The NBA Draft Lottery was first implemented in 1985 and it took the Utah Jazz 19 years to finally land a lottery pick – which is the price you pay when combining a conservative front-office with one of the great multi-decade runs in NBA history (20 consecutive postseason appearances).
However all good things must come to an end and despite one of the greatest coaching performances in NBA history (in which the Jazz shattered 9-win predictions with a 42-40 record), Utah missed the 2004 playoffs by 2 games and found themselves picking 14th in the 2004 NBA Draft.
The Jazz had many needs entering the 2004 offseason – the primary one being frontcourt help. The Jazz began the 2003-04 season starting Andrei Kirilenko at PF and Greg Ostertag at C. After losing starting SF Matt Harpring to an ACL injury in early January – the Jazz shifted AK back to his natural SF position and began a PF-by-committee approach that included:
– Michael Ruffin (2.2 pts/33%FG)
-Tom Gugliotta (3.7 pts/38%FG)
-NBDL call-up Mikki Moore (4.6 pts/52%FG) who played well in a reserve role
Needless to say, with Ostertag heading toward free agency the Jazz needed bigs and possessing the 14th, 16th, and 21st overall selections Utah appeared to be in a great position to find at least one. Their top draft target thought to be in their range was Rafael Araujo – a 6-11 280 pound local product from BYU. “Hoffa” was billed to be the physical low-post presence the Jazz needed but he went earlier than expected at #8 to the Raptors.
When the Jazz went on the clock at #14 – they had a choice of two PF’s who were close to equally ranked in Kris Humphries and Al Jefferson. The Jazz opted for Humphries and made him their first lottery selection in franchise history.
Unfortunately for the Jazz, Humphries never compared “favorably to a Karl Malone-type player” despite mentioning the “city of Utah” during his introductory press conference. At the same press conference, Jazz VP of Basketball Operations Kevin O’Connor remarked “What he brings to the table is some quickness and some strength and some athletic ability.”
Humphries saw his immediate role take a hit when the Jazz were shockingly able to sign restricted free agent Carlos Boozer to a 6-year $68 million contract in July. Humphries still had ample opportunity to earn time when Boozer missed the final 31 games of the season with a foot injury, but he simply wasn’t ready mentally or skill-wise to contribute. He made 4 starts but failed to impress in any of them as Sloan would experiment with starting Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur and even Ben Handlogten at PF to finish out the injury-marred 2004-05 season.
Humphries’ own health was really the only think that wasn’t sick about his game. He shot a woeful 40.4% from the field and 43.6% from the foul line while posting averages of 4.1 pts and 2.9 reb with more turnovers than assists. His selfishness along with the immaturity of fellow first-round pick Kirk Snyder (drafted 16th overall) drew the ire of their head coach. “When they keep making the same mistakes over and over again, you have to start questioning whether their head’s into it the right way,” said Sloan in March of 2005. “This is not a one-on-one contest. A lot of these guys think it is.”
The best description I ever read of Humphries’ Jazz tenure went along the lines of “Jerry doesn’t play him because he shoots the ball every time he gets on the court. As a result he doesn’t play much, so when he finally gets out there, he wants to score so badly that he shoots too much, and the cycle continues.”
For a 40% shooter, that wasn’t a wise pattern to repeat.
In the 2005 offseason Snyder was traded and rumors about Humphries’ availability began to surface. Humphries wasn’t moved but his play didn’t change in 2005-06. Not even another injury to Boozer (this time a hamstring that would force him to miss the first 49 games of the season) could prompt significant improvement from Humphries. For the season, Humphries shot an even worse FG% (37.9%) and hovered at just 52% from the foul line.
During the 2006 offseason, the Jazz traded him (along with 2005 2nd-round pick Robert Whaley) to Toronto for the Raptors’ own 2004 draft bust – Araujo – one of Utah’s top draft targets in 2004. “Frankly, we all liked [Araujo]. Larry [Miller] likes him quite a bit, and I did too. We’ve all kept our eyes on him — he might be a sleeper,” said Dennis Haslam who was president of the Jazz for 10 years. On Humphries, Haslam said “things were not going the way we had hoped in terms of [Humphries’] contribution to our team.”
