What Value Do Pick Swaps Offer Jazz?
Sep 5, 2022, 2:12 PM | Updated: Sep 8, 2022, 10:50 pm
SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz have completed two blockbuster trades this offseason, sending Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a bevy of players, draft picks, and pick swaps.
While players and draft picks present the Jazz with obvious tangible value, the pick swaps remain the unknowns that could ultimately impact how these trades are ultimately graded.
Let’s look at the pick swaps the Jazz got, and how often they’ve benefited teams that have made similar trades in the past.
With the @utahjazz busy offseason you may have lost track of exactly how many draft picks they're owed, and when.
— KSL Sports (@kslsports) September 2, 2022
What Is A Pick Swap?
Pick swaps are a relatively easy concept to understand. The Jazz will have the option to switch several of their first-round draft picks with either the Timberwolves or the Cavaliers on draft night depending on who has the most valuable draft position in the years they own the right to swap picks.
So, if the Jazz wind up with the 18th pick on draft night, and either the Timberwolves or Cavaliers have a pick between 1-17, the Jazz will choose to swap picks with either of those teams. The Jazz will then get the better selection in the draft, while either Minnesota or Cleveland will drop to the Jazz less favorable draft spot.
However, if the Jazz already own the better of the picks between themselves and either the Timberwolves or Cavaliers, they will simply hold on to their own selection, and neither Minnesota nor Cleveland will have to surrender their picks.
What Pick Swaps Do The Jazz Own?
Ideally, this would be a more straightforward question to answer, but it got slightly complicated after trading Mitchell to the Cavaliers on Thursday.
Initially, the Jazz acquired a first-round pick swap from the Timberwolves in 2026 in exchange for Gobert.
However, the Jazz have also reportedly received two pick swaps from the Cavaliers which will convey in 2026 and 2028. Now, the full details of the trade have yet to be released, but for the time being it appears the Jazz have overlapping pick swaps with Cleveland and Minnesota in 2026.
Cleveland is sending its three unprotected picks to Utah in 2025, 2027 and 2029 and picks swaps in 2026 and 2028, sources tell ESPN. Along with the Rudy Gobert trade with Minnesota, Utah has gathered 13 unprotected or lightly protected picks through 2029.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 1, 2022
That’s not entirely unique, as the Jazz will simply take the best of three picks in the 2026 draft, and whichever team they swap with will end up with Utah’s original selection.
Once again, if the Jazz enter the 2026 draft with the best selection of the night, they’ll simply hold onto their own pick and won’t swap with either the Timberwolves or Cavaliers.
Thus, while the Jazz have three separate options to swap first-round picks with the Cavaliers and Timberwolves, they only have two separate drafts to accomplish that goal and may opt against swapping all together.
How Valuable Are Draft Swaps?
This is the biggest mystery for the Jazz and what might be the detail that tips the trade heavily in their favor when it’s all said and done.
If the Jazz end up rebuilding their roster more quickly than expected while either the Timberwolves or Cavaliers find themselves missing the playoffs, the ability to add lottery talent to a team already in the postseason has tremendous value.
But how often does that happen? Let’s look back at the last 10 years and see how often draft swaps actually paid off in the first round.
Beginning in June’s draft and working backward, there hasn’t been a first-round draft swap conveyed since 2017.
In 2021, the New York Knicks had the option to swap first-round picks with the Los Angeles Clippers, but because the Knicks wound up with the 19th pick and the Clippers owned the 25th pick, New York opted against swapping first-rounders.
The last first-round switch that occurred happened when the Brooklyn Nets won the top overall pick in the 2017 lottery but had to swap for the Boston Celtics’ 27th overall pick (Kyle Kuzma) as a result of the Kevin Garnett blockbuster trade in 2013.
— Globe Sports (@Globe_Sports) May 17, 2017
Then Celtics executive Danny Ainge then took that top overall pick and traded it again for three draft picks including Jayson Tatum which highlighted the immense upsides of pick swaps.
In 2016, the Denver Nuggets swapped their ninth pick with the Knicks seventh pick and drafted Jamal Murray while New York selected and ultimately traded Jakob Poeltl.
In 2015, the Atlanta Hawks swapped their 29th pick to the Nets for the 15th pick just outside of the lottery. Atlanta drafted and traded Kelly Oubre Jr. while the Nets selected Chris McCullough late in the first round.
In the same draft the Bulls had the option to swap first-round picks with the Cavaliers but ended up with the better selection between the two teams due to their record and the swap was not conveyed.
No teams had options to swap first-round picks in either the 2014 or the 2013 NBA drafts.
Over the 10 seasons, there have been just five separate instances where teams have had the option to swap first-round draft picks, and of those five, only three have actually been swapped.
Of those three, the swap ended up proving to be valuable as Tatum, Murray, and Oubre Jr. are better than Kuzma, Poeltl, and McCullough who they were traded for.
— KSL Sports (@kslsports) September 1, 2022
Ideally, the Jazz find themselves in a situation similar to Boston in 2017 where they have once again established themselves as a bona fide playoff team by 2026, while the Cavaliers or Timberwolves have fallen to the dregs of the NBA, and an already winning roster in Utah can add another player from high in the lottery in a draft swap.
Looking at the last 10 drafts, pick swaps only convey 60 percent of the time but can have a major impact on a team’s roster. If the Jazz get lucky, the pick swaps they own may ultimately tip the Gobert and Mitchell blockbusters in their favor.
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