Jazz The 28th pick, and the last of their three first round picks, belongs to the Utah Jazz.  Their third GM is Jamie Resin.  With the next to the last pick in the first round, the Jazz select:

Kenny Thomas, PF, 6'8", New Mexico

I. Team Report

The compressed 1998-1999 schedule did not work to the advantage of the veteran Jazz team. Coming off a season when the Jazz had taken Michael and the Bulls to six games in the finals only to be downed by his Airness, the Jazz were regarded as the most likely heirs to the throne. After trading away their 1st round pick in 1998 due to salary cap concerns, they made no substantive improvements to the team in the offseason. Following a strong start to the campaign, the Jazz limped down the stretch, going 5-5 in their last 10 games, which cost them the top seed in the Western Conference. A series of miracles helped them get by the upstart Sacramento Kings in the first round, but the youth and depth of Portland was too much for them in the 2nd round, as they were dispatched in a physical, low scoring, 6 game series. It was a disappointing end to a season that started with high hopes. The age of Malone, Stockton, and Hornacek and the progress of the younger, more athletic Blazers, Lakers, and Spurs suggests that the Jazz are entering their final run with the present squad before approaching a serious rebuilding effort.

Coach Jerry Sloan dismisses the notion that it is time to tear this team apart, "People have been saying we're too old for years, and we're always right there. It's tough to tell where we are because of this weird (50-game season). When you have guys our age with very few days to rest, it wears them out. I think we'll be able to tell more next year." He added, "I like our team. They played their hearts out this year, and I'm confident they could compete again next year." Based on these comments, don't anticipate a major overhaul. but, an injection of youth and athleticism would serve them well.

II. Position Analysis


Greg Ostertag just completed the 2nd year of his 5 year, $30 million contract, and has shown that $30 million doesn't quite buy what it used to. He has virtually no offensive game, but is a good shot blocker, and decent rebounder, although seems to display those talents only sporadically. During the playoffs, however, Sloan got tired of his disappointing efforts, and he found himself on the bench during many critical junctures. Todd Fuller, acquired early in the year from Golden State, showed an occasional ability to contribute more at the offensive end than Ostertag, and for that reason, the Jazz may attempt to resign him as a free agent, if the price doesn't get too high. Greg Foster is likely to depart as a free agent.

Power Forward

Karl Malone has verbally agreed to a four-year extension, which he will soon sign. At 35, he still looked in great shape, and able to continue his reign as the leagues best PF for another few seasons. The drop off in his numbers (23.8 ppg, lowest since 1986- 87, and 9.4 rpg, lowest since his rookie year, 1985-86), and his struggles in the playoffs were more a reflection of the lack of help he got from teammates than a drop off in his own abilities. He was named First-team All-NBA for a record 11th time, and won his second MVP award.

Thurl Bailey was brought back from the dead to serve as a backup, and actually got minutes in the playoffs, when Greg Ostertag's poor play left Sloan with few options. Bailey is likely to retire and take a front office job with the team. Adam Keefe backs up at both forward positions, but he was bothered by a sore back for much of the season and contributed only a large body. Neither Bailey nor Keefe was as effective in relief of Malone as Antoine Carr had been during the 1997-98 campaign. The Jazz still own the rights to Torraye Bragg, a 6-8 power forward from Xavier, whom they drafted in the second round last year but who played in Europe. Bragg will be given a chance to make the team next season. He is a very strong player with good hands who plays with great intensity. The year overseas has helped him develop more of an offensive game, although it is still primarily short jumpers and putbacks.

Small Forward

Bryon Russell became the team's 2nd leading scorer this season, scoring 12.4 ppg vs. a career avg. of 7.5. He actually increased his scoring average to 14.7 during the Portland series, when many of his older teammates were struggling to keep up. He gives the Jazz athleticism, an active defender, and a streaky 3 pt. shooter. However, his scoring touch seems to come and go at irregular intervals. A consistent backup who can light it up off the bench would be a plus. The aforementioned Adam Keefe spelled Russell, when Sloan went to an even slower lineup. Shandon Anderson relieved Russell on occasion, but more often, the two played in tandem, with Anderson backing up Hornacek at the two.

Shooting Guard

Jeff Hornacek's performance and minutes dropped off somewhat during the 1998-99 season, and Shandon Anderson took a more prominent role, providing increased athleticism off the bench. Hornacek's 12.2 ppg was his lowest total since the 1987-88 season, his second in the league, but he still shot an efficient 47.7% from the field and 89.3% from the line. Both Hornacek and Anderson are free agents this year, but they are both expected to return. Hornacek's outside shooting and scrappy play, and Anderson's ability to run the floor and defend taller guards make them an effective tandem. Shandon was their best scorer off the bench, and while other teams will surely inquire, the Jazz will make every effort to resign him, as the eventual full time successor to Hornacek. League rules prohibit most other teams from offering Anderson as much as the Jazz will be able to offer him. Anderson is not a great outside shooter, and the Jazz could use another long-range threat.

Point Guard

John Stockton, at 37, played only 28 minutes/game in 1998-99, his lowest average in years, and his 11.1 ppg and 8.4 ppg were his total totals in over a decade. His numbers were down across the board; however, he is a fixture with this franchise, and this team will be run by Stockton as long as he chooses. Howard Eisley has been a capable sub for Stockton, although his mediocre assist to turnover ratio (185/109) suggests that he may not be suited for the full time role. He is a capable three point shooter, and an active defender. Jacque Vaughn provides insurance at the point.

