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The Utah Jazz GM on the talents of the 2024 NBA Draft, trading draft picks and more
The Utah Jazz GM on the talents of the 2024 NBA Draft, trading draft picks and more

The front office manager also expressed his thoughts on a possible trade of one or more of the team’s three draft picks.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik offers comments during a press conference on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023.

Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik can predict what will happen in some NBA drafts.

But this year? Definitely not.

“Last year, two days before the draft, I accurately predicted the draft order up to number 10,” Zanik said in a press conference on Monday. “This year, I’m not even going to try. I don’t know who will be number one, two or three.”

That’s because last year’s draft had clear and almost universally recognized categories of players: Victor Wembanyama, great; Brandon Miller and Scoot Henderson, very good; and so on. And this time?

“It’s just a lot flatter this year than other years,” Zanik said. “I think someone who could play No. 5 could play No. 10, 12 or 14, and we’re getting the same type of player.”

The players most frequently selected at No. 10 in mock drafts include: Dalton Knecht, a winger last year from Tennessee, Rob Dillingham, a first-year guard from Kentucky, Nikola Topic, a guard on the Serbian team, Tidjane Salaun, a forward from France and Ron Holland, a winger from the G League Ignite.

Zanik said the team divides players into groups by projected future NBA value. He believes there are about eight players in the group the Jazz will draft with the No. 10 pick – some who will be drafted above the Jazz’s selection and some who will be drafted below.

The Jazz GM criticized those who were too critical of this year’s draft candidates.

“I guess the only thing that fits in 140 characters is criticism, because that’s what you see most often – something like: ‘This guy can’t do this or that.’ I don’t think that’s fair,” Zanik said. “It’s very easy to just exclude people, but you have to choose someone.”

However, there is no doubt that this year’s talent pool is not quite as bright as most NBA drafts, and in this case, it is crucial for the Jazz front office to be able to assess a player’s potential and figure out what weaknesses they think the player development team can address.

Take shooting, for example. About half of this year’s lottery picks made 30% or fewer three-point shots last season. So how do the Jazz evaluate that? “I look at it like there are three options. One, don’t touch it – it’s great, it’s going in, so don’t change anything. Two, there are tweaks – whether it’s ball position, where the ball is in your hand, or whether you’re throwing it over your face, or whether you’re lowering it a little bit or accelerating it. Just tweaks. And three, the complete rebuild,” Zanik explained. The team will look at film, use data points from a player’s high school career and visual evidence from their personal training sessions to determine which category a player fits into.

Meanwhile, rumors continue to swirl around the NBA that the Jazz are trading picks. ESPN’s Monday mock draft by Jonathan Givony and Jeremy Woo reported that “Utah is reportedly actively involved in trade talks, both with this pick and possibly trying to bundle picks Nos. 29 and 32 to get into the late teens. The Jazz are mentioned with potential center and point guard players and could be willing to trade some of them depending on how the draft plays out.”

Zanik agreed that the team would like to make a change in the draft – but said the most likely scenario for the team is that they keep their three picks. “It always takes another team to agree,” he explained.

However, when asked if the team had any “concerns” about having six first- or second-year players on the roster next season, the Jazz general manager acknowledged that this was the case.

“When that’s the case, you have to make sure you have enough veterans on the team. They can’t promote themselves, they can’t promote each other,” Zanik said. “That will play into some of the things we do with free agents or trades.”

This year’s NBA Draft has been split into two days — the first round will take place Wednesday night, and the second round has been moved to Thursday. The Jazz can begin negotiating with free agents who played for other teams last year starting Sunday at 2 p.m. MDT.

By Isla