We take a trip into the Twilight Zone with a Utah Jazz roster built solely and entirely with players they actually drafted.
Given the fact that Salt Lake City doesn’t exactly scream NBA free agent destination, building through the draft has been integral in the Utah Jazz’s efforts to field a competitive roster. Thankfully, the draft has been pretty good to the team — it’s yielded two Hall of Famers (and, with them, two NBA Finals appearances) multiple other All-Stars and a whole lot of wins along the way.
But what if the draft were the team’s only avenue for roster construction? What if free agency and trades — even the pick-swapping ones on draft night — weren’t available to them? Would they still be good?
Today, I’m taking a trip to the Twilight Zone to determine just that.
completely arbitrary rules are simple: only players who heard their names called as Utah Jazz selections on draft night will make the cut here. In other words: bye-bye, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.
I get it, the teams that officially drafted them were essentially doing so on Utah’s behalf as part of deals that had already been agreed to, but — again — in this Elseworlds tale, trades aren’t a thing and those picks were made possible through trades.
We’re also going to eliminate the later acquisition of undrafted players. In other words, Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale would still be in Europe somewhere. Ouch. Same goes for players that the team drafted but, ultimately, didn’t last in the league or are currently inactive/retired; see Jeremy Evans and Deron Williams, respectively.
As it happens, those rules leave the Jazz with nearly the legal NBA roster rise of 17. That’s 12 active roster players, three inactive slots and two spots for two-way players. If we eliminate Isaiah Whitehead, who’s been a two-way player with the Detroit Pistons but has yet to see action in the Association, we’re dead-on at 17.
Now, with the rules established, and without further ado, the Jazz’s 12-man active roster as constructed around my Bizarro World laws would consist of Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap, Enes Kanter, Rodney Hood, Dante Exum, Taurean Prince, Josh Hart, Thomas Bryant, Gorgui Dieng, Alec Burks, Tyrone Wallace and C.J. Miles.
The extra three roster spots would go to Trey Lyles, Grayson Allen and Kosta Koufos. Two-way players would include Tyler Lydon and Vincent Edwards.
First thing’s first, since Hayward’s injury happened in Boston, we’re going to assume a higher level of health — I’m talking the 20-4-4 Hayward of 2016-17. Also, Rodney Hood was putting up nearly 17 points per game in the Jazz system last season before he was dealt; clearly, it works for him so I’ll give him credit for that here.
Finally, I’m going to evaluate Dante Exum as being at full health, but we can only give him credit for the things he’s actually done on the court. In other words, he’s a lottery-level athlete with sky-high potential that still has massive holes in his game and is injury prone.
With all that being the case, I’m going to get a little wild with my starting five and say that Quin Snyder is employing the triple-wing attack he’s toyed with at times over the last few years. As such, the Jazz starting five shakes out as follows —
Right off the bat, even sans Mitchell and Gobert, I’m going to say that this lineup is going to put up points. You run the offense through Hayward, Millsap can go inside and out, Kanter is putting people on skates in the paint, Hood is getting buckets as the third option and occasionally blowing up and, finally, Burks is a guy who can create his own shot.
Is it a great starting five? Not particularly, but it’s not bad either. G-Time becomes the foundation that everything else is built upon and you hope that Millsap can regain his All-Star form or Hood can get hot every couple of games.
The shooting isn’t incredible, but you should have much better spacing than our current Jazz have. Millsap is a threat from the four spot, Hayward and Hood can hit longballs from the wings and even Burks is going to be a much more serious threat than Ricky Rubio ever was.
Clearly, the defense falls off a lot without the Stifle Tower (and replaced with Kanter..yuck), but this lineup would compete, even if you swapped Burks out for something closer to a true point guard in Exum.
For the record, during the 2014-15 season, the four-man lineup of Hayward, Hood, Kanter and Exum outscored opponents by nearly nine points per 100 possessions.
Speaking of the former No. 5 overall pick, the strength of this team may be its bench. The second five would look something like this —
That’s an exciting, young lineup with positional versatility, athleticism and a handful of guys who can shoot the 3-pointer. At the end of the bench, Miles joins Millsap as a veteran leader and can come in and knock down shots from distance in a pinch. Meanwhile, you’re developing Allen and Lyles.
Just don’t have any three-hour practices.
On the whole, this isn’t a terrible team; it might even be good. It’s no OKC/Seattle (with Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams), but it’s a playoff team if it’s in our actual East.
In our Western Conference, I’m thinking it’s a team that wins 35 on the low end and 44 on the high end and is probably on the outside looking in. In the Twilight Zone, though, let’s call them a No. 7 or 8 seed, with potential for more if one of the younger guys hits.
But what do you think? Would this imaginary Jazz team really be any good? Let us know in the comments below.