SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Jazz shored up their defense by selecting Kansas center Udoka Azubuike with the No. 27 pick of the NBA draft Wednesday night.
Azubuike, a 7-footer from Nigeria, gives Utah a rim protector and interior defender who can be a backup center to spell Rudy Gobert. He relishes having an opportunity to have a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year as a mentor in his rookie season.
“I’m just excited from day one to learn from him, to pick his brain in terms of how he plays and how he blocks shots and how he affects the game defensively,” Azubuike said.
Besides being a defensive ace, Azubuike is also an accurate shooter around the basket.
During his four-year career with the Jayhawks, he set an NCAA record with a .748 career field goal percentage. Azubuike averaged 12.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks in 87 career games at Kansas.
Azubuike is a rarity in the one-and-done era – a first-round pick who played four years of college ball. He believes that extra experience will help him adjust to the NBA quickly.
“Being a four-year guy, I’ve experienced pretty much anything,” Azubuike said. “I feel like the transition is gonna be pretty easy for me.”
Azubuike’s selection came as a minor surprise. The Jazz were widely expected to target a defender on the wing or a power forward who could play on the perimeter with their first-round pick.
Utah addressed some perimeter needs by acquiring Syracuse guard Elijah Hughes from the New Orleans Pelicans in a draft-night trade. Hughes led the ACC in scoring during the 2019-20 season with 19.0 points per game. The 6-foot-6 guard averaged 13.9 points on 41.1% shooting over three seasons with the Orange and East Carolina.
Utah acquired the No. 27 pick and No. 38 pick from New York in a separate trade Wednesday morning, sending the No. 23 pick and the rights to Ante Tomic to the Knicks.
Tomic, a 7-foot-2 center from Croatia, never appeared in a game for the Jazz since being selected in the second round of the 2008 NBA draft.
The Jazz later dealt the No. 38 pick to the Detroit Pistons, along with backup center Tony Bradley, for cash and future considerations. Bradley appeared in 70 games over three seasons with Utah, making three starts. He averaged 4.4 points and 4.2 rebounds in 10.4 minutes per game.
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