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Ben Anderson: Who should the Jazz pair with Donovan Mitchell in the draft?

By Ben Anderson, KSL.com Contributor | Posted - Jun 5th, 2018 @ 11:16am



SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz won the lottery in the 2017 NBA draft, despite technically drafting in the 13th spot — the second to last selection of the actual draft lottery.

Donovan Mitchell has already been named to the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team and is one of two front-runners for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award.

Truthfully, general manager Dennis Lindsey could bungle this draft, and several drafts over the next several seasons, but would still be considered one of the league's savviest talent scouts. He drafted Mitchell in the latter end of the lottery and drafted All-Defensive First Team center Rudy Gobert with the 27th overall pick in 2013.

Lindsey is notorious for letting no opportunity go wasted when it comes to improving his roster, and this year’s draft should be no different.

However, who to pair with Mitchell in the backcourt presents a unique issue. Mitchell has an extremely advanced offensive skill set and has shown an ability to operate both as a primary ball handler and as a go-to scorer off the ball.

Mitchell was drafted out of Louisville, where he played primarily off the ball. Because of Mitchell’s already diverse skill set, and extreme coachability, and his ability to seemingly adapt to any role the coaches put him in, where to play Mitchell may be largely impacted by who they play next to him in the backcourt.

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On Monday, the Jazz worked out four players who could be conceivably drafted with the 21st overall pick. KSL.com’s Andy Larsen broke down the strengths and weaknesses of each player after the workout. With the NBA increasingly moving away from position-specific basketball and into multi-skilled players across all five players on the floor, there might not be a clear-cut fit next to Mitchell.

Each of the four players the Jazz worked out Monday — Grayson Allen, Aaron Holiday, Khyri Thomas and Jalen Brunson — would present unique questions. Allen is the biggest of the four players, standing 6-foot-4.5 in shoes, and was by the Jazz perspective, the best athlete of the group. He’s also nearly 23 and may have less untapped upside than the rest of the players in the workout.

Despite a healthy career 38 percent 3-point shooting average, Allen's statistically the worst shooter of the group. Mitchell’s 3-point jumpshot might be his most glaring weakness at this point in his career. Mitchell’s ability to attack the rim would benefit greatly from a knock-down 3-point shooter.

Thomas, who is a career 40 percent 3-point shooter, and shot 41 percent from three as a junior, despite attempting 4.6 threes per game, could be a good fit. Additionally, it appears Thomas might be capable of defending an opposing team’s best wing player with his 6-foot-10 wingspan, despite standing just 6-foot-3.

However, at this point, Thomas appears to be limited as a ball handler. There is optimism among league sources that that aspect of his game will develop, though. If it doesn’t, he may offer little more than the Jazz's other surprise rookie Royce O’Neale, who appears to be a long-term fixture in the Jazz roster.

Holiday is a lightning-quick guard that showed a knack for carrying a large scoring load at UCLA. He averaged over 20 points and nearly six assists per game on an impressive shooting percentage, making more than 46 percent of his field goals, including 42 percent of his 3-point attempts.

However, at 6-foot-1, Holiday lacks ideal size to pair with Mitchell, who is undersized at 6-foot-3 in his own right. As has been seen with the Portland Trail Blazers, despite a superbly talented backcourt made up of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, their lack of size proved to be fatal against the bigger guards of the New Orleans Pelicans.

The antidote to this problem may come in the form of Jalen Brunson. Despite standing just 6-foot-2, Brunson’s 200-pound frame allows him to bully other guards, as he did throughout his career at Villanova. Jazz Vice President of Player Personnel Walt Perrin compared Brunson to former University of Utah guard Andre Miller based on the strength he displayed in his game.

Brunson’s 18 points per game average showed his ability to score the ball. He shot an impressive 39 percent from the 3-point line; however, his post-up game likely won’t translate to the NBA, and there are questions about his ability to beat defenders off the dribble. He’s craftier than he is athletic, and while that works in college, NBA players will know how to defend his creative skill set, while sporting superior athleticism.

Drafting at No. 21, the Jazz aren’t going to get a perfect prospect. They’ll have to settle on a player that appears to fit best alongside Mitchell while making sure they don’t magnify the backcourt’s existing size and shooting deficiencies.

While none of the four players who worked out for the Jazz on Monday are without their questions, Mitchell’s versatile game should allow the Jazz to truly take the best player available, and allow next year’s rookie to develop alongside one of the league’s best young players.

Ben Anderson

About the Author: Ben Anderson

Ben Anderson is a sports contributor for KSL.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenKFAN. Listen to him 2 p.m.-6 p.m., Monday through Friday with Kyle Gunther on ESPN 700.

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