A year ago, the Utah Jazz traded down in the 2020 NBA Draft and came away roundly criticized both for getting outmaneuvered for higher picks, as well as for the perception that they used a first-round pick on a second-round talent.
On Thursday night, in the 2021 NBA Draft, they traded down again. This time, though, they came away lauded not only for picking up some extra assets for their trouble, but mainly for landing a first-round talent with a second-round selection.
The object of all those analysts’ affection? Baylor guard Jared Butler.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound combo guard averaged 16.7 points, 4.8 assists and 3.3 rebounds, while shooting 41.6% from 3-point range in leading the Baylor Bears to the national championship this season. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four after scoring 17 points in the semifinals and 22 points in the national title game.
“He’s a special, special guy,” Jazz general manager Justin Zanik said afterward at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus practice facility, as the calendar turned to Friday. “… He’s had a great career and he’s been playing at the highest level for a long time. We’ve followed him closely. We obviously have people in the organization that have a lot of Baylor ties, and that gives us great comfort to have a really, really good feel about him as a player and as a person.”
The Jazz were slated to pick 30th overall — the final pick of the first round — but struck a deal with the Memphis Grizzlies, who used the selection to grab Spanish big man Santi Aldama of Loyola (Md.). In return, the Jazz got the No. 40 pick in this draft, plus two future second-round picks, per a report by the Daily Memphian.
Zanik, overseeing his first draft as the team’s primary decision-maker since Dennis Lindsey stepped into a consultant’s role, conceded that there were additional terms to the deal, but he could not discuss them — likely because the trade cannot be officially completed until the new league year begins Aug. 6, owing to Butler being selected with a pick that came to the Grizzlies just days ago as part of their wide-ranging deal with the Pelicans that included a swap of Jonas Valanciunas for Steven Adams.
A consensus All-America First Team honoree, Butler was widely considered a first-round talent, even a top-20 prospect by many, but slipped due to medical concerns.
Butler was diagnosed with a heart condition back in 2018, but was cleared to play each of his three collegiate seasons. However, in the predraft process, the NBA decided to take a longer look, subjecting him to additional testing and limiting him to interviews and team visits, while holding him out of workouts.
He ultimately was medically cleared by a “Fitness to Play” panel on July 17, but some teams were apparently wary of selecting him.
The 20-year-old is regarded as an exceptional ball-handler and an excellent scorer in both isolation and off of screens. He is an aggressive and efficient pull-up 3-point shooter, and a good passer as a secondary playmaker.
He is considered a solid defender, though not an exceptional one. He has a 6-5 wingspan, and is known for his intelligent, heady play and strong close-outs. He also led the Big 12 in steals as a junior, with 2.0 per game, but probably lacks the length to be able to bother bigger, longer perimeter players in the league.
Butler, a Louisiana native, originally committed to Alabama but never played for the Tide. Instead, he wound up at Baylor and made both an instant impact and tangible progress year-over-year.
He was an All-Big 12 Freshman Team honoree, when he averaged 10.2 points while shooting 35.1% from 3. As a sophomore, he was All-Big 12 First Team, scoring 16 ppg and shooting 38.1% beyond the arc. Meanwhile, his field-goal shooting went from 39.5% to 42.1% to 47.1% over his three seasons. His playmaking also took a huge leap his final year, as he jumped from 2.7 assists to 3.1 to 4.8.
How he fits with a team that finished with the best regular-season record in the league and is chasing a championship remains to be seen.
In perhaps a worst-case scenario for the Jazz, he could be in line for immediate rotation minutes if they are not able to retain All-Star point guard Mike Conley, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent. Should Utah bring Conley back, Butler is more likely to get spot minutes in the backcourt behind Conley, All-Star Donovan Mitchell, and Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson. At various times this past season, the Jazz turned to Miye Oni and rookie two-way signee Trent Forrest to fill those minutes. If nothing else, Butler should prove an upgrade in that role.
“He’s got a varied skill set that he’s displayed at the highest levels of college basketball — with a lot of experience playing in really big games, he has produced in big games, [he’s] a great leader, a great teammate,” said Zanik. “And the multi-skilled aspect of his game I think will fit well in what we ask our players to do here.”
Because of the timeline in getting the trade approved, Zanik noted that Butler would be in town for the upcoming Salt Lake City Summer League (to be held Aug. 3, 4, and 6) but was unlikely to play in it. However, should the trade be approved on schedule, Butler’s a good bet to appear on the Jazz’s entry into the Las Vegas Summer League, to be held Aug. 9-17.
Also of importance, the Jazz get a first-round talent on a second-round salary. With the team committed to spending tens of millions of dollars in salary over the cap already, filling out the roster with cheap talent will prove paramount. Butler will certainly prove that. Utah adding an extra two future picks in the process to get a guy they might well have selected at No. 30 anyway proved an extra bonus.
“We were really excited when we had a chance to get him,” Zanik said. “It was a no-brainer.”
USU center headed to Sacramento
With the 39th pick in the NBA draft, the Sacramento Kings selected Utah State star Neemias Queta.
The 7-footer was a two-time Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year for the Aggies and averaged 14.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per game last season.
Queta is the highest pick out of Utah State since Brian Jackson (26th overall, Portland) in 1981. This is the second year in a row USU has seen a player drafted. Last year, the Milwaukee Bucks took guard Sam Merrill with the 60th pick.