by Brandon Quinones | Identifying the draft stock for prospects in this year’s NBA draft brings a unique challenge to it. The last NCAA basketball season was put on hold and then canceled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. One of the challenges presented involves teams having to evaluate players without having the traditional NBA combine. That being said, however, the NBA has been innovative in allowing teams to individually have workouts with players and meet with them through video-conference as well. Observing prospects to try and determine their potential NBA value is already considered quite the challenge during normal circumstances. That will be increasingly magnified during this year’s pre-draft prospect scouting process.
The Utah Jazz are in an interesting position in this year’s draft order as they are slotted into the 23rd overall pick in the first round of this year’s NBA Draft. With the pick falling outside the lottery, it will be interesting to see whether the Jazz feel that they can package the pick in a trade package or whether they believe they can snag a quality prospect in that slot. If the Jazz feel comfortable going after some prospects in that position, they can draft a talented young player to help shore up some weaknesses on the team. This will address their team weakness in the immediate future, and hopefully develop that player into someone that can stick around the team for years to come.
When watching the Jazz play this past season, one could identify some areas in which they can look to strengthen through the draft. One of those areas is the playmaking department where the Jazz could try to add another ball-handler. That would keep the offense afloat once Donovan Mitchell comes off the floor. In addition, shot creation is another area of need. This is especially true when defenses hone in on stopping Mitchell since he makes their offense go. Ultimately, looking ahead and in the direction of the league, a team can never have enough 3-and-D caliber guys. With these areas of need in mind, let’s take a look at a few prospects that the Utah Jazz can look to draft with the 23rd overall pick.
1. Cole Anthony: G – North Carolina
Career stats: 18.5 PTS, 5.7 REB, 4.0 AST
Cole Anthony entered the year as a surefire lottery pick in a draft class that was considered to be light on top talent. As the year progressed, Anthony began to fall across draft boards as he showed signs of some glaring weaknesses throughout the course of the season. Enter the Utah Jazz. The Jazz might be able to snag Anthony if he does indeed drop all the way to the 23rd pick. This would be an excellent value considering that he began the year as someone who could go as high as top five.
When evaluating Anthony and his style of play, he can be seen as a score-first guard with incredible shot-making ability. While not on the same level yet, he fits into the Jamal Murray mold in terms of guard play. Anthony is more than capable of creating his own shot, as he was able to generate looks by separating from defenders and displaying a more than capable jump shot. He often shows the ability to step back and knock down shots regardless of defensive pressure. Anthony is sure to be a source of instant offense for any team that selects him in the upcoming draft, with hopes for potential to grow as a playmaker and defender.
Like any prospect, Anthony does come with some concerns, primarily as a playmaker at the basket. Teams would like to see him do a better job of setting teammates up and feeding them more open looks. This is an ability that remains crucial for guards looking to run offenses in today’s NBA.
The other main concern about Anthony’s game is that he has shown a lack of success in being able to finish at the rim where, as mentioned by Eric Fawcett of NBA.com, he only converted 39% of his looks. This is an area where Anthony should try to improve since one-dimensional play styles often do not cut it in the league today. If Anthony is able to finish consistently at the rim while continuing to be a threat on the perimeter, look out. He could be a guy who can wreak havoc on opposing guards and defenses for years to come.
Drafting Anthony makes sense for the Jazz for a couple of reasons. For one, Anthony would bring a much-needed scoring punch to an offense that sometimes struggled when Mitchell was off the floor. With Jordan Clarkson becoming a free agent, Anthony can be the first guard off the bench. He can fill that role of keeping the second-string offense afloat if Clarkson does not return. In the long-term, the Jazz can hope that Anthony develops into a premier offensive talent considering that Mike Conley is in the back-end of his prime and that there have been trade rumors surrounding Donovan Mitchell for several months now. If the Jazz choose to go with Anthony, they can expect immediate results as a guy who can score in bunches and develop him into someone that can be one of their lead guards in the future. Looking ahead, a potential backcourt of Mitchell and Anthony could be a handful for opposing defenses to deal with for years to come.
2) Robert Woodard: F – Mississippi State
Career Stats: 11.4 PTS, 6.5 REB, 1.3 AST
Robert Woodard could be one of the steals in this draft as a player with tremendous defensive upside and growing offensive skills, making him a legitimate 3-and-D prospect. Standing in at 6’7” and 230 lbs., Woodard has the physical makeup to match up against most wings. That gives him enough length and strength to not only compete against larger matchups but quicker players as well. His head coach at Mississippi State, Ben Howland, put it well when talking about Woodard by describing him as a “Greek figure”, mentioning that during his time as a coach he has never had an athlete with the same physical profile as Woodard. When watching Woodard play, he shows good agility to move around on the perimeter, which when paired with his 7’1” wingspan, could make it difficult for opposing players to score against. In addition to showing impressive traits on the defensive end, Woodard also has shown positive flashes on the offensive side of the ball as well with an improving three-point stroke. Woodard shot 42.9% from deep last season and improved his free throw clip by six percentage points. Those are positive signs that he is improving as a shooter.
Woodard makes plenty of sense for the Jazz. Woodard would be able to provide tough, physical defense from the moment he steps on the court. This gives Utah the chance to develop him into a true lockdown defender in the future. That’s something they have lacked from the wing position for some time. The league has evolved to a point where more wings have become more athletically gifted and talented with the basketball. That is why having a tough wing like Woodard would help Utah match up more competitively against the league’s best wings. The league has transitioned to where 3-and-D players have become more valuable than ever, making Woodard a great fit on any team around the league if he can continue to develop on both sides of the ball. With Ingles and Bogdanovic being solid, but unspectacular wing defenders, and both of them well into their 30s, Woodard would give them much needed defensive versatility and energy on the perimeter for years to come. A combination of Woodard and Royce O’Neale would be difficult for opposing teams to score against.
3) Jaden McDaniels: F – Washington
Career Stats: 13.0 PTS, 5.8 REB, 2.1 AST
Jaden McDaniels has all the makings of a potential quality 3-level scorer. Standing in at 6’9”, 200lbs., McDaniels has the physical skills necessary to be versatile on both sides of the ball. McDaniels possesses great mechanics on his jump shot that can lead to positive results from deep, as well as in the mid-range. For his size, he can also create strong drives. He finishes well and draws a good amount of contact. McDaniels has the potential to be a good scorer in the league for a long time given his ability to score on all three levels. This is especially true if he can continue to improve his shot selection and overall offensive consistency.
On the defensive end, McDaniels possesses the ability to be a positive contributor but he is pretty raw at this point in time. He shows great size and length to be able to contest shots and protect the rim. This is evident by his 1.4 blocks per game. In today’s era of basketball, he fits the bill as someone who could play either forward position, with his ability to put pressure on the defense and hold his own defensively given his size and quickness.
McDaniels makes plenty of sense for the Utah Jazz. McDaniels could immediately come in and provide the team with a source of offense off the bench given his ability to shoot the ball well, as well as finish at the rim. Playing with playmakers like Mitchell, Conley, and Ingles can lead to McDaniels having plenty of open looks on the perimeter. Furthermore, he also makes sense long-term at the four if the Jazz keep Gobert at the five. McDaniels has shown an ability to stretch the floor and create his own shot. Gobert does not do this offensively. If McDaniels continues to grow and develop well, watch out. The Jazz could have someone who can potentially become an instant source of offense while providing good size and athleticism defensively.
Image courtesy NBA.com