COMMENTARY| The Utah Jazz made some of the gutsiest moves in the 2013 NBA Draft. After weeks of playing their cards close to the vest, the Jazz traded the #14 and #21 overall selections to the Minnesota Timberwolves for reigning consensus collegiate player of the year, Trey Burke. They then traded back into the first round to pick up French big man, Rudy Gobert.
With four starters from last year's team entering free agency this summer, there has been much speculation concerning the direction the team would take in the offseason. Things look a little clearer now that the dust has settled. It is no surprise that Utah selected both a point guard and a big man in the first round.
Trey Burke was spectacular last season for the University of Michigan Wolverines, leading the team to the national title game. Burke averaged 18.6 points and 6.7 assists per game for the Wolverines in the extremely competitive Big Ten last year and was rated the #4 overall prospect on the Yahoo! Sports Draft Board.
Burke will almost certainly be the starting point guard for the Jazz in the coming season. Mo Williams, the incumbent at that position, is one of eight Jazz free agents this summer. He commanded an $8.5 million salary last year and did not perform up to expectations in an injury-plagued season.
I love Burke's game. He's a bit undersized at 6'0, but he's one of the fiercest competitors I've seen at the college level in years. I think his work ethic and competitive nature will make him a topnotch NBA point guard for years to come. Burke is not afraid to take the big shot, and I think the leadership he displayed at Michigan will be welcome on what's likely to be a very young Utah team next year.
Rudy Gobert came to the Jazz via the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Utah's second round selection, Erick Green, and other considerations. Standing 7'2" with an incredible 7'8" wingspan, Gobert provides the Jazz with a measure of insurance against the possible departures of current Jazz big men, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.
Gobert is considered a project by most NBA scouts, and it is unlikely that he will contribute to the team immediately. He has some significant holes in his game. Still, this is a very big man with a ton of raw talent who may develop into an outstanding player. Jazz fans fondly remember Mark Eaton, another big man who came into the league with limited offensive skills but transformed himself into a defensive mainstay.
Raul Neto was the final piece of Utah's draft night acquisitions. Coming to the Jazz via yet another trade (with the Atlanta Hawks), Utah parted with a second round pick in the 2015 draft in exchange for the Brazilian point guard. Neto is currently playing in Spain and is expected to stay there for at least another year. Neto was a member of the 2012 Brazilian Olympic squad, and Jazz management hopes he will develop into Burke's backup at the point.
I'm not in the habit of grading a team's draft. All too often, evaluating players before they have even taken the floor leaves the so-called experts eating humble pie. The picks Utah traded to Minnesota were used to select Shabazz Muhammed and Gorgui Dieng -- two players that make sense for the T-Wolves, whereas Burke fills an immediate need for the Jazz. Time will tell if the Jazz used their draft picks wisely this year, but this looks to be a good deal for both teams.
I'll offer one piece of advice for the newest team members. Utah doesn't have an NFL, MLB, or NHL franchise. Be aware that the Jazz are the only game in town for the traditional Big Four professional sports. You will be under constant scrutiny here. That's both the good news and the bad news. Former players who were good citizens of the community and worked hard on the court are revered statewide. Those who took other paths generally had short, unproductive careers - and they were miserable here.
Let me be among the first to extend a welcome to the Utah Jazz Class of '13. We look forward to seeing you in Jazz uniforms for many years.
S.B. Jackson is a resident of the Salt Lake City metro area and a lifelong NBA fan, dating back to his devotion to the Cincinnati Royals. The author of one novel, several short stories, and an occasional contributor to various publications, Jackson is currently working on a compilation of short stories.
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