After a few years in Toronto, Humphries gradually developed into a mediocre rotation player before being shipped to Dallas in 2009 and then New Jersey in 2010. In New Jersey – Humphries became a starter for the first time in his career and averaged a double-double two consecutive seasons in 2010-11 and 2011-12. The most important thing about Humphries’ development was that he finally embraced his new NBA identity as
Wally Cleaver an above-average rebounder and garbage points put-back man instead of trying to play like a go-to scorer. He’s not the second-coming of Karl Malone, but he’s a quality backup PF that was solid enough to earn an $8 million salary in the 2012-13 season and a 3-month marriage to Kim Kardashian in 2011.
Rafael Araujo never appeared on a reality show and spent the 2006-07 season as Utah’s 12th-man where he averaged 2.6 pts and 2.4 rebs in 28 games. He returned to play on Utah’s 2007 summer league team but wasn’t re-signed due to the selection of Kyrylo Fesenko in the 2007 Draft. Araujo would never play in the NBA again – which caused many to call the Humphries/Hoffa deal a horrible trade for the Jazz.
I disagree with that notion. Unlike Humphries as a young player, Araujo brought a professional work ethic to the team (he lost 25 pounds prior to joining the Jazz) and offered great enthusiasm from the bench. When called upon due to injury, he played hard and physical – including a 5-point/10-rebound effort in a huge road win in Denver during which Bill Walton raved “We have seen [Araujo] do truly incredible things.”
Every team needs reserves who won’t place team-success ahead of individual stats and Hoffa did that. Best of all, trading Humphries opened the door for Utah’s 2006 2nd-round pick – Paul Millsap – to flourish. Millsap came in and from Day 1 was the anti-Humphries – a no-nonsense, unselfish yet efficient go-getter who was perfectly willing to do all the grunt work in relief of Carlos Boozer. As a team the Jazz fully bought into Jerry Sloan’s system, developing great team chemistry in winning 53 games and advancing to the 2007 Western Conference Finals. This trade was a prime example of “addition by subtraction” for the Jazz.
The hiccups and struggles players like Kris Humphries and Rafael Araujo dealt with early in their careers make the Jazz’s current development of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter even more frustrating. Like many young players, Humphries came into the league with a selfish and inefficient style of play in which he didn’t stick to the offense and was lackadaisical on defense. Derrick Favors is the exact opposite. He doesn’t look to shoot constantly and is already one of the better defensive bigs in the league – yet he plays limited minutes on a Jazz team that is woeful defensively and desperately needs the interior presence he can provide.
Araujo struggled in Toronto due to an advanced age that limited his upside (was a 24-year old rookie), a lack of athleticism and offensive polish, as well as being overweight. Kanter is a 21-year old who is already Utah’s most physical big, is a decent defender, has an inside-outside offensive game and redefined his body and athleticism in the 2012 offseason. No argument can be made that Humphries and Araujo should have played more due to the warts they displayed as young players. The opposite is true with Favors and Kanter – who play the game “the right way” with a team-first mentality where they demonstrate effort at both ends of the floor.
A similar argument can be made regarding DeMarre Carroll – a 4-year veteran who hustles his tail off, makes all the little plays that get his team extra possessions and fully embraces his self-proclaimed “Junk Yard Dog” role. Nevertheless, Carroll still was relegated to the bench in favor of a rusty Josh Howard in the 2012 playoffs and in the 2012-13 regular season received 16 DNP-CD’s (including 9 in the final 16 games in which Utah tried and failed to make a late playoff push).
The attitude, effort, and defensive mindset that Favors and Carroll exhibit should be embraced and rewarded – not admonished and dismissed with terms such as “youth” and “inexperience.”
Regardless of how their careers turn out – at this time I can safely say that neither Favors or Kanter are on track to be a “draft bust,” or a future husband of a Kardashian. On second thought, lets make sure Enes never meets a Kardashian sister. Ever. At this point the only thing Humphries and Kanter have in common is being drafted by Kevin O’Connor, and I hope it stays that way.