Utah Jazz: NBA TV Analyst Stu Jackson Talks No. 12 Pick

Marquette Golden Eagles forward Henry Ellenson (13) is a player that NBA-TV analyst Stu Jackson sees as a potential fit with the Utah Jazz. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports
Marquette Golden Eagles forward Henry Ellenson (13) is a player that NBA-TV analyst Stu Jackson sees as a potential fit with the Utah Jazz. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports /

With the 2016 NBA Draft just days away, we spoke to a former coach/exec in the league, NBA TV analyst Stu Jackson, about the Utah Jazz and their approach to the No. 12 pick.

Stu Jackson is a true student of the game of basketball. He’s been a coach in both the college and professional ranks, the NBA’s executive VP of basketball operations and an associate commissioner of the Big East conference.

Jackson, who has coached the likes of Patrick Ewing, Mark Jackson, Michael Finley and Shareef Abdur-Rahim, took some time to share his thoughts on the Utah Jazz, their future and the 2016 NBA Draft with Purple & Blues this week.

With the Jazz slated to pick at No. 12 in the first round, there’s a debate among the fan base on whether the team should bring in another young player or consider moving the pick in a trade. Jackson sees a scenario where the Jazz could look to move their selection.

“It’s interesting. At the back-end of the lottery, there are still going to be some frontcourt players with size available that may be coveted by other teams behind them. So, given the fact that they’ve got Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, Trey Lyles–who looks like he’s going to be a very good player–that pick at No. 12 may be attractive to someone to pick up a frontcourt player. Perhaps you move back a couple spots and get a veteran that fits your culture, that would be a rotation player, and pick up a later selection for the 12 spot.”

If the Jazz decide to keep the pick, Jackson is a firm believer that you go with the best prospect available in the draft–even if they play in the frontcourt, where Utah has a cadre of talented big men.

“I understand you’ve got Lyles, Favors and Gobert, but you’ve got to take the best asset value on the board at the time for your franchise. You can’t fall into the trap of trying to get a positional player at that point because the draft is not the end all. When you have the best asset on the board, that asset has value. It may not be with you, it may be another team down the road. I think you’ve got to take the best asset value on the board. Even if it’s a frontcourt player.”

The former Knicks, Grizzlies and Wisconsin Badgers coach also believes that the older, more experienced players in the draft may have something to offer teams. While some feel that those players tend to have less upside than their younger counterparts, Jackson stresses that players need to be evaluated on a case by case basis.

“By way of example, if you were looking at this year’s draft, and you look at a player like Kris Dunn, he’s 22 years old. He’s a four-year player, although, academically, he’s listed as a junior, he missed an entire season. He’d be considered one of those older players that some people may label as someone without a lot of upside, and I think the guy has some of the biggest upside of any player in the lottery.”

Jackson continued: “I mean, he’s athletic, he’s long, he’s in a position where he has to learn–and he can learn. He’s a gym rat. Defensively, he may be the best perimeter defender in the draft. With a player like that, it’s difficult for me to say, ‘He doesn’t have a lot of upside.’ You don’t know what Kris Dunn can become in three or four years.”

For an example of this, the Jazz needn’t look further than their own roster. While Rodney Hood technically only played two years of college ball, the Jazz guard turned 22 before the start of his rookie season.

“I would say he’s on the curve of his upside. I don’t think there’s anyone who would argue with that, and that’s a good thing,” Jackson remarked. “But it doesn’t mean that a 22-year-old coming into the league can’t also be that. Rodney Hood still has some upside left.”

One player who may not have that upside is Wooden Award winner Buddy Hield. Still, Hield could be an example of a player that is ready early on, thanks to his ability to shoot the basketball.

“By the same token, you think about a guy like Buddy Hield. Perhaps he’s going to be a terrific player in the NBA; arguably, one of the best shooters in the game at some point. He doesn’t have the athletic ability to really have that kind of upside, but he’s probably ready to get put in the game in November. It just varies from player to player.”

Denzel Valentine Michigan State Spartans Utah Jazz 2016 NBA Draft
Feb 28, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Denzel Valentine (45) gestures to the crowd during the first half of a game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports /

One such player that could be on the board when the Jazz are on the clock is AP National Player of the Year Denzel Valentine. But, as one of these older prospects, what might Valentine’s trajectory be at the next level?

Jackson acknowledges Valentine’s limitations, saying, “It’s interesting. I think with Denzel, he’s a little bit limited athletically.”

However, he also sees areas in which the Michigan State star can improve his game.

“He’ll have upside on the mental side of the game. Physically, he can get some upside with respect to his body. You’ve got that big husky frame that, at this level, he could stand to lose fifteen pounds. He’ll have some upside that way. Athletically, he’s never going to be the kind of player that, to me, is All-Star caliber, but it doesn’t mean he can’t be a very good NBA player.”

Of course, for Valentine to be a success at the next level, both the position he plays and the team he goes to could play a large role.

“It’s tough, because, offensively, I think he can run your team. Defensively, it would be difficult for him to defend an opposing guard, which now you’re talking about fitting him into a system where you have another unique guard alongside him. A guard that can defend both the point and the two. I think he’s better served playing two guards or small forwards.”

Given the fact that the Jazz may find themselves chosing between one of the frontcourt players in the draft, who does Jackson see as asset value with the twelfth pick? While he would defer to the team’s management, the people who know the intricacies of their team, he thinks there’s a lot to like about Marquette big man Henry Ellenson.

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“I’m going to sound biased,” he said. “But a guy like Ellenson would be a good candidate.”

There has been some concern over Ellenson’s ability to fulfill his potential as a stretch big after the 19-year-old made just 29 percent of his three-pointers last season. However, Jackson thinks he’ll be able to overcome his collegiate shooting struggles.

“The fact that he will take and sometimes make perimeter shots, to me, is a good sign. His mechanics aren’t broken. He has a tendency to shoot the ball flat, which is a function of inconsistent balance taking perimeter jump shots, but he’ll acquire that. Most players, in general, get better shooting the ball when they enter the NBA because of the amount of development time that they spend. I have no question that Henry Ellenson will be a stretch frontcourt player.”

However, Ellenson’s talents don’t end there in Jackson’s estimation. He even compared his skill set to a potential top five pick in the draft.

“What you get with him is a guy that can rebound, and he rebounds in traffic. You get a guy at that size who is a very good passer, both at half-court and full-court. Like a guy at the top end of the lottery in Dragan Bender, [Ellenson] legitimately has the ability to get the ball off of the backboard, start your fast break, and make a sound passing decision.”

With the importance of ball movement and pace in the modern NBA, those are attributes that could mesh well with Utah’s personnel. For his part, Jackson sees the potential for good things.

“Thats one hell of a weapon to have in today’s NBA. If you’re talking about now, all of a sudden, your big guy grabs the ball off the board and he’s pushing it with Exum, Hood and Hayward on the wings–Wow, that’s tough to guard. It’s a weapon that not a lot of teams have. To me in the draft, Ellenson and Bender, they potentially could be those kind of players.”

Next: Plumlee, VanVleet Work Out for Utah Jazz

NBA TV analyst Stu Jackson will be part of the network’s week-long NBA Draft coverage, including Draft HQ (Monday, June 20 at 9 p.m. ET), Mock Draft 2016 (Wednesday, June 22 at 9 p.m. ET) and live draft day coverage beginning at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday, June 23.

Read Part II of our interview with Mr. Jackson HERE.