What if the Utah Jazz had opted to pick Devin Booker 12th overall in the 2015 draft as opposed to Trey Lyles? How would things be different for the franchise today?
Back in June of 2015, the Utah Jazz were entering a (somewhat) pivotal offseason. The team had just shocked the world by finishing 19-10 during the final stretch of regular season, and rolled out the stingiest defense in the league during that stretch.
Armed with a late lottery pick and some cap space, they had a unique opportunity to make a big improvement on their record yet again. They went from 25 wins to 38, and the next step seemed to be a 50 win season.
When they were on the clock for the 12th pick of the 2015 NBA draft, the two best options on the big board happened to play on the same Kentucky Wildcats team.
They could select Trey Lyles, a freshman who didn’t get as much playing time or touches on a stacked Kentucky team. At the time Lyles was raw but had solid fundamentals and loads of potential to become a modern “mobile four” in Dennis Lindsey’s words.
It was no secret that the Utah Jazz needed more 3-point snipers on the roster. The league was free falling into a 3-point revolution spear-headed by Steph Curry, and the Jazz were 18th in the league for treys made, and 19th in 3-point field goal percentage.
The Jazz ended up picking Lyles, who really surprised me with his NBA readiness. He had his rookie jitters at first (which was expected), but showed some real growth towards the end of the season.
He could play in transition really well for a 6-foot-10 big, knock down 3-pointers with ease, and put the ball on the floor and get to the rack. His numbers weren’t eye popping by any means (6.1 points and 3.7 boards per game), but he showed a lot of promise his rookie season.
His sophomore year was quite disappointing though given his build-up during his rookie year. Derrick Favors was having trouble with his knee all season long, leaving a wide open door of opportunity for Lyles to seize.
Not only did he fail to seize the starters’ minutes, but he got outplayed by then 34 year old Boris Diaw for the majority of the season and was out of the rotation in the playoffs.
The Jazz packaged Lyles and the 24th pick of the 2017 NBA draft to move up and draft Donovan Mitchell, and the rest is history. Mitchell exploded on the scene as a star player his rookie year, and the Jazz are likely to lock him in a max extension this summer.
One can’t help but wonder though if the Jazz had ended up drafting Devin Booker when they had the chance. Since having a rocky rookie year with sub par shooting efficiency, Book has blossomed into a star.
He broke Kobe Bryant‘s record as the youngest NBA player to ever score more than 70 points in a single game. There was definitely some stat padding in that game by Booker and his teammates to get him opportunities to score, but you can’t deny the extreme talent in Devin’s game.
His legacy is in question though because of the lackluster performances his Phoenix Suns have put together with him as their best player. Part of the blame goes to the Suns’ front office for failing to build a competitive roster.
There’s big questions surrounding Booker as to whether he actually makes his teammates better, his leadership skills if he has any, and his will to win basketball games and have success in the NBA playoffs.
If he can’t erase any of those doubts in Phoenix soon, he would be better off having a fresh start with another franchise to build his legacy. Had the Utah Jazz drafted him at 12th overall, he no doubt would have forced Utah to trade then 23 year-old Alec Burks.
The Jazz would have made the playoffs that season, one which in real life they missed just by a hair. They likely would have been disposed of pretty quickly in the first round, but still have completed an encouraging season.
In real life, the Utah Jazz once again got minimal contributions from Alec Burks in the 2016-17 season after recovering from the scary fall he had back in December of 2015, and its ensuing surgery.
He only appeared in 42 games and struggled to find a consistent role on a team that was pushing hard for the playoffs. Had Devin Booker been there though, he would have improved upon his rookie year and first time experience of being in the playoffs.
In reality, Booker jumped from 13 points per game his rookie season to 22 his sophomore year in the NBA. His assist to turnover ratio still wasn’t great, and neither was his efficiency, but that comes often from young players playing a big role on a bad team.
Booker in Utah would have had the luxury of playing as a complementary scorer to Gordon Hayward and George Hill, and would have had more wide open shots and less defensive attention than what he had as the leading scorer in Phoenix.
The NBA playoffs come again, and the Jazz make it to the second round only to be swept in four games by the juggernaut Golden State Warriors. Utah trades for Ricky Rubio on 2017 draft day in a failed effort to convince Hayward to stay in Salt Lake.
But unlike the real 2017 draft, this time the Jazz don’t trade up to pick Donovan Mitchell. Instead they roll into the 2017-18 season with a starting five of Rubio, Booker, Ingles, Favors, and Gobert.
Midway through the season they make a big shakeup, packaging Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors and acquiring Nikola Mirotic and Justin Holiday from the Chicago Bulls. This move helps the Jazz’s offense and spacing as they gear up for a third straight playoff run.
Devin Booker averages a cool 24 points per game leading Utah to a 4-3 series victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, and has an even more impressive series against James Harden in the semi-finals. The Jazz end up losing in six games to the Rockets, and head into a pivotal offseason.
Booker has completed three seasons and is now eligible for an extension to his rookie contract. His camp won’t settle for anything less than a five year max extension, but the Jazz are hesitant to bite for a couple reasons.
One, his defense hasn’t been spectacular despite three years of developing under Utah’s defensive coaches. And two, they don’t want to max him out just because he had a great playoff series months earlier. They need to see more, and no extension is signed.
The 2018-19 season shows little to no growth for the Utah Jazz, and that includes Devin Booker as well. He averages over 25 points per game but at just 22 years old hasn’t truly arrived as the superstar the Jazz need him to be.
They get a re-match with the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, except this time Utah has home court advantage. They get revenge on The Beard this time, eliminating them in game seven in front of a sellout Jazz crowd.
The Jazz advance to face the Golden State Warriors, and are simply out-matched in fire power. The Dubs make quick work of them in five games, and now the Jazz have a decision to make on restricted free agent Devin Booker.
The New York Knicks come swooning for Booker’s services and offer him a deal he can’t refuse: five years and over 160 million dollars. He signs the offer sheet, and the Jazz have 48 hours to match and/or look into a sign and trade with the Knicks.
Dennis Lindsey and Justin Zanik make the tough decision to sign and trade Booker to the Big Apple in exchange for the rights to RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr, and Kevin Knox.
The message coming from Jazz management is that they didn’t want to financially commit the majority of their cap space to a core that had never made it out of the second round of the playoffs.
But “sources” from the media claim that Devin wanted to play in a system that gave him more total control of the offense.
He got tired of Quin Snyder’s heavy ball movement schemes and wanted the ball in his hands as often as the Greak Freak in Milwaukee, or James Harden in Houston. He finally gets to be the undisputed star in a big market in New York.
The Jazz fail to re-sign Nikola Mirotic, as he walks away from the NBA to play for FC Barcelona. They allow Ricky Rubio to walk away in free agency for nothing in return, and are left with Rudy Gobert and a rebuilding roster.
They start the first 40 games of their season winning only 17 games, and Rudy Gobert is finally traded away to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for their unprotected first round draft pick in 2020 and D’Angelo Russell.
After a great run from 2016 to 2019 which featured four playoff runs and three trips to the Western Conference Semi-Finals, the Utah Jazz went into full rebuild mode around a hoard of young prospects and one time All-Star in D’Angelo Russell.