This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
During the immediate aftermath of the Jazz's lottery luck Tuesday, general manager Kevin O'Connor sounded like a child who had awakened to discover that school had been erased by a snow day. Utah coach Tyrone Corbin smiled and laughed, sucking in joy while reveling in the knowledge that the Jazz had defied the odds to steal the No. 3 overall selection in the 2011 NBA Draft and pocket No. 12.
But while the proud words poured out and the duo eyed a more promising future, Utah's longtime GM underlined the celebration with a straightforward acknowledgment. With the No. 3 pick comes pressure. Pressure to get it right. Pressure not to screw it up. The Jazz haven't had the ability to draft this high since 2005, and being forced to pick between All-Star point guards Deron Williams and Chris Paul was a win-win no-brainer.
Six years later, the stakes have significantly changed for Utah. The Jazz are at a crossroads, with no clear direction and no star to build around. Former lottery picks Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors provide hope, but both have much to prove before they approach All-Star consideration. Utah is front-loaded in the frontcourt, yet Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Favors have no guarantee they will be starting together next season. Meanwhile, the Jazz lack consistent perimeter shooters, as point guard Devin Harris struggles to finish at the basket and is injury-prone, and weak team defense defined 2010-2011.
Utah has potential. But it also has serious issues highlighted by the fact that Corbin has yet to determine what style of basketball he wants his squad to play. That means whatever the Jazz do with their prized lottery picks, a franchise in major need of a boost cannot afford to blow it.
"We still have to coach them up. And we still have to get our team back to where it was in the first half of the season. … So, there's a lot of work to do," O'Connor said. "The pressure's on, but that's OK. That's why you're in this business."
The work has already begun for O'Connor, Corbin and Utah's draft personnel. After flying all over the country last season to evaluate collegiate prospects, they received an up-close look Thursday at top-name players during the annual combine in Chicago.
Clarity was not immediate, though. Turkey's Enes Kanter ranked third on many mock boards reportedly impressed, but Connecticut's Kemba Walker and Kentucky's Brandon Knight were not scheduled to participate during drills. All three are expected to engage in individual workouts with the Jazz. However, all three are also surrounded by questions, as are international players such as Jan Vesely, Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas and Bismack Biyombo, who should be available when Utah's No. 3 pick is on the clock.
O'Connor was intentionally vague when asked about an abnormally weak draft class that peaks with likely top picks Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams, then becomes muddied as soon as the third selection becomes available.
"I would have no comment on any players about the draft," he said.
Corbin opened up, though not in terms of specific players, but in regards to what he's looking for and how he plans to evaluate prospects. Picking up where previous Jazz coach Jerry Sloan left off, Corbin wants to mold a team that is defined by toughness, sacrifice and character. Basketball intelligence and team commitment are more important than individual statistics.
Corbin also wants confidence and experience instead of a project. Drafting at No. 3 during a good year can net a talented difference-maker. The post-Deron Williams Jazz sorely need athletic impact players, and the team went just 8-20 down the stretch as they struggled to finish games without a closer.
Thus, while Kanter owns the pre-draft buzz and the 18-year-old Knight has ascended into most mock top-fives, Walker's résumé and stunning run carrying the Huskies to the 2011 NCAA men's basketball title appear to line up more with Corbin's initial desires.
"Those guys usually come out and continue to compete because they have something to prove," said Corbin, who references Hayward's work ethic as an ideal.
"They have a chip on their shoulder, and they believe in themselves. And they don't usually feel sorry for themselves and just say, 'You're holding me back,' and they stop working. They want to prove they belong."
Favors, Oklahoma City's James Harden, Memphis' O.J. Mayo and Al Horford were selected at No. 3 during the past three drafts. Before them: the bust otherwise known as Adam Morrison.
It's a fine line between banking it and breaking it when picking third. O'Connor and Corbin know it. Now, they just have to get it right.
"We rolled the dice on trading an All-Star, and now we've got to produce," O'Connor said.
Twitter: @tribjazz Five to watch
Walker, G, Connecticut
Pro • A winner. Carried the Huskies from the brink to the 2011 NCAA men's basketball championship.
Con • Undersized and unproven from long range. Shot just 33 percent behind the 3-point line last season.
Brandon Knight, G, Kentucky
Pro • Intelligent player who can torch opponents from the perimeter.
Con • Just 18, so his game is unpredictable and could take years to develop.
Enes Kanter, C, Turkey
Pro • Sturdy body with a solid shot. Could pair very well with Derrick Favors.
Con • More hype than proven product. Troubles at Kentucky could be a red flag.
Jan Vesely, F, Lithuania
Pro • Athletic and already drawing Andrei Kirilenko comparisons.
Con • Shot still needs work, as does ballhandling and defense.
Jonas Valanciunas, F, Lithuania
Pro • Held his own against Kanter and benefited from growth spurt.
Con • No perimeter shot and not heavy enough to fight in the paint.
Let's make a deal?
Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor proved in recent seasons that he is not afraid to make a deal, and he reinforced the idea this season by dealing All-Star guard Deron Williams. It would take a premier player for Utah to move its No. 3 pick. But the Jazz's No. 12 selection could easily be packaged and parted with.
Mehmet Okur • $10.8 million*
Paul Millsap • $13.5 million**
Raja Bell • $6.7 million**
Harder to deal
Al Jefferson • $29 million**
Devin Harris • $17.8 million**
* expiring contract
** through 2012-13