Winging it: How the Suns’ future could look at small forward
The Suns need another wing after the trade of P.J. Tucker and as T.J. Warren enters the final year on his rookie deal, and the top of the 2017 NBA Draft could provide them with an answer. Where does Warren stand and how does it perhaps affect the Suns’ decision-making heading into the draft?
We tried to talk it out.
Kellan Olson: Kevin, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s this thing called the NBA Draft coming in two weeks. The Suns pick fourth, and in this year’s class, that means they are likely looking at a point guard or a small forward with that selection.
Let’s start with the small forwards.
In order to evaluate the options, I think it’s best to start by rehashing our thoughts on T.J. Warren. It’s easy to forget that Warren has taken a major step back in all three of his seasons despite showing promise in each. Where are you at with the former top-15 pick?
Kevin Zimmerman: He’s yet to put it all together and his ceiling as a two-way player remains questionable, but I do believe that he is still on track to become a key piece to the Suns’ young core. Will that be as a secondary scoring option and lockdown defender? That might be hard to convince me of at this point.
Nonetheless, Warren has potential to drop 20 on any given night, and that means his floor is at worse as a significant bench contributor. How do you see his future in orange and purple — and regarding the draft, how does his place affect (or not affect) the Suns’ upcoming draft?
KO: Where this gets murky is the fact that Warren is in a contract year and has gotten unlucky every time he’s wanted to show his full worth. This could be his fourth straight year of misfortune if the team picks someone at his position and that player takes some of his playing time. I’m not sure how he will feel about a small forward selection. Sounds familiar…
With that in mind, Warren’s likely outcome is being somewhere between the fourth-to-eighth best player on a good team, so the balance there in my opinion is not refusing to take someone at his position, but also not drafting a player that is too similar to him.
This is where we arrive at Jayson Tatum. It’s no secret that we both think he’s not a top-5 prospect, but I’m not sure what he does to separate himself from Warren in a truly meaningful way. His passing, rebounding defense and shooting could all be fine, but where he is a top prospect is as a scorer. Also sounds familiar!
Unless he reaches one of his better potential outcomes as more of a balanced, two-way player, I don’t see him making a huge difference for the Suns. Remember, he can’t play much small-ball four right now either.
KZ: We can also get this out of the way: I think we’d agree that while we’re not as high on Tatum, it has less to do with whether he’ll pan out as a solid NBA player but more about how he fits on the Suns. This is where need comes in.
The Suns don’t necessarily need a complementary scorer with Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe and Warren on the roster. They’re pretty proven. But Phoenix does need to fill holes in terms of perimeter defense and ball movement. Josh Jackson and Jonathan Isaac tick the boxes and plug the holes there more than Tatum — though I’ll admit he played efficiently and within the offense on a talented Duke roster.
There’s no doubt Jackson is the superior pick among the three wing options. He’s got the personality to thrive as a lockdown defender, but he’s also a potentially elite offensive player if he tweaks his wonky jumper to be, at least, consistent. As it stands, he would look good taking players off the dribble by using his athleticism and with a dribble or two kicking out to Bledsoe, Booker or a shooter.
His jumper needs to improve enough where he can force players to overplay him beyond the arc. All that said, how far behind Jackson is Isaac in all this?
KO: Jackson’s got much more two-way potential than Isaac, meaning I think Jackson is more likely to be at least good on both ends as opposed to less balance for Isaac. I actually have them ranked very close, but I feel Jackson is the better overall prospect despite his defense not being as sure of a thing as I thought it was in December.
With Isaac, you are banking on “untapped” potential offensively, which is dangerous. The way he moves around on offense suggests he does not know how good he truly is. That being said, I like the jumper, both on set shots and off one or two dribbles.
Defense is why you are drafting him. Despite his build, I think he might be best on the perimeter where his mobility thrives. He should be more of a secondary shot-blocker and that’s OK. He’s a great rebounder and that part of his game is one of the most underrated skills for any prospect in this class.
Where he’s different than Jackson and Tatum is looking at how he meshes with Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss instead of Warren. There’s a ridiculously high ceiling for that trio playing together on both ends.
For me, Isaac at No. 4 comes down to how much you buy him playing small forward for at least half his minutes. I can see it, do you?
KZ: Absolutely. I think his upside as a defender on the perimeter is what makes him such an enticing prospect, much like Bender. While Bender might be more of a center or power forward and slightly out of position at the 3, Isaac appears to be more fluid and his upside is based on him playing small forward.
His ability to play alongside Bender and Chriss would be an enticing defensive frontline, and that’s why, to me, he’s just behind Jackson as a player that would be a great choice for the Suns at No. 4. That said, the offensive skillset worries me if he, Bender and Chriss can become above-average three-point shooters or playmakers themselves.