Utah Jazz Mailbag: Should Jazz Draft For Talent Or Fit?

Apr 23, 2024, 3:56 PM | Updated: 4:00 pm

Donovan Clingan #32, Stephon Castle #5 and Alex Karaban #11 of the Connecticut Huskies...

Donovan Clingan #32, Stephon Castle #5 and Alex Karaban #11 of the Connecticut Huskies (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – Welcome to the Utah Jazz mailbag where every week our NBA insiders answer your questions on social media about your favorite team.

Each week we will send out a prompt on KSL Sports ThreadsInstagramX, and Facebook pages asking for the questions you have about the Jazz.

Then, we’ll respond to as many as we can in that week’s mailbag.

Jazz Mailbag: Should Jazz Draft For Talent Or Fit?

Question: What’s more important in this draft for the Jazz, talent or fit?

Answer: The unnuanced (and correct) answer here is that teams should always take the best player available, barring very rare situations where that player’s skillset won’t match with a generational superstar already on the roster.

For example, suppose the Philadelphia 76ers owned the third pick in this year’s draft, and UConn center Donovan Clingan was the highest-ranked player on their board.

Related: Jazz Poor Draft Tiebreaker Luck Continues

In that instance, they might be better off drafting the next best player available since Clingan’s opportunity to see the floor will always be limited with Joel Embiid on the roster.

Now, there are two pieces of good news for the Jazz.

One, they don’t have a superstar that would present that dilemma.

Two, seemingly every player projected to go in the lottery would be a good fit for the current roster.

Considering the Jazz are nearly 100 percent likely to draft in the top 10, let’s look at the projected top 10 picks from Krysten Peek at Yahoo Sports, and how they’d fit in Utah.

1. Alex Sarr: C – Perth

At 7-foot-1, Sarr is exactly the type of frontcourt athlete the Jazz could use to protect the rim behind Lauri Markkanen, while having the potential to operate as a floor-spacing five given time to develop.

2. Zaccharie Risacher: SF – Bourg

The NBA continues to trend towards huge wings who shoot the three, and that’s exactly what the 6-foot-9 Risacher offers.

He shot 40 percent on threes in Europe and would be a pressure release valve for the Jazz offense that struggled after losing shooters Kelly Olynyk and Simone Fontecchio at the trade deadline.

3. Stephon Castle: G/SG – UConn

The Jazz were the worst defensive team in the NBA last season and can use help at every position.

Castle proved in UConn’s championship run that he can be an elite perimeter defender and would pair well next to Keyonte George as a complimentary playmaker at either guard spot.

His shooting needs work, but that isn’t the hurdle it once was for lottery picks.

4. Nikola Topic: G – Mega Basket

Topic might be the best passer in the draft, and at 6-foot-6, would alleviate some concerns about George’s good but not great size in the backcourt.

The Jazz desperately need to increase their basketball IQ and Topic would do that from day one, though he needs to work on his shooting and defense.

5. Donovan Clingan: C – UConn

Clingan might be the player Jazz fans would get least excited about in this draft with Walker Kessler already on the roster, but if he was best player available, he still makes sense.

Kessler’s superb play as a rookie proved how valuable rim-protecting centers are in the NBA, and Clingan already looks like a rich man’s version of the Jazz’s second-year big man.

Ideally, Kessler would simply return to the trajectory he had after his rookie season and the Jazz wouldn’t need to use a lottery pick on another center, but that is far from a certainty at this point.

6. Reed Sheppard: G – Kentucky

Though Sheppard’s size at 6-foot-3 might be concerning alongside Keyonte George in the Jazz’s backcourt, the Kentucky guard checks a lot of boxes in Utah.

Sheppard averaged 12.5 points, 4.5 assists, and 4.1 rebounds as a freshman and shot a mind-boggling 52 percent from three on 4.4 attempts per game.

He’s also the best ball thief in the draft recording 2.5 steals per game, one of the best marks in recent memory.

I’ll be curious to see his true measurements at the draft combine, but his combination of basketball instincts and shot-making is extremely rare.

7. Rob Dillingham: G – Kentucky

If there is one player whose fit with the current Jazz roster is questionable, it’s Sheppard’s running mate at Kentucky.

Dillingham is listed as an inch shorter than Sheppard, and 10 pounds lighter, which does make his fit alongside George somewhat questionable.

Additionally, many analysts think he might be the worst defender in the lottery, if not the first-round overall, an already glaring weakness on the Jazz.

With that said, Dillingham averaged 15.2 points per game as a freshman coming off the bench, and might be the best pure scorer in the lottery with his combination of shot creation and shot-making.

Furthermore, the long history of Kentucky guards far outperforming what they showed in college adds intrigue to Dillingham’s game, and his star potential is something the Jazz need.

