NBA DRAFT: Jazz target Almond, then get him

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Posted: 10:23 PM- The fit just seemed right when Morris Almond arrived in Salt Lake for his predraft workout June 19 with the Jazz. They were looking for a long-distance shooter; Almond was one of the best in college basketball, the nation's third-leading scorer as a senior at Rice.

He said all the right things, about circling the workout on his calendar and being a closet Matt Harpring fan, as uncool as it was to admit. The Jazz acknowledged having interviewed Almond after he first declared for the draft last spring and scouting him extensively this season.

The only question was whether Almond would still be available when the Jazz drafted with the 25th pick in Thursday night's NBA draft. When he was and Kevin O'Connor announced the pick at EnergySolutions Arena, a marriage years in the making became official.

"All signs kind of pointed to Utah," said Almond, who worked out for 14 teams, "and I'm glad they were thinking the same way come draft night."

Almond said of heading to Utah, "It might have been destiny," and compared the fit of his game and the Jazz's system to fingers in a glove. He will be joining a team stocked with shooting guards, though, with questions about how much he can immediately contribute.

Almond, 22, was the nation's third-leading scorer, averaging 26.4 points, and shot 45.6 percent from three-point range. When he played in Salt Lake this season, Almond scored 42 points and connected on four three-pointers, although Rice lost to Utah 80-64.

In the second round, the Jazz drafted Providence center Herbert Hill.

The Jazz watched as four players they worked out - Marco Belinelli, Jason Smith, Daequan Cook and Jared Dudley - were drafted between the 18th and 22nd pick. That brought Almond within range and left the crowd cheering when Rudy Fernandez went 24th.

With a group in the front row holding signs that read "Almond or Bust" and "Jazz Nut," O'Connor announced the pick by asking the fans who they wanted to take. Almond couldn't have asked for a better response, as the crowd roared when the pick was made.

"I'm glad they knew who I was, where I come from," Almond said. "I definitely want to come and prove my worth and just contribute the first year as much as possible."

The Jazz came to know Almond when they interviewed him at the NBA predraft camp last spring. Almond ultimately withdrew from the draft and returned to Rice, but he was a player the Jazz identified from the start of the season and scouted at least 10 times in person.

"They were definitely on my radar," said Almond, who worked out for 14 teams, "ever since I entered the draft as an underclassman and kind of an unknown underclassman last year."

Almond adds to the Jazz's long list of two-guards, which includes Derek Fisher, Gordan Giricek and Ronnie Brewer. The Jazz also would like to re-sign free-agent C.J. Miles. All of which raises the question of where Almond will find minutes next season.

"When you pick a guy that far down the line, sometimes it's difficult," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "But he can shoot the basketball and make open shots. We think we can get open shots for him. We've got guys that can help him get open shots."

The Jazz ranked 29th in the NBA in three-point shooting this season and identified it as one of their greatest needs, along with finding a shot-blocker. Almond fits the bill, with Sloan saying, "He has one great skill."

At the same time, Almond was told by Sloan and O'Connor, "We drafted a basketball player, not a shooter." He told reporters in a conference call, "Now it's my job to live up to those expectations, and I couldn't be happier."

For all the questions about his defense, Almond expressed a desire to get better, saying, "I think my offense got me drafted, but my defense and basketball IQ, playing hard and intense and things like that, will get me on the floor."

Sometime after his name was called, Almond, who grew up outside of Atlanta and played on the same high school team as Hawks forward Josh Smith, came to realize he was going to play for a team that reached the Western Conference finals.

"That sunk in with me," Almond said. "It's pressure to perform, but I think I'm up to the challenge."