III. My Selection

As the previous two Jazz selections were spent on an athletic slashing forward (Tim James), and an expert marksman at guard (Trajan Langdon), I opted to help the Jazz add a frontcourt scorer and rebounder. With the 28th pick, the Jazz select Kenny Thomas, PF, New Mexico.


Thomas is unquestionably the most talented player remaining on the draft board, and perhaps more skilled than 10-15 of the players taken ahead of him. His physique is second only to Elton Brand among power forwards (when he is in shape). He has great hands, and sweet shot from out to 20 ft, a variety of moves in the paint, passes well, hits the boards, and even plays D. That said, there is a reason why he is still left at #28. It has been said that few players do less with more than Kenny Thomas. Despite solid statistical output, he has been criticized for disappearing in big names, for weight fluctuations, and for being injury prone. A groin pull kept him out of the Desert Classic, and his individual workouts for teams have been canceled due to a calf injury. His lackadaisical attitude is not a great fit with this franchise's businesslike style, but his ability (vs. the lack of ability among remaining options) merits a gamble. He can learn the pro game as the Mailman's understudy. If he needs a role model, he couldn't do much better than that.

IV. Others Considered

I was hoping to find a back up center with some ability hanging around at this slot. But, with McCullough, Weis, Ketner, Booth, Radojevic and Eschmeyer all selected prior, the pickings were pretty slim in that department.

Tim Young - perhaps the best remaining true center prospect. When this guy works out for a team, they'll probably wonder why he doesn't dominate. He's agile, has a variety of moves including an unblockable jump hookand has a soft shooting touch for a 7'1" player. But, I have seen this guy play a lot and he is the most passive big man I've ever witnessed. It's hard for a guy his size to disappear he does it with regularity. But, he certainly brings more offense to the table than Greg Ostertag. He could be useful in replacing Greg Foster, who is likely to depart.

Cal Bowdler - He is the darling of the pre-draft camp circuit. That usually means that the guy is a lot better than people thought, but no one had a high opinion of him in the first place, so it's not saying much. I've never watched him play, but I understand that he runs well for a man his size, and has shown some perimeter skills. That said, his very average performance in a mediocre collegiate conference leads me to believe that selecting him here would be quite a reach.

Lee Nailon - Here is a guy who put up fabulous numbers in college, playing in Billy Tubbs' uptempo system, but it seems to me that his skills are not best suited to the pro-game. At best, he is a poor man's Wayman Tisdale, but I see him more as a smaller Stacey King, or a Walter Berry-type, who doesn't have the strength to pound inside or the perimeter skills to be an effective NBA performer.

If the Jazz had addressed their frontcourt needs with earlier selections, I would have considered the best remaining guards to increase the team's overall athleticism and speed. Rodney Buford, an athletic 6'4" shooting guard from Creighton, and Melvin Levitt, a 6'2" jumping jack from Cincinnati fit that description, but each have limitations, and neither is a sure thing to stick on an NBA roster.

V. Who the Team Probably Will Take

Last season, the Jazz dealt their pick to the 76ers, who selected Nazr Mohammed at the end of the first round. Like many veteran teams, the Jazz viewed a late 1st round pick as more of a curse than a blessing - the idea of paying guaranteed money for four years to a marginal prospect is not enticing. With three first rounders, they are likely to attempt to package the picks to move up in the draft, if they can locate a team in need of more young bodies that is willing to take on those guaranteed rookie contracts. If they can't trade up, it's likely that they'll either try to move one of the picks to get out of the first round and avoid having three rookies taking up roster spots, If they have their way, I think that the Jazz will not keep this selection.

One columnist suggested that picking a player at the bottom of the first round is such a bad option that a team should consider actually passing on the pick, which is allowed under NBA rules. This is a cute way of commenting that this year's draft is not considered by "experts" to be a deep one, but is actually a silly notion.

The other, more sensible and realistic option is to select a foreign player whose rights they can retain while the player develops overseas for a year or two. If Radojevic or Weis were to slip all the way to this spot, I'm sure that the Jazz would take either one. Olumide Oyedeji would have been a great choice here, but the young Nigerian center has pulled out of the draft, and will spend another year playing professionally in Germany. Other top European players include Andrei Kirilenko, an 18 year-old forward, Igor Rakocevic, a 6-4 guard, and Gordan Giricek, a 6-6 swingman. I haven't watched these players, and can't comment on their ability or relative value at this point.

If they are unable to move this pick in a deal, and aren't enamored with the overseas options, Lari Ketner, Cal Bowdler, Kenny Thomas, or Tim Young are all possibilities. If AJ Bramlett, Calvin Booth, or Todd McCullough float this far down, any of them would be a sensible selection.

VI. Off Season Moves

After Malone signs his anticipated mega-deal, the Jazz will have no remaining cap room. They will be able to resign Stockton, Hornacek, Anderson, and Fuller (if they so choose) because of the Larry Bird exception.

Because of the two salary cap exceptions in the new collective bargaining agreement, they can pursue one or two other free agents, but won't be able to afford to court a big name. They are interested in finding additional athletic players to combat the likes of San Antonio, and the younger Portland and L.A. teams in the west, as well as more scorers off the bench. One free agent whom the Jazz are rumored to like is the Clippers Eric Piatkowski, who is a fine outside shooter. It is likely that the Clippers will attempt to keep him. They will be able to offer more money than the Jazz would, should he elect to stay. Cedric Henderson, George Lynch, or Scott Burrell fit the profile of athletic free agents they might pursue.

Craig Simpson - Usenet Draft Commissioner

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