In his first NBA draft with the Utah Jazz, vice president of basketball operations Kevin O’Connor selected guard DeShawn Stevenson 23rd overall in the 2000 NBA Draft. For a traditionally conservative franchise, it was a shocking move. Stevenson, at 19 years old, became the youngest as well as the first Jazz 1st-round pick ever selected directly out of high school.
“It’s a move into reality,” O’Connor said following the selection. “The reality is that players in the NBA are getting younger.” In getting younger, the Jazz acquired a player who averaged 30.4 points, 9.7 points rebounds and 6.2 assists per game as a high school senior.
From 2000-2004, Stevenson would play 222 games for the Jazz. Over the course of his tenure in Utah, Stevenson never blossomed into the player the Jazz envisioned him becoming. He displayed a lot of explosiveness and athletic ability (he finished 2nd in the 2001 Dunk Contest) but suffered from inconsistencies in regards to shooting, defending and sticking with the offense. Injury and sub par play among Utah’s veteran wings enabled DeShawn to make 23 starts in 2001-02 but he was unable to become a fixture in the rotation. In 2003 he displayed impressive toughness by sending a message to Ricky Davis that he didn’t care much for Davis’ cheap attempt for a triple-double which was appreciated by his old-school head coach Jerry Sloan who said afterwards “I was glad DeShawn tried to knock [Davis] down.”
Stevenson’s Jazz days appeared to be over a few months later when he screamed at Sloan for not playing him following Utah’s opening game in the 2003 playoffs. Stevenson was suspended and sent home prior to Game 2, but made appearances in the following (and final) three games of the series.
Following the departures of John Stockton and Karl Malone, Stevenson started all 54 games of his games in Utah during the 2003-04 season. He had some good performances (including a 16-point 1st-quarter and team-high 22 points in a road win in Boston) but never quite earned Sloan’s complete trust as Raja Bell often closed out games for the Jazz. Stevenson posted averages of 11.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists on 45% FG shooting, 67% FT shooting and 23.3% 3pt-shooting for Utah before being shipped to Orlando at the trade deadline in exchange for Gordon Giricek.
Sloan’s willingness to play DeShawn even after they had their run-in demonstrates Jerry’s willingness to not harbor grudges and move-on in a professional manner (Jerry gave players such as Chris Morris and Greg Ostertag similar opportunities after ugly sideline incidents).
9 years and an Abraham Lincoln neck-tattoo later, Stevenson is still in the league and has a championship ring in tow. He became a competent-starter on several playoff teams by gradually transforming his identity from an inconsistent athletic guard who was a poor shooter to a above-average tough defensive player and decent 3pt-shooter (34% for his career) who came to accept his offensive limitations (was never going to be a bigtime scorer) and fit into a role.
Looking back on his time in Utah, Stevenson credits Sloan for much of his development. “Playing with Jerry Sloan – Jerry’s a strict coach and we had our ups and downs, but I think he made me stronger as a player,” Stevenson said in an interview with the Dallas Morning News in 2010. “He was tough, but he made me who I am now. If I didn’t go through that kind of system and that caliber of coach, I wouldn’t be in the NBA right now.”
Final verdict on the selection? DeShawn may not have turned out to be a difference-maker for the Jazz but all things considered – he was still a good pick. Better alternatives were not available considering the final six picks of the 1st-round after Stevenson consisted of:
24. Dalibor Bagaric (out of the league by 2004)
25. Jake Tsakalidis (out of the league by 2008)
26. Mamadou N’diaye (out of the league by 2006)
27. Primoz Brezec (8-year career – backup outside of the expansion Bobcats)
28. Erick Barkley (out of the league by 2003)
29. Mark Madsen (9-years – career backup)
The lone draft steal came at pick-#43 where Michael Redd would go on to be an all-star and 20-point scorer for the Bucks but overall 2000 would prove to be an incredibly weak draft with few better options for the Jazz at #23. Furthermore, it could be argued Utah showed wisdom by not making their 2000 draft class (which also included 50th-overall selection Kaniel Dickens who played just 19 games in his NBA career)) any weaker. The Jazz also owned the 26th-overall pick but four days prior to draft night, traded it to Denver in exchange for a future 1st-round pick. The Nuggets used the pick to selected center Mamadou N’diaye.
With picks #14, #21 and #46 in what has also been called a very weak 2013 draft class – the Jazz could select players that may be nothing more than average starters – yet in hindsight prove to be solid choices based on the overall strength of the draft. The best option however, may be trading out of one of their first-round slots and rolling it over into a future asset. Punting isn’t necessarily a bad choice if you receive good field position and score on the ensuing possession.