The Utah Jazz went 25-27 last season, which was the worst record in the Western Conference. The team recently fired former head coach Tyrone Corbin and hired former Atlanta Hawks assistant coach Quin Snyder to replace him. Snyder inherits a roster with a lot of young talent, including Gordon Hayward, Trey Burke, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter.
Entering the NBA draft last Thursday, it was not clear who the Jazz would ultimately select with the fifth overall pick. When their time to pick came, the Jazz chose Dante Exum from the Australian Institute of Sport, despite the fact that they acquired a talented point guard in last year’s draft in Burke. When asked about playing alongside Burke, Exum said that he knows it will take some give-and-take from both guards.
“On the Australian team, Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova and I were in that system, and those are both point guards, so you work around it,” Exum said. “I already spoke to [Burke], and he’s excited to have me, and I’m excited to be there. I know we’re both going to give up something a little so everyone’s happy.”
Exum is an explosive athlete, and has the size and skills to potentially play both point guard and shooting guard. However, there are still questions surrounding how Exum and Burke will fit next to one another, and how both players will be used.
“They got a new coach now, so I’m sure it’s going to be a different system,” Exum said. “I like to play up and down and kind of find my guys in transition. I think the coach being a point guard, he’s going to know how to utilize me and Trey. So that’s what I mean to do. … Speaking to Coach [Snyder] after I got drafted, it was good to hear the plans and the development he has planned for me, so I couldn’t be happier.”
It was not obvious who the Jazz were going to select entering the draft since the team has young talent at all five positions. Considering this, the Jazz went with the best player they thought was left on the board.
When asked if he thought he would be a franchise player for Utah and an All-Star in the future, Exum said: “That’s the future. You never know what’s going to happen in the future. I take it one day at a time. I’m trying to do what I can now so I can get to that caliber. There’s been many players that have been projected and never got to that. But I’m just going to work hard every day and see what happens.”
In addition to drafting Exum, the Jazz selected Rodney Hood from Duke University with the 23rd pick in the draft. Hood was projected as a potential late lottery pick, but was passed over by several teams, allowing the Jazz to snag him.
When asked how he felt about being one of the last players in the green room on draft night, Hood said that the fit was more important than when he was picked.
“You know, obviously, everybody wants to go high and things like that, but me, I knew it was coming one way or another and I’m just happy to land in a really good spot,” Hood said. “I’ll be able to prove that I was supposed to have been picked higher in years to come. There’s a lot of good players that have been picked later in the first round. So I want to add to that list.”
Hood thought he would be selected earlier in the draft, and looks forward to proving that he should have been.
“It just happens like that sometimes [slipping in the draft],” Hood said. “I can’t wait to get back to [work]. I’ll go back to Mississippi for a couple of days, and I’ll get right to work because I got a lot of proving to do in Summer League.”
With Exum falling to the Jazz with the fifth pick, and Hood at No. 23, the Jazz feel as though they got exactly what they wanted and needed from this draft.
“With Dante and Rodney, we’re excited,” Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said. “They’re excellent players, but they’re better young men and we feel, literally, that there couldn’t have been two better fits for the Jazz organization and what we stand for.”
After draft night, there is reason for optimism in Utah. For the last few years, the team has been somewhere between a roster overhaul and a concerted attempt to be competitive. Last offseason, the team allowed forward Paul Millsap and center Al Jefferson to move on to other teams, and finally embraced their youth movement. Hood recognizes the young talent in Utah and is looking forward to competing in the Western Conference for years to come.
“Man, it feels great,” Hood said. “I thank the Utah Jazz for believing in me as a player and drafting me. They got a good young group and all. I’m just happy to be part of the team and hopefully make some runs in the West.”
While the Jazz had a great draft, there are still a lot of questions for the team moving forward. Most pressing, small forward Gordon Hayward will be a restricted free agent this offseason, and will get a lot of interest from teams looking for a young, versatile player. The Jazz have been clear about wanting to keep Hayward, but it is uncertain how much Hayward is worth and how much the Jazz are willing to spend to keep him. If Hayward does move on, Hood will be there to try and fill the void.
The Jazz didn’t draft for need, but instead took the players they thought were the best available overall. When looking at the draft results from Thursday, the Jazz clearly emerged as one of the big winners of the evening.
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