The recent draft success of new general manager Dennis Lindsey has prompted many Utah Jazz fans to suggest that he made the most shrewd player-personnel decisions in team history on Thursday night.
You all know the story: he stunned everyone in creation by working a deal with Minnesota that allowed that Jazz to move up from their previous draft position of No. 14 to No. 9 and select guard Trey Burke of Michigan, the Wooden Award winner. With the deal he also coughed up the Jazz’ second first-round choice, the No. 24 pick.
But, lest you think he was done, he brokered another deal with a different team and moved back into the first round with the 27th pick, selecting French giant Rudy Gobert, an anomaly with an unreal 7-foot-9-inch wing span.
Of course, Lindsey is hardly the first-ever NBA GM to have made such moves. But, in an era in which Jazz brass have been notoriously tight-lipped and even-keeled — not to mention rather conservative in their draft-day strategy — he does represent a new age in which Utah fans may never know which end is up.
So is Lindsey that kind of general manager, the type that like his predecessors in Houston and San Antonio — notably Spurs GM R.C. Buford — who can lift a smaller market team up by just his sheer presence? You might be stupid to bet against him.
Again, it might be a little premature to say whether he’ll be the best Jazz GM ever — and frankly we will not know until there is definitive proof.
Naturally that will materialize either in an All-Star appearance or an NBA title for guard Trey Burke or center Rudy Gobert or even Brazilian guard Raul Neto — another kid the Jazz plucked out of thin air, or an obscure Spanish basketball league — with the 47th pick, also obtained via trade.
Burke has won often since his high school days in Columbus, Ohio, and the Jazz — who still do win more often than they lose — is a young team with lots of promise.
While Burke is much more vocal than other Jazz guards of the past, including Deron Williams and Hall of Famer John Stockton, one only has to go to Trey’s Twitter page to see that a more verbal commitment to team and community may be what the Jazz need.
Keep in mind, Tony Parker may have come in as an unheralded kid out of France but that soon changed once he started playing, and then dating actress Eva Longoria.
Now, while nobody is advocating Burke that he goes out and dates, for example, Julianne Hough — a commitment to which Ryan Seacrest might take offense — it might be nice for a change to see a Utah player known for something more than donating X amount of dollars to a charity or being a somewhat decent rapper.
Jazz players are always super nice in the community and excellent fellows with nearly impeccable resumes. Burke may be the opposite but more about that in a minute.
Gobert is more of a risk than Burke insofar as he really isn’t much of an offensive player, and frankly, he is as much of a mystery, if not more so, than fellow Frenchman Tony Parker ever was to Spurs fans.
That said, the Jazz didn’t draft Gobert to become the next great NBA center.
Rather, they’re more interested in seeing him become a player similar to former Jazzman Mark Eaton. With his insane wingspan, Gobert could be a real pain for any attacking NBA center to deal with.
Eaton never, and I mean, never entered any conversation when people talked about how he could score the basketball. When he scored it was a rare occasion. That said, his shooting percentage was off the charts, mainly due to the Jazz playing the pick and roll which led to easy shots and tap dunks.
But what Eaton did better than most — and what did earn him an occasional All-Star honor — was he could redirect play in the paint, emphatically so. That’s what Lindsey sees in Gobert.
The other thing about Gobert that is interesting is that he has been playing in the pick-and-roll offense for several years.
The Frenchman is raw like Eaton was when Big Mark entered the league out of UCLA. His balance is horrific and he has no jump shot at this stage in his career, which has been spent in the French Pro A league.
As a comparison, Eaton’s coach Frank Layden often joked about his giant pupil and once suggested Eaton had more love for auto mechanics than he ever did playing with a round, orange ball.
But the one constant that has always been around — and probably always will — is that it is absolutely necessary for any NBA team, especially one in a small market like Utah’s, to have a center who can change the face of any game.
Without question Enes Kanter is the star of the future at center. But, every team needs someone like a Tiago Splitter who can come into a game and spell Tim Duncan for say, 15 or 20 minutes.
