Empire of the Suns NBA Draft Big Board 3.0, Part I: Carter, Knox move up
As we reach the midway point of conference play, the cement is starting to be poured in for certain players at certain positions of an NBA Draft big board.
There’s still time to pull them out before it dries, but for now, we have as good of an understanding as we could ask for on what players are as NBA prospects and if they have been improving throughout the season.
Many other stages in the process, like the NCAA Tournament, await and will be a critical time for some players to establish more certainty.
A quick reminder that you can check out versions 1.0 and 2.0 of our big board for in-depth breakdowns of players when they were first initially featured. This will be our last version ranking with only the prospects in mind. With the trade deadline passing and the NCAA Tournament wrapping up, that’s when we can account for need with the Suns.
In part one of two, we touch on a section of the draft the Suns could find themselves in if they have a strong closing two months of the season.
14. Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami, 18 years old (▼2)
This draft has clear drop-off points. There’s the top-7, top-11 and then the top-13. Anyone after that point is going to come out of nowhere to break into this part of the draft.
At No. 14, it’s simply personal preference, and Walker is a prospect I’ve always liked from the jump. But after some self-evaluation on him, I’ve come to realize that can only mean so much.
A good couple of months of college film has served Walker’s ratings well. His 3-and-D profile I wrote about in November is still there, but the question is, what else is?
He has a bad feel for self-creation, can’t handle it well enough to help that feel and his passing ability and vision don’t match up well. What you saw was a guy who could finish at the rim, but he needs to get himself there outside of cuts and transition looks.
Perhaps more troubling, his movement as a defender isn’t necessarily top notch and his reading of the offense is lacking. How much can you leverage on his development as a defender because of this?
This might sound like a rough evaluation for a potential lottery pick, but he needs more discernible skills. The positive trend is Walker stepping up more in scoring the ball. Coming into the games this week, Walker is averaging 10.8 points per game but has averaged 24 points in his last two.
That makes Walker’s top-15 profile worthwhile, but it’s a part of the draft that is very uninspiring. Names like De’Anthony Melton, Daniel Gafford and Chandler Hutchison could capitalize off this and leap Walker into the last pick of the lottery.
13. Robert Williams, C, Texas A&M, 20 years old (–)
As we begged Williams for more consistency, he’s scored in double digits in eight of his last nine games, including a 21-point, 15-rebound outing against LSU.
In my eyes, what we just discussed with Walker also applies to Williams as a strong positive. His defensive ability is already great and the upside there is so much higher.
There are reasons to be down on him that we talked about in his latest drop on this board. The offense is a question mark, he’s not having continuous runs of impacting the game and his rebounding needs to go up another level or two.
Take that aside and I still believe he’s a lottery prospect in this draft, with a clear separation from the top-11 guys and everyone ranked after him.
12. Kevin Knox, F, Kentucky, 18 years old (▲2)
Knox might be the most frustrating prospect on this list.
His shot looks great and so does his defense when he’s locked in and seeing everything right, but then there’s the but.
He’s shooting 35.3 percent from three and has lacked consistency there all season. Plus, he, along with the entire Kentucky team, are refusing to try all the time on defense.
Combine that with the self-creation worries and you’ve got a prospect who can’t be in the top-10. Like I wrote in December, his “nearly there!” conclusions on many of his NBA skills could have him be the breakout player of this class.
11. Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama, 18 years old (▼2)
Look, before you freak out about him being outside the top-10, let me explain.
I like Collin Sexton as a point guard prospect. I like him a fair bit. He’s relentless and he has more swagger than nearly any prospect this decade. I think his offense and defense — if corralled a bit — add up to a fine NBA point guard.
I just don’t see how he becomes a very good NBA point guard, let alone a great one.
On a good Alabama team, Sexton has recorded more than five assists zero times. Nada. Zilch. He’s not a next-level athlete or scorer for his position, either, and will have to make a lot of his money attacking the basket, finishing through contact and drawing fouls. That’s where he has the best chance of being great.
Basically, all I’m seeing in Sexton that is very special is his intangibles, and that’s not enough for me to feel confident about him being a great point guard one day. I don’t think he fails, but I don’t think he will be great, either.
10. Miles Bridges, F, Michigan State, 19 years old (▼2)
A pleasing development for Bridges has been his free-throw shooting.
He’s jumped all the way from 68.5 percent as a freshman to 91.4 percent as a sophomore. That growth is nothing but hard work and repetition, a credit to the type of worker Bridges is and a positive sign for his 3-point shooting.
He’s the most fascinating player in this class in terms of where he lands. Does he go somewhere where they try to maximize him as a small-ball stretch four, or does a team see point forward in his future as a three, spending more time as a ball-handler?
There’s an intriguing spot to land on that spectrum to get the most out of him in both roles.
9. Wendell Carter Jr., Duke, C, 18 years old (▲1)
I could see myself threatening on putting Carter in the top-5 of another class. The more I see of him, the more I have no doubt of him being a good NBA center with a chance of being great.
Those trying to figure out what the hype is about might be frustrated by the descriptors used for him because he’s simply good.
The physical tools are there, he’s an NBA-caliber post scorer, his jumper looks better every time we see it and he continues to show a great feel on both ends.
He’s averaging 14.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 1.9 steals on just 26.4 minutes a game, all while shooting 61.7 percent from the field and 46.4 percent from 3-point range on 28 total attempts.
Put a similar line into Sports-Reference’s season finder and you’ll find no freshmen have done what Carter is doing this season in a Power 5 conference since 1993, not even accounting for his terrific efficiency.
Crank those requirements up to include sophomores and now we see three names in those conferences: Chris Webber, Patrick Patterson and Tim Duncan.
I’m not saying Carter is the next Webber or Duncan, but this is the caliber of player we are talking about when tracking down context for his line this year, and Carter’s numbers would surely be higher without playing next to likely top-5 pick Marvin Bagley.
The only reason I don’t have him ranked higher is figuring out where he can improve in order to raise his ceiling, but he’s as low-risk as it gets in this class.
A hot topic among Suns fans is, if the Suns land outside the top-3 of the draft, whether they should try and trade up into it.
Honestly, if they go point guard with their first pick and the Miami and/or Milwaukee pick aren’t too far off from where Carter is, that’s where they should make their move up. That’s also more realistic.
8. Mikal Bridges, SG/SF, Villanova, 21 years old (▼2)
The excitement surrounding Bridges was him showcasing more as an individual offensive player, but he has slowed down a bit as a scorer.
In January, he’s scored in double-digits in six of his seven games, but his high point was 18 points on 13 shots against Marquette.
He needs some type of stock as an individual scorer to maintain the No. 6 ranking I had for him on our last edition, and that stock is down enough to where his exceptional 3-and-D tools don’t make up enough ground for him not to sink.