The Utah Jazz have had the strangest offseason in club history. Not only did the Jazz let many of their top players go, including Paul Millsap — they offloaded other key pieces such as center Al Jefferson and guard Mo Williams.
If you’re counting at home — and rest assured you are — that’s three starters gone from last year’s team. Then, instead of going hog wild on free agents — as Utah has done in years past — the Jazz decided to go much younger, helping themselves to the 2013 NBA Draft.
At the draft the Jazz moved up to snag Michigan guard/consensus player of the year Trey Burke, then shuffled things around a little more to grab French center Rudy Gobert — whom the Jazz hope will be the second coming of Mark Eaton with his ridiculous wingspan.
Neither Burke nor Gobert did a thing worth mentioning for the Jazz’ summer league entry in Orlando — so Utah brass went back to the drawing board and came up with a few more solutions.
Chances are pretty good you’ve heard of some of these players — though they’re mostly lunchpail types who have bounced around from team to team. Among this group, however, you have one common thread: they all work hard, they are all team players and above all, some have been to the NBA’s mountaintop. Scattered among them are some young up-and-comers with loads of potential.
So here are the five new players to watch — most of whom you may not have heard of:
John Lucas III – Guard – via Toronto Raptors (Free Agent)
When you hear John Lucas you think of the great NBA guard who also battled some demons before cleaning himself up.
But that’s not this John Lucas; you’re thinking of his dad.
This John Lucas is a journeyman NBA guard out of Oklahoma State who is in his fifth season, despite having bounced back and forth from the league to Europe to China, with multiple stops in the D-League scattered between before settling back in the NBA.
His job in Utah is very simple: groom little Trey Burke to become an NBA point guard. Even though Burke may not be the best point guard prospect on the Jazz it is Lucas’ job to make him the best he can be.
Lucas has never been one to shy from the spotlight, and you can guarantee he’ll have his opportunity to crack the starting lineup — possibly even be the starter on this young Jazz team.
What that means for you, exactly, is unknown: he averaged just over five points per game in 49 games (a career high) last season.
He can hit the three point shot — he shot 40 percent from there — but he honestly hasn’t ever played a full season of basketball so it’s hard to gauge whether he can keep it going through an 82-game grind. That said, Jazz fans are hopeful.
Brandon Rush – Guard – via Golden State Warriors (Trade)
Rush has always been the kind of player who has a huge upside — but is never able to deliver on all of his promise.
Also in his fifth season a la Lucas, Rush played against Lucas often as a member of the Kansas Jayhawks, a team Rush helped lead to a national championship in his junior year.
But as a pro, Rush simply hasn’t been as fortunate. In three seasons with the Indiana Pacers he averaged just over eight points per game before being traded to Golden State — where he had his best season as a pro, scoring almost 10 points per game.
But the main reason Jazz brass are high on this kid is that he was the only player last year in the entire league to average over 50 percent in field goal shooting and 45 percent from three point land.
If there were ever a player who probably hasn’t but could certainly reach his limitless potential and become an All-Star, this is the one Jazz acquisition who could do that.
Andres Biedrins – Center – via Golden State Warriors (Trade)
Biedrins came over to Utah as part of the trade that brought both he and Brandon Rush to the Jazz.
He is a streaky shooter who has hit on 60 percent or more of his shots in eight seasons as an NBA player.
The Jazz are likely hoping that he fills a similar role to that of former Jazzman Mehmet Okur, the Turkish center who could stretch defenses with his perimeter shooting.
Though Biedrins is a curious pickup for sure, it’s also important to note that he is in the downward phase of his career, which is probably why Golden State — the only team for which he’s ever played — was willing to part company so willingly.
The Latvian will be entering his ninth season as a pro in the United States — but when you factor in his other two seasons as a pro in Latvia, you’re looking at someone who is a curious pickup but likely won’t amount to much in a Jazz uniform.
That said, he can shoot and with the Jazz big men being so young it’s possible Utah could eke another year or two out of the 7-footer.
Ian Clark – Guard – Belmont University (Free Agent)
Nobody knows much about Clark but the former star out of Belmont University absolutely dominated the Las Vegas Summer League — though he didn’t participate for the Jazz in Orlando (He played for the Miami Heat entry and made that tournament’s second team).
He led Golden State’s entry to the Vegas league championship, however, scoring 33 points en route to being named the game’s MVP.
What made that performance astonishing is that the former Ohio Valley Conference co-player of the year (he averaged 18 points per game) wasn’t even the team’s focal point; he was fighting for minutes with Warriors regulars Draymond Green and others.
But, his summer league play parlayed into a two-year, partially guaranteed deal to play for the Jazz (there is an option on his second year).
He is Belmont’s all-time leading scorer and was named all-conference all four years there.
He has a masterful three-point stroke; he is very well-educated, soft-spoken and articulate. The Jazz certainly hope he can do similar things in the NBA and so far, he has said and done all the right things as well.
Richard Jefferson – Forward – via Golden State Warriors (Trade)
This is the one piece to this new Jazz puzzle that is very interesting to those who know about Richard Jefferson.
The former Arizona star was drafted by New Jersey and stayed there for several years. He also helped lead the Nets to two NBA Finals appearances, both of which they lost.
After averaging 22 points in the 2007-08 season Jefferson was traded to Milwaukee, where he played one year before being traded to San Antonio.
He played with the Spurs for three seasons before being traded to the Warriors.
Since his time with the Spurs, however, Jefferson’s numbers have declined.
In Utah his role will be mentoring players like Gordon Hayward, which is one role Jefferson gladly welcomes — as a son of Christian missionaries.
The one unknown is whether in his 12th season Jefferson will still display a feathery shooting touch. Everyone knows he is a consummate team player.
As recently as two years ago he was averaging nine points per game with the Warriors and so it’s possible the former Arizona star will rebound from his worst statistical year.
The kicker is he hasn’t played a full season of basketball in three years.
The Jazz certainly hope that this piece to the complex puzzle they’ve assembled will come through and provide the minutes, leadership and stability necessary to take them to the next level.