Grading risky decision for Jazz to draft Keyonte George

Keyonte George at the 2023 NBA Draft. Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images
Keyonte George at the 2023 NBA Draft. Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images /

The Utah Jazz came into the 2023 NBA Draft with three first-round picks and plenty of needs on a roster that is both talented and incomplete. Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler are the sure bets, but how the team fills out around them is still an open question.

Defense and shooting in the frontcourt and shot-creation in the backcourt were two specific needs that the Jazz had coming into Thursday night. They addressed the first two with the No. 9 pick, selecting the University of Central Florida’s Taylor Hendricks.

Then, after plenty of discussions about a potential trade with the 16th pick, the Jazz ultimately stayed put and addressed the backcourt, taking Baylor guard Keyonte George:

Wojnarowski wasn’t kidding about George being high on Utah’s board. He has been linked to the Jazz throughout the draft process and was mocked to Utah as recently as the day of the draft by multiple analysts, including The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie, who is one of the most accurate mock draft experts in the business.

George was a projected Top-10 pick heading into his freshman season at Baylor but had an up-and-down year that saw him slip down into the middle of the first round. The talent is undeniable, but there are some serious questions about how he puts it all together.

An exceptional ballhandler, George can maneuver around the court and is an expert at varying his speed and shifting his weight to make his path unpredictable. The main problem is that whenever he does create that space, he tends to miss. He shot just 37 percent from the field this season, a shockingly bad number.

George is a good passer but not special, so it’s unclear whether he can be a true lead guard at the NBA level. If he can, he has the size and decent defensive chops to be a difference-maker at point guard. If he has to be a shooting guard, then his 6’4″ size moves from a strength to a potential liability.

Yet the Jazz need to take risks to find their future backcourt; Jordan Clarkson isn’t the long-term answer, and Talen Horton-Tucker and Collin Sexton have been wildly inconsistent. Keyonte George’s range of outcomes absolutely includes a high-scoring point guard with good size; it just also includes an inefficient chucker who can’t get onto the court for a good team.

Some draft analysts instantly reacted positively to the selection, including The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor:

Other analysts, on the other hand, had bigger question marks. Sam Vecenie ranked Keyonte George 26th, while I had him ranked 25th on my board. The poor shooting and high turnovers are a major issue, and the assists he did have seemed to be generated by the Baylor system. He looks more like a combo guard to me, and with George’s tools as a 6’4″ middling athlete, he profiles as a long-term bench player.

Still, there is real upside here, and the Jazz need to place bets in the backcourt and see what happens. Cam Whitmore and Dariq Whitehead were both much higher on my board, while Brice Sensabaugh was a backcourt player who actually shot well in college, but if the Jazz wanted to take a shot at a lead guard, George was probably the best pick.

Grade: B-