With Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough saying during exit interviews the team will take the best player available in the 2017 NBA Draft, it’s time to run through Phoenix’s roster and the possible options with its picks currently at Nos. 2 (projected), 32 and 54.
The Suns will not take a shooting guard in the first round — none are projected in the top-5 and there’s a guy named Devin Booker already on the roster — but there are several intriguing names to watch in round two.
(Note: To make this easier, players that qualify for multiple positions are listed at their best guess and fit with the Suns. Considering Phoenix’s draft positions, there’s also a chunk of the first-round prospects not worth including.)
Team outlook: Booker is well on his way to becoming the face of the franchise if he isn’t already. That’s a fact, but the Suns only have Leandro Barbosa behind him on the depth chart and the last year of the veteran’s contract coming up is only partially guaranteed.
With free agency being a big unknown and the Suns needing players that can defend and shoot, this makes the two a position to watch with one of the Suns’ two second-round picks.
Draft outlook: This is the thinnest position in the class by a substantial margin. Kentucky’s Malik Monk instant offense and shooting in need of the ball is an awkward fit on the roster, and with what would be available in the 4-5 range, it would be incredibly surprising if the Suns were even considering him.
Monk might be called a combo guard more than a shooting guard anyway, and if that’s the case, there could be just four shooting guards going in the first round. Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell, Duke’s Luke Kennard, Barcelona’s Rodions Kurucs and former Arizona commit Terrance Ferguson, who spent a season playing professionally in Australia, are all players the Suns could use off the bench, but they are firmly locked in as middle to late first-round picks.
Beyond the top end, however, it’s a very deep position and a safe bet would be the Suns selecting a two-guard at either No. 32 or 54.
If the Suns’ outlook on this draft is to grab players that can help them win now, this is actually a good spot on the floor to observe as well. Sindarius Thornwell, Josh Hart, Wesley Iwundu and Sterling Brown are all at least 22 years old and offer different NBA-ready skills. All of them could slip right into a rotation role day one in the right situation and at least one of them will be compared to Malcolm Brogdon — the No. 36 selection last year — on draft night. Brogdon is a Rookie of the Year contender after playing well in a significant role for the Bucks this year following his four years at Virginia.
All of these players would fit with the Suns to a certain degree because the luxury of a point guard and primary ball-handler like Tyler Ulis running the second unit is making that aforementioned “right situation” more simple. Ulis could maximize any of the four mentioned shooting guards on offense and make them more comfortable from the jump.
Thornwell is the one guy in this second round group you’ve probably heard of and someone who could easily go in the first round. The breakout star of the NCAA Tournament, Thornwell’s just a baller.
He proved productive at South Carolina, averaging 21.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.1 steals and one block a game in his final season. To paint a picture as to how absurd those averages are, according to College Sports-Reference, a line of averaging at least 20 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two assists has been done just 20 times since 1995.
Thornwell is one of the most balanced players in this class. He always knows where to be, can get you a bucket when you need one and has a relentless work ethic on both ends. He’s a fine shooter and passer, a great defender and will use floaters on bigger defenders and a post game on smaller ones.
He does have flaws, though. He’s not that fast, might not have true NBA three-point range with a slow release as seen above and doesn’t have a great handle, but he’s still a guy to bet on.
The fit in Phoenix is very obvious. It’s not a complex thought exercise to close your eyes and imagine a second unit of Ulis and Thornwell being an absolute nightmare for opposing teams to deal with night in and night out. Logic says he will continue to rise out of a second-round grade and become a consensus first rounder like he is for some already, but if he’s there at No. 32, there won’t be a better overall basketball player on the board than him.
Hart is a do-it-all bucket-getter similar to Thornwell that will thrive as a role player if he can focus on a couple of key areas of the floor when asked to do less. If he does that, his transition to the pro game will be seamless, which is why you’ll see him ranked as high as the 10-20 range by some despite being a borderline first-rounder on most boards online.
Hart shot at least 50 percent in all four of his collegiate seasons and in his senior year put up shooting percentage splits of 51-40-75 while averaging 18.7 points per game. His athleticism is average and he’s not going to create much, but like this entire group, he reeks of the senior that goes 10-15 spots too low. If there was a “dream win-now scenario” for the Suns that doesn’t have them picking first overall, it’s a Josh Jackson selection in the first round and either Thornwell or Hart in the second round, giving them two guys who could help them win right away.
Iwundu, who posted 13 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists for Kansas State, is the perfect example of why college basketball is so great.
He got better every year, eventually turning into a point forward who continued to improve enough as a shooter to land on the draft radar. Iwundu went from taking a combined 66 three-pointers in his first three seasons to shooting 37.6 percent on his 85 attempts as a senior.
Unlike some of the other names here, Iwundu would be more of a selection to continue development with the NAZ Suns. He’s becoming a very popular name in the second round.
Brown, the younger brother of former Sun Shannon Brown, jumped out for SMU in the NCAA Tournament as a player who looked like he belonged in the pros. His terrific 6-foot-6, 230-pound frame for a combo guard is further exemplified by the way he uses it. He was also a 45-percent three-point shooter on nearly four attempts a game in his senior year.
He’s not a go-to scorer, but he’s efficient when he’s asked to be, shooting 60.2 and 45.9 percent from the field in his last two seasons, averaging double figures in both. A player who could defend both guard positions, make little plays and hit open shots could be extremely valuable for the Suns off the bench.
Two developmental names to watch are P.J. Dozier and Rawle Alkins.
Dozier out of South Carolina is one guy to highlight for the Suns here as a lengthy, athletic complementary combo guard who could potentially play with or behind Booker. At the same age as Booker, Dozier has the potential to grow that some of the other players mentioned here don’t. For the Gamecocks, Dozier was the second-leading scorer behind Thornwell, putting up 13.9 points to go along with 4.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.
He’s still filling in his skillset and finding out what he’s great at, but the quick read on it highlights his defense and shooting. While the ability to defend both guard positions is absolutely there, his shooting fell off a cliff in conference play and he ended the year shooting 29 percent. The combine will be a big day for him to lock up a chance at being drafted. Unlike the next two names, Dozier is in the draft for good, which after a Final Four run and nearly being 21 years old isn’t the worst decision despite his low second-round outlook.
If there was a First Team “if this guy was only two inches taller,” Alkins would be the captain of it. At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds halfway to 20 years old, Alkins averaged of 10.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, and was at times the Wildcats’ best player last season. He had the tendency to always make the big play on either end.
At times, he looked more than your typical “3-and-D” prospect, flashing the potential for a big-time offensive game, getting better as an attacker throughout the year and consistently making the right pass. He won’t be a point guard, but combo guard skills were not something to be expected when he arrived in Tucson. A riser to keep an eye on despite his size.
For the “draft-and-stash” variety, Kostja Mushidi (6-foot-5, 7-foot wingspan, 225 pounds) is an NBA body that could reward a team that lets him develop his ball skills for a few years overseas.
If you can knock down open shots and defend both guard spots, there’s a spot for you in this league. A few years is the key phrase there mentioned earlier, as unlike most of the players in this section, he wouldn’t be ready for NBA ball for quite some time, but selecting him could pay off big time.