With the 23rd pick in the NBA Draft, the Utah Jazz are likely facing a coin flip to find a player who can even survive in the league, but there have been some historical steals.
Alright, Utah Jazz fans, the moment is upon us: who’s excited about the Jazz’s potential of finding the next, great basketball superstar with the 23rd pick in the 2019 NBA Draft?
What’s that? No one? You’d rather Dennis Lindsey and Justin Zanik make a trade to bring in someone we know can actually play? Yeah, well…I’m with you there.
While teams can definitely find a way to screw things up even when they have the first pick in the draft (see Bennett, Anthony and Olowokandi, Michael, among others), things get especially dicey where the Jazz currently sit, i.e. the back third of the first-round.
At No. 23, the Jazz are essentially facing coin-flip odds to come away with a player who will even be worthy of an NBA roster spot in a couple of years.
However, it takes two to tango, and there may not be a deal to make on draft night, which would leave the Jazz picking from a group of imperfect ballers.
That said, it’s not like NBA teams have never struck gold with the 23rd pick. In 1993, for example, the Seattle Supersonics managed to pluck Ervin Johnson from the ether.
What’s that? Oh, right…I’m not talking about Earvin “Magic” Johnson, I mean the 6-11 big out of New Orleans who played 845 games in the league as a defensive player and, at times, fringe starter who averaged four points, six boards and 1.3 blocks per game for four different teams.
I know, that doesn’t sound sexy, but in the late first round, it’s actually a solid ground-rule double for any GM in the batter’s box. And if the Jazz can get someone even that good — a player who managed to stick in the Association until the ripe old age of 38, that’s a win.
But if you’re one of the dreamers out there, the eternal optimist, the kind of person that makes the 108-mile drive from Salt Lake City to Malad, Idaho to buy lottery tickets, here’s the pot of gold for the end of your rainbow — multiple teams actually have rounded the bases with the 23rd pick.
Or, at the least, drafted players who would eventually become something for somebody.
I don’t just mean in the Rodney Hood (Utah’s own pick No. 23 in 2014) or Nikola Mirotic (23rd in 2011) way either; I’m also talking legitimate Hall of Famers, Olympic medal winners and All-Stars.
At the top of that list, without question, is Denver Nuggets legend Alex English, who scored more than 25,000 points in his career, played in eight All-Star Games and led one of the game’s all-time offensive juggernauts in the ’80s en route to a Hall of Fame selection.
Then there’s one of my personal favorites, World B. Free, whose rainbow J and flashy style captured the imagination of fans. He put up eight straight 20-plus PPG seasons and was an All-Star in 1980.
Or how about A.C. Green, who won three NBA championships, played in 1,192 straight games and once beat Karl Malone out for the starting power forward spot with the Western Conference All-Star team?
More recently, Tayshaun Prince was selected 23rd overall by the Detroit Pistons. He went from an end of the bench guy, to a surprise impact player and, finally, an all-world defensive stopper and key guy on a championship-level squad. The Pistons probably don’t win the ’04 NBA title without him and, for his part, Prince also helped USA to gold in the Olympics and FIBA Worlds.
Those are the headliners; after them, you have a litany of guys like jack-of-all-trades Wilson Chandler, backup point-man extraordinaire Travis Best and one-time Sixth Man Award-winner Bobby Jackson — a spark plug for the Sacramento Kings clubs that nearly gave the Kobe and Shaq Lakers a run for their money — who all carved out solid careers for themselves.
So, even as people like me are rubbing their rabbit’s feet and praying to the basketball gods for some kind of draft-night deal for the Jazz, you can continue to fight the good fight. After all, it’s all happened before, there’s absolutely a chance the Jazz are the next team to hit pay dirt at 23.
It’s definitely not a good chance, but a chance nonetheless.
As for me? I’ll be happy with the next Ervin Johnson…or anyone that can manage to earn a second contract in the league.