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5 biggest Utah Jazz takeaways from the NBA Draft Combine

Team Herscu players look up at the scoreboard as they play against Team Forehan-Kelly during the 2024 NBA Draft Combine five-on-five game in Chicago, Wednesday, May 15, 2024. Jazz brass were in Chicago last week evaluating this year's crop of NBA prospects.
Team Herscu players look up at the scoreboard as they play against Team Forehan-Kelly during the 2024 NBA Draft Combine five-on-five game in Chicago, Wednesday, May 15, 2024. Jazz brass were in Chicago last week evaluating this year's crop of NBA prospects. | Nam Y. Huh, Associated Press

An NBA team’s pre-draft process is never ending. Scouts, executives and pro-personnel staff are always evaluating talent and compiling data and go into a draft with years of data on all prospects. As soon as one draft ends, the preparation for the next draft continues in earnest.

So, the Utah Jazz already had a ton of intel on the 2024 draft class well before last week’s NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, but the combine serves as an important step in the pre-draft process and is the unofficial beginning of the lead-up to the June 26 and 27 draft.

Here are the five biggest Jazz takeaways from this year’s combine:

What is most important to the Jazz during the combine?

As stated, the Jazz, like every other team, does a ton of work leading up to the combine and ultimately the draft. The confidence in the detailed work that is done by the Jazz can often carry more weight in the ultimate decision-making process than some of the things that happen during the combine.

For example, if a player has a couple of great performances in scrimmages, but was inconsistent during the previous season of collegiate play, the Jazz may look at the combine scrimmages as outliers. Likewise, if a player failed to pop during the season but had a great showing at the combine, it could cause the Jazz to take a closer look at him.

But everything requires context and careful consideration. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik has said many times that it’s not helpful to react to any one thing with too much zeal. So if a player shoots great during one of the combine scrimmages, a team will look at his shooting drills during the combine and also compare his form and efficiency from the previous season. Did the shots during the combine seem like lucky shots at the end of a shot clock? Or, were they consistent in form and show potential?

The combine includes strength and agility testing, shooting drills, measurements and scrimmages, but also gives teams a chance to privately interview up to 20 players. This might be the most important part of the combine and it’s the part that the Jazz put a lot of thought into.

An NBA team can do as much research and scouting on a player as imaginable, but Jazz CEO Danny Ainge said that being able to sit and talk with a player, get a feel for their personality, their temperament and their intelligence is significant. There have been many players over the years that have boosted their draft stock through combine interviews.

Among the players the Jazz interviewed at the combine are Zach Edey (Purdue), Rob Dillingham (Kentucky), Donovan Clingan (UConn), Ron Holland (G League Ignite), Alexandre Sarr (Perth Wildcats), Reed Sheppard (Kentucky), Kyshawn George (Miami), Stephon Castle (UConn), Isaiah Collier (USC), Jared McCain (Duke), Dalton Knecht (Tennessee), Devin Carter (Providence), Cody Williams (Colorado) and Tyler Kolek (Marquette).

What will the Jazz do with their three 2024 picks?

The Jazz selected three first-round picks last season and all three of them remain on the roster. The Jazz don’t want to go into the 2023-24 season with another three rookies on the roster.

Though the Jazz currently are slated to have the 10th, 29th and 32nd pick in the upcoming draft, it is unlikely that they keep all three. Using some or all of these picks in a trade could materialize in a number of ways. The Jazz could package picks to move up in the draft, use picks as part of a deal that moves them down from the 10th pick, trade out of the draft entirely for future picks or, as part of a package that brings in established players, or a mix of these options.

Everything is on the table, and there’s no guarantee that the Jazz are going to be able to make a deal work that they like, but, they are certainly going to try. The Jazz front office and coaching staff are aligned in wanting a more balanced mix of young players and players that can help them along in their development.

“Kids can’t raise kids,” a team source told the Deseret News at the combine. “We need adults in the room.”

What type of player will the Jazz look for in the draft?

The most glaring need on the Jazz roster is at the wing position. But that won’t necessarily guide the Jazz if the Jazz end up making selections in the upcoming draft. The Jazz will take the best available talent on the board when it comes time to make a pick.

The Jazz are still early in their rebuilding process and they are holding a longview as far as draft prospects are concerned. The Jazz aren’t at a point where they need to start deciding who is going to be the final rotation of a playoff team. Instead, they are at a point in the process where they are evaluating young players, seeing which pairings and lineups work well together, trying to get a feel for what players could be on the roster long term and still maintaining flexibility while they find opportunities for trades that could improve the roster.

Future trades could entirely change the makeup of the roster. There could be incoming veteran wings, current players, including incoming rookies on the roster, will be moved and the needs of the team could change. With that in mind, the Jazz want to position themselves to have a variety of deals that could be negotiated. So, when evaluating prospects, they aren’t going in with too much positional preference in mind.

Who stood out to the Jazz at the combine?

There are plenty of players in the draft pool that stood out to all NBA teams, so I don’t want anyone to think that the list below represents the only players that the Jazz are interested. Rather, these players impressed the Jazz over the last week.

Kentucky freshman guard Reed Sheppard tested incredibly well at the combine. Though measuring in at just 6-feet-1.75 inches without shoes on, he posted the eighth-best standing vertical leap and fourth-best max vertical leap among all combine participants. The Jazz were already intrigued by Sheppard’s athleticism and skill, but he also had a great interview with the Jazz.

There are many within the Jazz organization that are also heavily intrigued by Miami freshman Kyshawn George, a 6-foot-7 forward who is a great shooter. George would be more of a development project for the Jazz — he needs to get a lot stronger and needs to improve his defensive game — but the Jazz came away from the interview with George impressed. George has been projected as a late first-round or early second-round pick, but recently insiders have seemed to think that his stock is rising.

Colorado forward Cody Williams shoots a free throw during game Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Boulder, Colo. Is Williams a player the Jazz could select with their No. 10 pick in this year's draft? | David Zalubowski, Associated Press
Colorado forward Cody Williams shoots a free throw during game Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Boulder, Colo. Is Williams a player the Jazz could select with their No. 10 pick in this year's draft? | David Zalubowski, Associated Press

Colorado wing Cody Williams, the younger brother of Oklahoma City’s Jaylen Williams, is starting to get a lot more buzz as a top-10 pick, so if the Jazz want to get him, they might need to trade up (Charlotte with the sixth pick and Portland with the seventh pick seem to pretty interested). Though he didn’t play in the scrimmages at the combine, Williams was already likely to be a lottery selection and teams were really impressed with the way Williams tested and interviewed.

What does the Jazz’s decision-making process look like?

When Ainge joined the Jazz front office, there were a lot of questions about how the Jazz’s hierarchy would operate. I have to admit that the Jazz’s line about making decisions by committee seemed like a nice public sentiment that would not work out behind closed doors.

But, over the last couple of years there have been a number of decisions that have proved that the Jazz really do make decisions by committee and in speaking with team sources at the combine, that was made even more evident. Ainge and Zanik have both worked on trades, the front office works with a large staff to evaluate talent and there’s not usually a 100% consensus on decisions, and that includes draft picks.

There is input from Will Hardy and the coaching staff and there are scouts that provide information for the front office, and there are a lot of deliberations and a lot of voices that add to the conversations around prospective players.

It’s not like Ainge or Zanik make a determination about a player and that ends up being the deciding factor. They really trust the staff that they have and there is a lot of input that is considered when decisions are being made.

Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik, and Jazz CEO Danny Ainge answer questions
Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik, and Jazz CEO Danny Ainge answer questions during a press conference at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus in Salt Lake City on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News