Losing has been the primary word associated with the Utah Jazz for a few years now. This word became even more prominent during the 2013-14 season when Utah finished last in the Western Conference recording an embarrassing 25-57 record. Most teams would be upset with that result, but for the Jazz last season was a total success.
Utah’s front office staff is not stupid by any means. They knew that the 2014 draft would be loaded, so they decided to go ahead and let their two best players in Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson walk in free agency knowing it would set the team up for a high lottery pick. The Jazz also acquired an additional first-round pick by taking on the tremendously overpaid Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins who played meaningless minutes all season long. As a result, Utah will pick at Nos. 5, 23 and 35 in the NBA Draft on June 26.
Our attention as fans automatically swings to the fifth pick first and rightfully so. An impact player is expected to be acquired at such a high selection with a player such as Noah Vonleh. Prior to the beginning of the NBA season, Vonleh was a sort of under the radar prospect who most scouts were not aware of. His stellar play and massive potential, though, have turned him into a possible top-five draft pick.
Vonleh’s size is what has attracted scouts the most. Measuring in at about 6-foot-9, Vonleh is not much different than every other power forward in the league today, however a wingspan of nearly 7-foot-5 is a head turner. Such long arms immensely boost a player’s defensive ability as well as offensive ability. Defensively longer arms obviously make it much easier to alter/block opposing shots, while on offense longer arms aid a player when performing back to the basket post moves.
Aside from enormous defensive potential, Vonleh is already pretty polished in the post. He has exhibited full capability to score over opposing defenders in addition to stepping back to knock down a mid-ranged jumper. During an interview Vonleh has even stated that the can step behind the three-point line occasionally to hit an open three. The most common NBA comparison has been none other than nine-time All-Star Chris Bosh. If he in fact lives up to that comparison, Utah would be in fantastic position moving forward building a contending team.
Next, with the 23rd pick, Utah will select Jerami Grant out of Syracuse University. He’s another player with tremendous defensive potential whose explosiveness has really been the main reason why scouts love this kid. His inability to consistently score, though, has pushed him back in the draft a bit, but a role off the bench is perfect for Grant. Excitement is much needed in Salt Lake City, and Grant is just to man for the job. Attacking the basket, Grant is simply a beast in the lane, often times finishing above and through his opponents. Every team needs that one player off the bench who can boost his team’s energy with acrobatic plays, so Utah would be foolish not to select Grant if he is remaining at the 23rd spot.
Last but not least, the Jazz will select Russ Smith with the 35th pick. A solid backup guard was a huge issue in Utah last season, so taking a swing in the second round on Smith makes a ton of sense. More of a combo-guard, Smith offers capable two-way play that can have an impact in limited time on the court. Alec Burks and Trey Burke appear to be Utah’s backcourt, but adding Smith to the bolster the bench a bit would be an intelligent decision. Yes, Smith is very capable of scoring, but his work ethic on the defensive end is what makes him so intriguing. Projected to go early-mid second round, Smith is within the realm of possibilities for Utah. If he doesn’t pan out, then he doesn’t pan out. However, he has the potential to become an impact player who can provide valuable minutes on the court for a young, inexperienced Utah team.