EOTS’ college tipoff NBA Draft Big Board, Part I: Top guards in class

Nov 16, 2017, 10:10 AM | Updated: 6:25 pm
(AP photos)...
(AP photos)
(AP photos)
LISTEN: Empire of the Suns

It’s never too early to start talking NBA Draft with the direction the Phoenix Suns’ season is heading.

Empire of the Suns is rolling out its first edition of a big board with the top-10 players as college basketball gets underway. You’ll find brief scouting reports on each player followed by how they could fit in Phoenix.

Throughout the season leading all the way up to June, we will bring new versions of the board and plenty of NBA Draft coverage along the way.

In part one, we start with the first four spots on our list, which include the two highest-ranked guards.

10. Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami (18 years old)

The best part of the 2018 NBA Draft class is the variety and depth of the role players.

Walker is the first perimeter one we will cover, a true “3-and-D” wing prospect. That’s a role that isn’t matched by anything else in the league when it comes to how coveted they are and how many of them there are. Look at what Robert Covington is doing in Philadelphia and his new $62 million contract as a prime example.

At 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, Walker can defend both guard positions. He has the upper-echelon physical tools to move his feet quickly enough while being strong enough to guard some small forwards to boot.

His jumper is legit and pretty with NBA range.

Best of all, as someone who projects as a high-level role player, Walker is a smart, instinctual player who makes good passes, stays active on the glass, thrives in transition and can occasionally create something for himself off the bounce.

Like other players in his mold that we will discuss this year, Walker has to do everything right with the things that he projects well at because of his limited upside elsewhere. That restricts how high he can go on draft boards.

Fit in Phoenix: Davon Reed is another two-guard out of Miami and he’s a member of the Suns behind Devin Booker with a similar skill-set to Walker. Unless the Suns decide Devin Booker is a point guard, the Suns have other areas of the roster to fill in this draft.

9. Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama (18 years old)

Speed. Flair. Swagger.

Those three words are all you need to know about the point guard prospect out of the SEC.

Sexton is one of those athletes who is must-watch television when he has the ball in his hands and is moving with purpose. He flies up and down the court, and anyone foolish enough to try and put the clamps on him when he gets going will get put in a blender by his handle. That sets up his strong explosion around the rim at 6-foot-2.

When he’s seeing the floor well enough, Sexton makes high-risk passes look like a choreographed audition for a top-10 plays reel. He is anything but shy, never having his aggression wander when it comes to scoring for himself. He is taking jumpers and making those flashy passes while playing with a will and desire that isn’t matched by many.

Sexton plays with so much passion that, often times, it’s his downfall. He’s always trying to do too much and his jumper is anything but a sure thing, but he shoots it like he’s Nash or Curry.

Labeled as a true scorer, Sexton must show he can be a true facilitator in order to earn a comparison to someone like Kings rookie and 2017 lottery choice De’Aaron Fox.

Sexton could be a great defender, but, again, he’s a bit erratic there as well.

Fit in Phoenix: The Suns absolutely need a point guard, but I’m not sure they can bet big on someone like Sexton. Ideally, Devin Booker has someone next to him who can run a composed offense, space the floor as a good shooter and can challenge both guard positions defensively. Sexton’s a question mark on all three and therefore is a volatile draft prospect. If the Suns are “in” on Sexton, though, it’s going to be hard to see them picking anyone else if he’s in range.

8. Robert Williams, C, Texas A&M (20 years old)

Williams’ ranking and evaluation depends on how much you can adequately value his role.

The sophomore is going to block shots, rebound and make rim runs using his top-tier athleticism and length. Beyond that, there’s not much there at the moment.

In a class full of bigs at the top who can move, Williams is the best athlete of them all. He’s a tremendous finisher, even when he’s flying around the floor, making him a terror on lobs and the offensive glass.

When you see big athletes like Williams maneuver, you don’t expect them to use it to their best advantage. Williams defies that and does as a rim protector. The term “recovering” isn’t something you can say about most big men because they simply aren’t quick enough, but Williams is. He’s also freaking fantastic at doing it. He will goof up and be a step or two out of position yet make up for it in a millisecond by sending the ball into the ninth row.

The missing component is his rebounding. The work with his body isn’t there around the basket to be the dominant force on the glass that he can be. This will be one of the most monitored skills of the top-10 prospects this season.

Williams only weighs 237 pounds and is only 6-foot-9. A 7-foot-5 wingspan can only save him so much. He must get stronger so his height is the only deterrent as scouts evaluate him.

He also is limited in the floor sense department, making his overall defensive ceiling a couple levels lower than it should be.

If other freshmen missing the cut in these rankings like Kevin Knox, Wendell Carter Jr. and Trevon Duval have big seasons, Williams could move down draft boards. He needs to rebound at a high level and show that he can score.

Fit in Phoenix: This would be an easier player to peg for the Suns if Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender were showing more offensively. To take another big that doesn’t project to be much on that end would be a risk and possible detriment to the perimeter players.

7. Miles Bridges, F, Michigan State (19 years old)

Bridges’ athletic profile is perfect for his game.

At a built 230 pounds, Bridges’ wingspan below 6-foot-9 for someone 6-foot-6 doesn’t hurt him that much. He’s fast at that size and can attack off the dribble, using his frame at the rim to finish with his awesome vertical. That department is where he can show off some fancy passes and an adequate handle with some misdirection moves that make him a dynamic offensive player.

Bridges’ speed contributes to his lateral quickness and his basketball IQ is right where it needs to be for him to flourish. That adds up to a complete player defensively, one that isn’t necessarily stellar, but he can defend multiple positions, rebound well for his position, block shots and isn’t prone to making constant mistakes.

His jumper is the boom-or-bust to push him over the edge as a top-1o prospect. He shot 38.9 percent from three last year, a surprisingly high number, so he needs to stay around that range to convince everyone it wasn’t a one-year deal. A solid jumper maintains his off-the-dribble potential.

Fit in Phoenix: Put Bridges, Jackson and Booker all on the floor together with one of the power forwards and that’s a beautiful blend of athleticism, shot creation, slashing and playmaking. In what will be a consistent theme, the Suns need skilled basketball players that aren’t overly reliant on growth from the time they are drafted to their third year in the league. Bridges checks that box, and even on a crowded roster at forward, he should be in consideration because of that.

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EOTS’ college tipoff NBA Draft Big Board, Part I: Top guards in class