Jazz bring in more 1st-round prospects as draft draws closer

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SALT LAKE CITY — Arkansas center Daniel Gafford can see him running the court and catching lobs like Rudy Gobert.

Croatian big man Luka Samanic can see himself stretching the floor.

Tennessee’s Jordan Bone is eager to see how the more spaced-out NBA will help him use his speed and athleticism.

It was another busy day at Zion’s Bank Basketball Center as the Utah Jazz continue to do the groundwork for the 2019 NBA Draft. And with just a dozen days remaining until draft night, things are beginning to come into focus.

“We have another 12 days (from Saturday),” Utah Jazz vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin said. “Every team is still going through the workout process. I think we do have a better idea of five-to-ten guys. I don’t have an exact number right now, but I think we have narrowed it down.”

There were two players from Saturday’s workouts that the Jazz could consider with their No. 23 pick on June 20: Gafford and Samanic.

Gafford is a 6-11 big man that averaged 17 points, 8.7 rebounds and two blocks in his sophomore season at Arkansas. He’s a big man that excels at rim-running, taking advantage of his long reach to finish lobs. He shot 66 percent from the field last season with many of his attempts coming right at the basket. It’s an offensive game that he even compared to Gobert’s.

“Rudy Gobert doing things that he does. However high a guard throws the ball, he goes up and at least tries to get his hand on it to bring it down or he comes down to finish,” Gafford said. “I’d say that’s the role I have on this type of team. I run the floor like he does, I rebound like he does, I catch anything like he does too.”

Gafford had 65 blocks last season and said he spent his sophomore season learning how to guard a little on the perimeter and gaining the understanding of how important pick-and-roll defense is.

“If you don’t have a big that can guard somebody off a pick-and-roll there is no reason you should be out there,” Gafford said.

Saturday’s workout was especially intriguing because it matched up Gafford and Samanic against each other — two players that were once thought of as potential lottery picks.

The 6-foot-10 Samanic was named MVP of the FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship (Division B) after leading Croatia to a gold medal. But he struggled to begin last season with Petrol Olimpija of the Slovenian League, which caused his stock to drop. He finished the year averaging 7.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 18 minutes.

“I had a tough season back in Europe,” Samanic said. “I started pretty like slow and eventually, I started playing better. I had to go to combine to show that I could play with these guys.”

Samanic measured well at the combine and impressed enough during five-on-five play that it's likely he'll be taken in the first round.

“Pretty good athlete, vertical athlete,” Perrin said of Samanic. “Has the ability to become a pretty good shooter. Can put the ball on the floor off the perimeter and create shots, passes the ball well.”

Samanic said that he thinks he can be a stretch four in the NBA and also that he can be an asset on the defensive end with his ability guard each position.

As for Bone, most have him pegged as a second-round pick. But his impressive showing at the combine could have him moving up draft boards. The 6-foot-3 guard ranked No. 1 in the shuttle run, standing vert and lane agility tests. With how open the NBA game is compared to college, that athleticism makes him an intriguing prospect.

“With his speed, with his quickness, with his leaping ability, he can be a pretty good force as grows into the NBA game,” Perrin said. “And he shoots the ball pretty well. He can score from all the three areas.”

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