Empire of the Suns NBA Draft Big Board 2.0, Part I: End of year risers

Dec 26, 2017, 11:15 AM | Updated: 12:33 pm
(AP photos)...
(AP photos)
(AP photos)

With conference play already getting underway for some college basketball teams, it’s time to take a look at our NBA Draft big board and see where things stand.

If you missed our first edition of the big board, check out parts one, two and three for initial reads on the top prospects and how they’d fit with the Suns.

Now, with extending our board into the entire lottery and looking at new risers, we will cover new prospects and how well they’d slide into play in Phoenix as well as give updates on previously covered prospects.

Today, we start with some of the new names, including a point guard that is taking the country by storm.

14. Kevin Knox, F, Kentucky, 18 years old (NR)

Knox is one of the more interesting prospects from the standpoint of how all of his skills come together.

He’s a smart, instinctual player who just gets defense. He maximizes his length and reads opponents well as an on-ball defender, something you can rarely consider a skill — it is for him.

This extends to the offense, where he’s a solid cutter and does all the little things that wise wings do with consistency.

When you watch Knox, you expect this to extend to the ability to scan defenses and make plays off the dribble.

That’s where the train — no Herm Edwards — comes to a halt.

He doesn’t have it, at least not at this stage of his development.

What this all adds up to is the most vital knock: Knox doesn’t have a reliable jumper.

He’s shooting 34 percent from deep, but the encouraging aspect of his growth is that he’s not shy as a shooter and the form is there to be successful.

Knox is so intriguing as someone who covers the draft because the team that drafts him is betting on his basketball IQ, athleticism and defense to add up to something on the offensive end.

If he lands in the right situation, Knox could easily be one of the 3-5 best players in this class based on his collection of abilities.

Fit in Phoenix: The Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss problem is neither are particularly talented offensively and Knox profiles best as a stretch-four. On top of a logjam at small forward, there’s nowhere for Knox’s skills to fit in unless there’s a major roster overhaul.

13. Robert Williams, C, Texas A&M, 20 years old (▼5)

This feels like the right spot for Williams, who became a top-10 prospect because of the potential in his offensive game.

At this point, we haven’t seen the growth expected in year two playing for the Aggies.

While he starts with a true post option in Tyler Davis and he’s only getting 5.6 shots a game, Williams’ scoring dropped off from 11.9 points per game last year to 7.3 this season.

How can you sell offensive potential when a player is seventh on his team in scoring?

With that, Williams is still an exceptional defensive prospect and deserves to be a mid-first round pick.

But if prospects like Trae Young and Mikal Bridges continue gaining momentum, he could continue to slide.

12. Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami, 18 years old (▼2)

A player’s situation can dictate a whole lot about how their NBA Draft stock rises and falls, as we just covered with Williams.

Walker knows that well, as he’s playing on a team with Bruce Brown, another two-guard and potential lottery pick. A deep roster adds up to Walker being the fifth-leading scorer for the Hurricanes.

While he’s a defender and jump shooter, there are concerns about how complex his game can become. Still, in a game where Miami was missing Brown, Walker scored 26 points on 15 shots against Boston University in early December.

Walker showed he’s got a little bit of game when it comes to attacking the basket and, of course, shooting from deep.

He doesn’t have much shake and separation, but Walker’s line-drive attacking of the basket helps him get close enough to the rim where he has a nice feel for finishing and getting contact.

His 26-point outburst came against a not-so-great team, though, but if Walker continues those types of performances in ACC play, get ready to see him climb. If not, this feels like the right range for him.

11. Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma, 19 years old (NR)

Young is producing at a rate for the Sooners that warrants lottery attention. Like Mikal Bridges, who we will cover later, if his efficiency holds true, it’s challenging to see how he’s not a lottery pick.

Young is currently leading the country in scoring (28.7 points per game) and assists (10.4 a game).

No, that is not a typo.

Even more impressive are that his leads over the next-best individuals in those categories are nearly four points a game and over a full assist per game.

That’s all well and good, but how efficient is he in doing so?

Well, as Cole Zwicker of The Stepien laid out in early December, Young’s true shooting percentage for his usage through eight games put him alongside the likes of Stephen Curry, C.J. McCollum, J.J. Redick and Damian Lillard.

At the 11-game mark, Young is shooting 49 percent from the field, 41 percent from deep on over nine attempts a game and 86 percent from the free throw line.

Young has nearly limitless range on his jumper and can get it anywhere in nearly any fashion because he’s quick and has terrific control of the ball in his hands. He’s the best passer in this draft outside of potential top pick Luka Doncic.

Despite that, Young is small compared to today’s NBA point guard, isn’t a good NBA-level athlete at his position, which limits him as a slasher, is terrible on defense and takes bad shots.

So, where do you peg him?

Given what other prospects have shown at this stage, threatening for the top-10 seems fair.

There’s a ways to go, and a road that includes matchups with some very good point guards that should give us more insight on where exactly to put Young.

Taking all of this into consideration, I believe if Young holds these insane numbers, he has to be in the discussion for a top-5 selection.

Fit in Phoenix: You draft Young to go all-out Portland and put aside defense.

Devin Booker’s defensive improvement does not make a selection of Young any easier. They would still be an overall negative together, quite convincingly so.

But Young is a much better passer and shooter than the other point guards in this class. To go a step further, the Suns getting a knockdown three-point shooter on the perimeter who is also an excellent passer could be a monumental push forward for the supporting cast at the other three positions.

Young should be at or near the top of the discussion of potential selections, even with the team’s own first-round pick around the 4-7 range if he maintains this level of play.

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Empire of the Suns NBA Draft Big Board 2.0, Part I: End of year risers