The Utah Jazz are closing in on becoming relevant in the Western Conference for the first time in years. They have good pieces to build on all over the court including playmakers on both ends of the floor.
But the thought that the resurgence of Oklahoma City should give the Jazz hope is ridiculous! The only thing the two teams have in common is the division they play in and the market size.
That’s where the realistic comparisons stop. The Thunder have two of the game’s top 5 or 10 players. While Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert are nice players, they just don’t compare to Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook.
Add in the fact that Oklahoma City has made some nice trades (even though the premature move to deal Harden set them back), to add key pieces and the separation starts to show itself.
Then look at the draft and the gap gets a lot wider. Where the Jazz have made some good picks (along with some huge misses), the Thunder have been close to perfect.
Elite players like Westbrook and Durant came via the draft as well as huge contributors like Serge Ibaka, James Harden and Reggie Jackson.
Then look at the picks of a perfect role player like Steven Adams and you can see how well the Thunder front office has done each season in building a championship level roster.
Like I mentioned earlier, the Jazz have made some nice picks, but haven’t had near the success of the Thunder.
The selections of Gobert and Rodney Hood were great choices and have helped build a nice starting lineup. Hayward wasn’t a bad pick either (even though Paul George was still available), improving every year to become a nearly all-star level player. Then there are Dante Exum and Trey Lyles who the organization love, but still have plenty to prove.
That leaves us with the picks of Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and Trey Burke.
Kanter and Burks landed with the Jazz in 2011 in what turned out to be a brutal draft for the organization.
Kanter wasn’t a fit who didn’t want to be in Utah, and he played like it. He showed nothing on the defensive end and was traded for spare parts before his rookie contract was done.
Burks, on the other hand, has shown flashes of offensive brilliance even though he has missed a ton of games.
What really hurts about those two selections is the players who the Jazz could have landed instead. Three of the top 20 players in the game today where still on the board when Utah took and Kanter in Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler. Leonard and Butler were also still available when Burks heard his name called.
That’s tough to recover from. Missing out on elite players when you end up with spare parts and an oft-injured slasher.
While the draft two years later wasn’t as painful (thanks to the selection of Rudy Gobert after trading back into the first round), it still hurt. The Jazz moved two picks to trade up and land Michigan stud Trey Burke. While his career started with some promise, he is now just an afterthought on the end of the bench playing behind a rookie and a journeyman.
What makes matter worse is that they could have taken emerging star C.J. McCollum at that pick or just stayed put and landed Giannis Antetokounmpo who is shining for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Not that I am saying that you have to be perfect in the draft to succeed, but you just can’t miss that much and be successful in a small market where free agents barely ever come!