PHOENIX — Among the six draft prospects invited to work out on Thursday included a 7-foot-1 young, athletic center.
The Suns drafted a 7-foot-1 young, athletic center a year ago by the name of Alex Len.
That decision, however, does not preclude GM Ryan McDonough from choosing yet another skilled big on June 26. That’s why the team took a closer look at Baylor’s Isaiah Austin, a possibility at No. 27, the last of their three first-round picks.
“It’s hard to find seven-footers, and I think if you look around the NBA there’s a reason why those guys generally get paid if they’re pretty good because they’re valuable and hard to find, especially seven-foot guys with skill,” McDonough said.
“We try not to eliminate guys positionally. We had a decent year, but we weren’t a playoff team. We don’t have anybody who is so entrenched that we would say, ‘all right, let’s not worry about this position and let’s just draft other positions.’ Generally, we just try to take whoever the best players are and then let them battle it out with the guys on our current roster.”
Austin, 20, is an early entry candidate having left Baylor after a sophomore season in which he led the Big 12 with 119 blocks.
The Suns were his first workout.
“That I’m not soft,” he said of what he hopes to prove to teams during the pre-draft process. “That I’m going to go out there, I’m going to battle every time I get a chance to go up for a rebound. I’m going to fight for position. I’m going to block shots. I’m going to be around the rim. I’m going to show them that I’m not just a perimeter-type big. I’ll show them that I can run the floor and use my quickness and my agility to (get) the upper hand.”
Austin topped the charts at the combine in Chicago with a standing reach of 9 feet 4 ½ inches and a wingspan that measured 7 feet 4 ½ inches.
He showed good perimeter ball handling during his workout, according to McDonough, and is comfortable shooting the NBA 3-pointer, giving him the potential to be a stretch four power forward.
Austin does need to add weight, though.
“Once I start getting older and once my body starts to catch up with me, I’ll develop natural weight,” he said of his listed 220-pound size. “I’m not going to just be a real bulky-type player. God made me slim so that’s how I’m going to have to play.”
The other players involved in the workout included Virginia guard Joe Harris, Iowa State guard DeAndre Kane, UCLA forward David Wear, Florida guard Scott Wilbekin and guard P.J. Hairston, a potential first-round candidate who spent last season playing in the D-League after repeated rules violations at North Carolina.
“His strength stands out,” McDonough said of Hairston. “His ability to shoot the ball and create his own shot stands out in college and in the D-League.”
Hairston averaged nearly 22 points shooting 45.3 percent in 26 games, including 15 starts for the Texas Legends.
“You had to adjust from being a child to an adult,” he said of his pro experience. “It just taught me a lot, and also it prepared me more for the next level.”