SALT LAKE CITY — The 2019 NBA draft is less than a month away, and the Utah Jazz have the 23rd pick in the first round of the draft.
This year’s draft is widely regarded as one of the weaker drafts in the last decade for college and international talent entering the league; but as in any draft, it should have some gems sprinkled throughout the 60 picks that could be difference makers in the NBA.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll breakdown some of the players that are likely to have their names mentioned as Jazz targets before the draft.
KZ Okpala, F, Stanford
Okpala likely has a slew of fans in the state of Utah having played for Stanford. He played against the Utah Utes twice in the last two seasons. Okpala is a lanky 6-foot-9 combo forward who had a breakout sophomore season. He has played himself into a near-guaranteed first-round selection. ESPN currently has him projected as the 29th pick in the first round, while NBAdraft.net has him projected to go 16th. Okpala averaged just under 16 points and six rebounds as a sophomore, shooting 46 percent from the floor, and 36 percent from the 3-point line.
A talented offensive player, Okpala uses his 7-foot-1 wingspan and tall frame to score over smaller defenders at the college level when he gets into the paint. He has a strong handle off the dribble, allowing him to attack the basket when he gets into the paint, and finish over rim protectors.
He should be able to play both the small forward and power forward position at the next level based on his size and existing ball skills. His fluid athleticism should translate pretty seamlessly to the NBA and could see him flourish with better spacing.
Okpala is currently best off the dribble, as his improving but inconsistent 3-point shot is still a work in progress. He will likely need extra time to develop as he’ll be forced to stretch his range further with the deeper NBA 3-point line.
A former guard, Okpala had a growth spurt that moved him off the ball and turned him into a true wing player, but he has a decent feel for the game despite being a late bloomer as a national recruit. He’ll need to add weight before he sees the floor — he measured in at just 209 pounds at the NBA Combine — but shouldn’t have too much trouble putting on weight with his frame.
Okpala won’t be an immediate contributor but has excellent potential. He has the developing skill set to play the en vogue combo forward position that seems to be a key cog among the best teams in the NBA. Okpala wouldn’t allow the Jazz to move on from either Derrick Favors or Jae Crowder in the first year but could be a nice secondary scorer as Donovan Mitchell continues to develop.
Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga
Hachimura, much like Okpala, plays the combo forward position that seems to be essential for the modern NBA offense. The junior averaged just under 20 points per game and 6.5 rebounds, shooting a very impressive 59 percent from the floor and 41 percent from the 3-point line for a Gonzaga team that was the top-ranked team in the country for much of the season.
At 6-foot-8, with a 7-foot -plus wingspan, Hachimura has the ideal length for the NBA forward position. He’s currently projected to be the 18th pick by ESPN, and the 10th overall pick by NBAdraft.net.
Offensively, Hachimura’s strength is his mismatch potential in the midrange, with a fantastic ability to rise and shoot over smaller defenders with great efficiency, and drive around bigger slower defenders and finish at the rim. His terrific shooting numbers are apparent when he catches the ball, as he rarely seems to miss from the midrange.
Alongside Brandon Clarke, who is likely a lottery pick this year, Hachimura made up one of the most dangerous frontcourt combos in all of college basketball.
Hachimura’s excellent 3-point shooting percentage is a bit deceiving as the junior attempted just one 3-pointer per game in his final season at Gonzaga. But it is encouraging that he made the shot at a better than 40 percent clip. He made just 19 percent of his 3-point shots as a sophomore.
However, beyond Hachimura’s obvious skill set as a midrange scorer, there are some concerns about how complete his game is and how it will translate to the NBA. With his ballhandling ability, it seems he would have had been a candidate to fill more of a playmaking role at Gonzaga, but averaged a stunningly low 1.5 assists per game as a junior, and that’s his career high.
In fact, Hachimura averaged more than one assist per game just once during his three-year college career. When watching Gonzaga, it’s clear when Hachimura catches the ball that he’s only looking for his own shot.
On the defensive side of the ball, Hachimura also leaves much to be desired. He regularly blows defensive rotations and offers little in the way of blocked shots or steals, despite his superior size and athleticism.
Hachimura moved to the United States from Japan just before starting his career at Gonzaga and reportedly still has a limited grasp of the English language, which could be a hurdle at the next level.
Hachimura pulled out of the NBA Combine and is rumored to have a first-round guarantee in the draft lottery (likely the Minnesota Timberwolves), so he may not be available for the Jazz at 23, but using a lottery pick on an older player with as many weaknesses as Hachimura has feels like a reach.
Grant Williams, PF, Tennessee
While Williams is also a forward, he’s unlike Okpala and Hachimura in that he projects mostly as a power forward, and potentially a spot small ball center at the NBA level. Williams measured in at 6-foot-7 at the NBA Combine, with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, while weighing 240 pounds.
Williams is projected to be the 23rd pick to the Jazz by ESPN.com and 34th overall by NBAdraft.net. The junior forward averaged just under 19 points per game and 7.5 rebounds in his final season for the Volunteers.
Williams is an undersized, stout forward, who uses his strength and low center of gravity to establish position in the post, showing an adept back to the basket game while also flashing a well developed, soft jump shot that stretches out to the college 3-point line.
While Williams lacks the body and positional versatility over the previous prospects mentioned, his size and versatile skill set projects similarly to a common type of player we’ve seen excel at the NBA level, drawing comparisons to players like Paul Millsap, PJ Tucker, Chuck Hayes and Draymond Green. Though he doesn’t share the potential of either Hachimura or Okpala, he likely has a higher floor and a good shot of sticking in the NBA.
Beyond Williams’ ability to post up and shoot the ball, he also has a surprisingly unique feel for the game. He’s a high-level passer for his position, regularly finding cutters with his back to the basket and throwing lobs in transition to his teammates running the floor. Despite his less than ideal size, he showed good instincts as a shot blocker, averaging 1.5 blocks and 1.1 steals per game as a junior.
At times, Williams has struggled with foul trouble, which will be a bigger issue in the NBA as he will face bigger players each night he’s on the floor and may limit his overall potential, specifically the number of minutes he can stay on the floor.
Tennessee was Williams’ only power conference offer coming out of high school, but had offers from both Princeton and Yale, highlighting the type of intelligence and work ethic he has off the floor. Additionally, he comes from an accomplished family, where his mother is an engineer for NASA.
If the Jazz are looking to swing for the fences, Williams likely won’t be the pick; but he could add toughness and shooting at the power forward position in the NBA, with a high-level consistency and playmaking they don’t currently have in the frontcourt.
Ben Anderson is a contributor at KSL.com, follow him on Twitter @BensHoops. Listen to him 2-6, Monday through Friday with Kyle Gunther on ESPN 700.