8. Matas Buzelis: F – G League Ignite

Buzelis was long projected as the top overall pick in this year’s draft, but an underwhelming season in the G League has dropped him out of the top five in most mocks.

However, the forward sports an impressive combination of size at 6-foot-9 and athleticism, and showed off some of his versatile tools as a scorer and defender at just 19 years old.

The Jazz need more wings, especially wings with size, and Buzelis would bring that to the roster.

9. Ron Holland: F – G League Ignite

Another G League Ignite prospect, Holland would also provide the Jazz with much-needed size and athleticism on the perimeter and has one of the best defensive motors in the draft.

There are significant questions about his shooting, but at just 18, Holland recorded impressive scoring and steals numbers, and was considered the top high school player in the country before skipping college for the G League.

Holland would pair well with Taylor Hendricks as a long perimeter defender, and his transition game would provide the Jazz with some easy baskets.

10. Cody Williams: F – Colorado

Williams had been mentioned as a potential number-one overall pick after his early season performance at Colorado, though the hype cooled off considerably after struggling to score the ball over his final seven college appearances.

Regardless, Williams remains a very strong defender with legit NBA size, whose game could really pop if he recaptures his scoring prowess.

So to answer the initial question, the Jazz should stick to best player available, though it just so happens that player will likely fit a significant need as well.

Q: I really like both Walker Kessler & John Collins. Do you think there is any way they can play together?

A: The Jazz really tried to make this pairing work throughout the season and despite some signs that it could, it remained too clunky to rely upon.

Collins 37 percent three-point shooting was a good mark this season, and the type of number the Jazz need from a stretch big man next to Kessler, but his inability to defend on the perimeter, and the team’s overall lack of frontcourt passing proved to be too difficult to overcome.

Had Kessler further developed as a corner three-point shooter perhaps the Jazz could have gotten more out of this pairing, but it never showed much promise.

While a second year together could help Collins and Kessler build chemistry, I don’t expect Collins to become a dramatically better perimeter defender, or Kessler to become a significantly better perimeter offensive player, nor neither player to become the type of passer required to make it work.

A better supporting cast around those two that would cover up those weaknesses could help, but ultimately I wouldn’t buy stock in seeing them share the floor much going forward.

Q: Are there any realistic candidates you see the Jazz potentially targeting in trades this offseason?

A: With the raw number of draft picks and young pieces the Jazz have, I wouldn’t rule out any potential trade target this summer, but let’s apply a little more critical thought to this process.

Most players get traded either due to a team’s salary restrictions, or that player’s soon-to-be free agency that their current team isn’t interested in competing in (see Olynyk and Fontecchio).

So, let’s look at players who are either on teams with harsh salary restrictions, or those who will be free agents in the summer of 2025 that could offer some intrigue in Utah, excluding the obvious superstar names like Joel Embiid, Luka Doncic, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Pie In The Sky Options

Derrick White – G – Boston Celtics

Evan Mobley – F – Cleveland Cavaliers

Cade Cunningham – G – Detroit Pistons

Jonathan Kuminga – F – Golden State Warriors

Jalen Green – G – Houston Rockets

Alperen Sengun – C – Houston Rockets

Naz Reid – F/C – Minnesota Timberwolves

Brandon Ingram – G – New Orleans Pelicans

Franz Wagner – F – Orlando Magic

While the overwhelming majority of these players are likely to get contract extensions this summer, it would take only one to land in Utah to radically change the trajectory of the team’s rebuild.

These players are listed as pie-in-the-sky options for a reason, and I don’t expect them to be moved, but the NBA never ceases to surprise me.

Good Options

Alex Caruso – G – Chicago Bulls

Sam Merrill – G/F – Cleveland Cavaliers

Moses Moody – G/F – Golden State Warriors

Terance Mann – F – Los Angeles Clippers

Amir Coffey – G/F – Los Angeles Clippers

Santi Aldama – F/C – Memphis Grizzlies

Duncan Robinson – F – Miami Heat

Josh Giddey – G/F – Oklahoma City Thunder

Jalen Suggs – G – Orlando Magic

Malcolm Brogdon – G – Portland Trail Blazers

Matisse Thybulle – F – Portland Trail Blazers

Davion Mitchell – G – Sacramento Kings

Tre Jones – G – San Antonio Spurs

Corey Kispert – G/F – Washington Wizards

This list of players is far more likely to hear their names mentioned in trade talks, though the urgency to move them might not reach its peak until the February trade deadline.

However, each player listed here could be available this summer, and might help the Jazz next season at the right cost.

Want to ask questions in next week’s mailbag? Give us a follow @kslsports.

Download the new & improved KSL Sports app from Utah’s sports leader. You can stream live radio, video and stay up to date on all of your favorite teams.

Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter at @BensHoops or on Instagram @BensHoops.

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Utah Jazz Mailbag: Should Jazz Draft For Talent Or Fit?