaker. He may be well gone before No. 9 on account of his considerable upside.
Thompson’s twin brother, Amen, is also an NBA prospect who has played for Overtime Elite.
Jarace Walker, Houston
The power forward impressed for the Cougars with a nice combination of physicality, fundamental defense, and surprising passing acumen.
While he measured shorter than expected at the combine (6-foot-6.5), he was a chiseled 249 pounds, which he utilizes to great effect on both dives to the hoop and as a solid rebounder. He proved a versatile and effective defender, with his strength enabling him to play some small-ball five, and his relative speed enabling him not to be hapless against guards. The 7-3 wingspan definitely helps.
Offensively, he’s flashed some pick-and-roll skills, and he’s a good finisher at the rim. Not much of a pick-and-pop threat yet, though he did improve his 3-point shooting to 34.8% last year (albeit on just 2.8 tries per game). Perhaps most impressively, he’s got great court vision for a power forward, and has a knack for hitting open teammates.
Cason Wallace, Kentucky
If Black isn’t the Jazz’s point guard of the future, perhaps Wallace could be. However, as of right now, he may be better-suited for a complementary playmaker role as a combo guard as opposed to full-time floor general.
He is an efficient playmaker, with an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than 2-to-1, though he’s a bit vanilla on that end — great with the simple reads, not much there in terms of generating mismatches or creating something out of nothing. While keeping miscues low is great, of course, Wallace is arguably too risk-averse. In terms of shooting, he’s great at spot-ups, not so much off the bounce.
What he lacks in terms of offensive dynamism, however, he makes up for defensively. Like Dick and Walker, he’s actually smaller than his listed height, coming in at 6-2.5 at the combine, but his nearly 6-9 wingspan makes up for that in a big way. He’s known for being an on-ball nuisance thanks to his length, strength, and physicality, and is also great off-ball, frequently jumping into passing lanes to create fast-break opportunities.
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