And that’s what the Jazz intend to do with Gobert — so his responsbility may be different from Eaton’s, in that regard though they do share some similarites.
Going back to Burke, Lindsey looks at him as the team’s savior in a matter of speaking. After the Jazz felt like they were forced to trade Deron Williams to the Nets — a move that still seems to sting Jazz fans a bit — the team has tried every angle possible in finding the next great Utah point guard.
Not having a good point guard in a pick-and-roll offense like the Jazz run is like playing basketball with one arm. You can get the ball inside to your big guys on a limited basis — as we saw with Mo Williams and Devin Harris — but you can’t arrange offensive sets without the elements of deception that Williams and Stockton before them brought to the court.
The one thing Burke will need to understand is that it will not happen overnight — and that’s why some of his initial comments after being drafted by Utah were concerning. While he was the Wooden Award winner in college basketball as a sophomore and led his Michigan Wolverines to the national championship game before losing to Louisville, he also left school after just two seasons which means he’s still a little on the youthful side.
Also, he gets a lot of comparison to Chris Paul, but Paul was a much better defensive player than Burke at this stage in his career. Also, Paul had more seasoning in college than Burke — which can never be discounted, particularly in today’s NBA.
On the plus side, Burke is a much more polished player offensively than Paul was at this juncture. His size is similar to Paul’s, and his wingspan is actually greater. Burke is already showing the vocal leadership that the Jazz undoubtedly need as the young team goes forward. And his assist to turnover ratio in college was a solid 6-to-2 in a highly physical conference with several Top 25 teams.
Now back to the worriment:
Saying you are going to come in and start right away sends a crystal clear message to not only the team, but management that you’re serious about establishing yourself as a leader.
And while it’s commendable that Burke wants to make his mark so early in his Jazz career it’s a bit self-destructive consdering all Jazz brass wants the kid to do is shut up, listen and learn. Because let’s be frank here: the kid has a lot to learn.
Yeah, fine, go ahead and throw a lavish post-draft party at some New York hotspot because you can, and by heck, you’re young, so go for it. But also realize the mistakes of your predecessors. As a young pup Williams was caught using a fake ID at a Park City, Utah nightclub one night with a few unmentionable guys who are no longer in the league.
When you’re young and dumb, it’s awfully easy to see the money and the fame; it’s harder to see the pitfalls and hard road associated with playing 82 games, half of which are on the road. And it’s harder still to see what will happen when and if these challenges present themselves, such as other teams or players — or even teammates — taking offense to your comments.
Does anyone have any idea what Mo Williams is thinking right now? All you have to do is look at the recent “rumor” articles circulating about cyberspace to know that somebody is serious about keeping their job. And nobody’s talked about Earl Watson — but the mild-mannered point guard probably has something to say about Burke acting like he already has the starting position.
In his rookie season, Stockton acted as if he weren’t even a part of the Jazz, or the NBA, so that he could stay supremely focused on the task at hand. And so, even with that immense preparation it still took at least three years for him to grasp the complex offense as Rickey Green’s understudy.
Williams also had a learning curve, albeit smaller than Stockton’s it seemed — but it was still one that even he couldn’t master as well as little John out of Gonzaga. For anybody who says otherwise, all you have to do is simply point to the statue outside of EnergySolutions Arena as proof, and the number of All-Star appearances Williams has had since leaving Utah.
Now nobody is saying that Burke will become the next Chris Paul, or even the next John Stockton. But, because of his experience playing in John Beilein’s pick and roll offense at Michigan, he stands a fighting chance. It’s just that he doesn’t understand yet how to fight.
In sum, the Jazz can potentially shore up two major needs: a complete point guard who can do it all — and thrive in an offense he understands; and a center who can literally change the scope of a game with his presence, the likes which haven’t been seen in Utah since the glory days of Eaton and Stockton.
Watch their introductory press conference here