SALT LAKE CITY — With the NBA draft lottery approaching Tuesday night in New York City, the 14 teams that missed out on the playoffs get to partake in a little intrigue of their own as the order of June’s draft is determined.
In reality, only the top three slots are a true “lottery” — each of the 14 non-playoff teams has at least some small chance at each of these positions, with the very worst teams given the highest chances and those closest to the playoffs given the lowest. After these three slots are drawn, those remaining fall in reverse order of record from the previous season.
This restricts the potential outcomes for the Jazz significantly. By far their most likely scenario is seeing their name in the 12th slot, which will happen 93.5 percent of the time. There’s also just short of a 4 percent chance that they move down, which would require a team above them to move up into the top three. There’s no chance at all that they select anywhere from fourth to 11th.
But it’s important to remember that the Jazz do retain just over a 2.5 percent chance at leaping up into the top three — not impossible, though a major long shot.
Since the NBA went to a weighted lottery format starting in 1990, only two teams slated to draft 11th or later have gotten lucky and jumped up. To put this into perspective, the numbers actually reveal that these two exceptions moderately exceeded the expected number of times a team at 11th or later would crash the party over 25 years of a weighted system. If the chips fell strictly according to raw probability, a third instance wouldn’t be in the cards for at least another decade.
The team’s options if they struck gold would be several, some of which would obviously depend on exactly which of the top three slots the Jazz lucked into. Top prospects Karl-Anthony Towns and Emmanuel Mudiay will be excluded not for lack of talent, but because they both conceptually and tactically resemble pieces the Jazz are committed to moving forward with already.
At the top of the board for many would be Ohio State superstar D’Angelo Russell, who projects as the next elite combo guard in the NBA. He has the shooting chops — over 41 percent from deep last year — to be a real addition in a major area of need for the Jazz on the perimeter. But he’s far more than a spot-up artist, with a ridiculous handle and passing skills that lend themselves to a lead ball-handler. Russell has the size (6-foot-5 in shoes) and length (a 6-foot-9.75 wingspan recorded at this week’s combine) to play both guard positions, and would be an immediate natural fit in coach Quin Snyder’s Jazz system, which emphasizes versatility.
Also in the mix would be Duke swingman Justise Winslow. Often overshadowed by one-time consensus top overall pick Jahlil Okafor, Winslow may actually be the better and more versatile NBA prospect, and would almost certainly be a better fit in Utah. He’s bulky enough to guard all the way up to power forwards, but quick enough to stay with perimeter players also. A bullying offensive game coupled with strong jump-shooting make him a dangerous weapon, and he’d immediately add another plus option to an already-burgeoning Jazz defense.
Others would at least merit consideration, such as European standouts Mario Hezonja and Kristaps Porzingis. But these names, along with Arizona prospect Stanley Johnson and NCAA player of the year Frank Kaminsky, project to be available a bit lower and fall into a different category of option for the Jazz.
This route, perhaps most intriguing of all, would involve trading the pick. Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey has already openly discussed this possibility if the pick falls in the late lottery as expected, and his avenues here would open up further if their pick became more valuable.
It’s possible a number of options would be on the table if the Jazz showed interest in moving the selection. They could use it as the key bargaining chip in a trade for an established rotation player with a needed skill set, trading completely out of the first round but pushing the team closer to playoff contention right away with a veteran piece. They could also parlay it into other young assets, either future or present. Or perhaps most likely is the middle ground, a trade down to stock a useful established rotation player while retaining a later lottery pick among the returns.
Regardless of their decision, such a stroke of good fortune would be a huge boon to the team’s future. The vast majority of NBA superstars are selected with a top-five pick, and all 30 teams in the league know the value they represent. The Jazz could either trust their scouting department and make the pick hoping for such an eventual outcome, or leverage its paramount value into legitimately helpful win-now pieces. A fan can dream.