Tuesday night’s Champions Classic doubleheader in Chicago showcased a who’s who of college basketball’s finest programs — Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State — and in the process made several NBA general managers salivate at the potential talent that could be filling up the top of the draft board come June 2014.
Duke small forward Jabari Parker showed off his smooth touch (27 points on 9-of-18 shooting) and versatility (nine rebounds). Kansas shooting guard Andrew Wiggins illustrated his rare athleticism an ability to finish in transition (22 points and 10 rebounds). And Kentucky power forward Julius Randle proved that with a little seasoning and experience, he has a terrific chance of being a physical terror (27 points and 13 rebounds) at the next level.
It was only one night, but the freshmen trio did nothing but enhance their value as they make what will likely be a collective leap into the professional ranks at season’s end.
This summer, it seemed like a far gone conclusion that all three would be on the Suns’ radar given the team’s public acknowledgement that the 2013-14 season would represent the first stage in a necessary rebuilding project.
The organization hired a new head coach, a new general manager, several new assistant coaches and parted ways with several talented assets — Caron Butler, Jared Dudley, Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat — with an eye towards igniting the future.
But through the first eight games, however, the future might be just a little bit closer for the Suns than they had initially expected.
Talks of tanking have been pushed aside in the wake of the team’s unexpected 5-3 start, and the idea of having as many as four selections in the upcoming draft doesn’t seem as appealing if players like Parker, Randle and Wiggins aren’t still there for the taking.
Suns general manager Ryan McDonough took in the college basketball showcase at the United Center Tuesday night. And while he did admit that he came away from the doubleheader quite impressed with the quality of play overall, McDonough said Phoenix can still prosper in June’s draft even if it finds itself outside the top 5.
“One of the reasons I’m here and one of the reasons we had great success in Boston was because of our success outside of the lottery,” McDonough told Arizona Sports 620’s Burns and Gambo. “Is it easier to be picking in the top 5? Sure. But in some ways it’s an insult to myself and my staff to think we can’t [have success in the draft] without a top 5 pick, that we can’t have success outside of the lottery.
“If we do make the playoffs and are picking outside of the lottery, then that means our young players are pretty good. We have one of the youngest rosters, certainly one of the youngest rotations in the league. If Eric Bledsoe, Miles Plumlee, the Morris twins, Archie Goodwin and hopefully we get Alex Len back soon, if those guys all play well then that’s great. I’d rather take my chances with those five or six guys going forward than putting all my eggs in one basket hoping one guy in the lottery is really good.”
While the upcoming draft will unquestionably be stacked at the top, McDonough noted that quality players will likely be available regardless of the spot teams are picking from.
“This draft, I mean obviously we won’t know until May exactly who’s in it as far as which underclassmen are coming out, the depth is impressive,” said McDonough. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted to stockpile as many picks as we possibly could. Now, we have potentially four in the first round.
“There won’t just be two, three, four or however many good players in this draft. And the other thing I want to say is that it’s not always a linear progression. There’s been no draft in NBA history where the first pick is the best player, the second pick is the second best player and so on. It doesn’t work that way and it never has. If you go back and look at pretty much every drafts, there have are good players taken outside the top 5, outside the top 10 and a lot of the time and most of the time out of the lottery.”
The NBA season hasn’t even reached December yet, so it’s frivolous to speculate where the Suns will land — be it in the playoffs, the lottery or the top 5. With that said, it appears at the very least like McDonough has a plan regardless of which outcome eventually plays out.