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Seniors spotlighted in first week of Phoenix Suns’ pre-draft workouts

PHOENIX — They are the questions that all NBA teams face this time of year.

Go all in or play it safe?

Bet on potential or a known commodity?

In other words, how big of a risk is a team willing to take in the June 26 NBA Draft?

“That’s always the challenge for guys in our position is what do you do,” GM Ryan McDonough said. “Do you take the guy with some upside who might have a higher ceiling but it might take longer to get there, if he ever gets there, or do you take a more ready-made player? Usually the guys who come in and have an impact, especially on good teams are guys who just finished their junior, senior year and you can slot them in and they can play right away, physically they’re ready to play.

“We look at all of them.”

The Suns looked at a group of players who fit into that latter category on Friday, working out six seniors, all from major Division-I colleges and all projected to be second-round prospects: Davidson forward De’Mon Brooks, Duke guard Andre Hawkins, Pittsburgh forward Lamar Patterson, Stanford forward Dwight Powell, Louisville guard Russ Smith and New Mexico guard Kendall Williams.

Smith’s resume includes helping lead Louisville to the 2013 NCAA Championship, but at 6-foot-1, 160 pounds, his size may deter teams.

“His role, at least early on his career, probably will be a scorer coming off the bench, a guy you bring into the game and gives you a boost as a spark plug,” McDonough said. “If you can do that, then I think the size becomes less important as long as he proves that he can score and also run a team. There’s value in a guy who can be able to do both. He’ll at least need to be able to guard point guards and I think with his quickness and toughness he’ll be able to do that.”

Smith averaged more than 18 points a game in both his junior and senior seasons, while his quickness and anticipation placed him among the nation’s leaders in steals in each of his final three years.

“I honestly don’t know,” he said when asked what he needs to show teams to improve his draft stock, “because I’ve been shooting the ball tremendous and I’ve been getting by my man throughout my whole career at Louisville. And just his past season, I’ve shown that I can put on a passing clinic and just at the L.A. Clipper workout, I had a passing clinic. I can jump. I can defend. So, honestly I really don’t know what I have to do. Maybe my off-the-court charisma, being a good person, a good teammate, maybe that’s some stuff they want to see and I can definitely supply that.”

Size is not a factor with Powell. At 6-foot-11, his future is expected to be the paint, though his versatility and ability to shoot from the outside make him an intriguing option for teams.

“It’s always a work in progress,” he said of his shooting range. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to push it out to the NBA 3 in the near future. Right now I feel comfortable out to the college 3, out to the Euro 3 and a little beyond that.”

Powell believes being seniors gives this workout group an advantage over others.

“Experience. We’ve had four years of college coaching, which can help a lot. We’ve been in a lot of different situations,” he said before heading to Minnesota for a workout. “My personal opinion is if you can play,
you can play. I think we’re all out here trying to prove ourselves. There’s obviously some guys who kind of have set themselves up to be kind of locks for those early spots, but other than that everybody is trying to compete.”

Through the first four days of Suns pre-draft workouts, 19 of the 24 players have been seniors.

“The guys that have been in college for three, four years, they got a little bit better understanding when we’re going through drills, what to look for,” said head coach Jeff Hornacek, himself a four-year player at Iowa State. “That’s why the NBA is tough now where you’re doing a lot of the teaching because there’s a lot of these younger guys that you have to show them that stuff first where you get these older guys that have done it in college it’s a lot easier. You can really fine-tune things with those guys because they already know the basics.”