EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Empire of the Suns NBA Draft Big Board 4.0, Part I: Mid-first targets

Apr 3, 2018, 6:07 AM | Updated: Apr 4, 2018, 2:47 pm
(AP photos)...
(AP photos)
(AP photos)
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The NCAA Tournament has ended and that means it is time for a big board update.

The Suns are potentially entering the 2018 NBA Draft with three first-round draft picks, and the placement of those picks makes the mid-first round the most interesting part of the draft for Suns fans.

With that, we extend the board to 20 spots and also factor in the Suns’ needs for the first time. In our previous three renditions of the board, you can find more extensive analysis on previously discussed prospects and the progression of our rankings. Keep in mind with this list that not all prospects have officially announced if they will be declaring for the draft, so we could be losing some of these players in that process.

With five tiers to go through, we begin at part one, which covers a couple of new names at point guard and center.

Tier 5

20. Lonnie Walker, SG, Miami (▼6)

This drop is not a knock on Walker. Rather, other players with more upside or a clear role in the NBA have emerged in the end of the lottery and the middle of the first round.

Walker has fallen down draft boards because his play as a ball-handler, defender and scorer was quite disappointing.

Be that as it may, Walker’s combo of great athleticism and a silky 3-point stroke should hold enough value to push him into lottery territory. For all the supplementary skills he lacked, Walker’s finishing showed that if he can get better at reading the court and handling the ball, then he could have more to his offense outside of jumpers.

As someone who still holds a fair amount of Davon Reed stock, I drop Walker a few spots down a Suns board despite the need for shooters. A developmental point guard or center makes a whole lot more sense in this range, especially with a couple of the next names in mind.

19. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky, 19 years old (NR)

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Gilgeous-Alexander has become the most enamored draft prospect around, especially in the small little bubble of Suns Twitter.

A rangy 6-foot-6 point guard prospect with a 7-foot wingspan, Gilgeous-Alexander played out of his mind since the start of the SEC Tournament, averaging 20.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.3 assists and two steals a game in his last six games of the season.

What he lacks in clear NBA athleticism he makes up for with shiftiness attacking certain angles as he gets to the basket, where his finishing is impressive. As our own Kevin Zimmerman noted while watching him in the Sweet 16, Gilgeous-Alexander has actual “floor general” traits with the way he sets up teammates and operates as a point guard, making his 5.1 assists per game a bit misrepresentative of how good he could potentially be as a passer.

The difference-maker is his defense, where the physical profile puts him as a potential lockdown defender of both guard positions, ala Frank Ntilikina last year and Dejounte Murray the year prior.

The major concern for Gilgeous-Alexander that keeps him at a conservative No. 19 instead of closer to No. 10 is his 3-point shooting. His percentage is a strong 40.4 percent, but he took only 1.5 a game and point guards must not only be able to shoot threes, but shoot them and other jumpers off the dribble to open up the right lanes.

Suns fans can take a quick peek at how it’s going for Elfrid Payton at the moment as a giant caution sign for how it could go with the Kentucky guard if his jumper lacks consistency.

If Gilgeous-Alexander had more burst and strength to give his slashing and defense more assurance, I’d buy lottery placement, but for now, I’m fine with him here. A point guard who can’t consistently create his own shot or is without an effective jumper is a big no-no for me, so I even view this placement as generous by some stretches.

18. Mitchell Robinson, C, Chalmette High School, 19 years old (NR)

The mystery man of this draft, Robinson committed to Western Kentucky in July before being suspended indefinitely and was released from the program after asking for a transfer. In a strange twist, Robinson returned back to the school in late August before declaring for the draft less than a month later in mid-September.

Thanks to some foolish NBA rules, Robinson’s attempt to play in the G League was blocked because he participated in summer classes at Western Kentucky.

Robinson is the rawest player in this class. He is, quite simply, a monster athlete at 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan and uses it to his advantage as a shot blocker. Where his skill comes into play is a big unknown, but his athletic feats are remarkable for a man of his size and could add up to a dynamic rim runner who can dominate as a rebounder, rim protector and switcher.

Every team must answer how much they not only believe in Robinson’s potential but if their team has the correct situation to develop someone like him.

For more on Robinson, I highly recommend Mike Gribanov’s piece on The Stepien.

17. De’Anthony Melton, PG, USC, 19 years old (NR)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Another prospect that has been sitting out due to bogus rules, Melton has never been publicly accused of wrongdoing but was suspended all season by USC due to his potential involvement in the ongoing college basketball recruitment scandal.

If you’re wondering out loud to yourself, “Well Kellan, he was probably linked to doing something in the recent reports,” I answer with a big “Nope.” A family friend reportedly accepted a bribe of a plane ticket and potential payment for a hotel room in Las Vegas for a basketball event. That’s it. Nothing directly tied to him.

Like Robinson, he withdrew from school to focus on going pro and was unable to play in the G League.

To compare Melton to Gilgeous-Alexander, he’s slightly smaller with a 6-foot-3 frame and 6-foot-8 wingspan but has a full understanding of fluidity as a defender and phenomenal instincts.

His 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 steals and one block a game add up to an all-around freshman campaign that only Dwyane Wade can answer to.

He must improve as a 3-point shooter, where he shot 28.4 percent on 2.1 attempts a game and did not get to answer questions in the 2017-18 season.

Like Gilgeous-Alexander, the biggest thing going for him offensively is his pick-and-roll play, which is solid enough to make the right reads. He’s also a good finisher. Both don’t pop as athletes, but I have Melton as a slightly better prospect because his reactionary plays on defense are much, much better.

Take a defensive talent like Melton who can make enough reads to be a secondary creator next to Booker and all you need is a functioning jumper to have a very promising backcourt.

16. Robert Williams, C, Texas A&M, 20 years old (▼3)

(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

It’s been more of the same from what we’ve said in the past on Williams. He floats through games, impacting them sporadically and looking like a top-10 pick when he does it.

As a defensive-minded athletic five who can sit behind whoever starts at center, I like him a bit more in Phoenix and moved him up a few spots on a Suns board. If the Suns were to wind up with three first-round picks, he’s the type of gamble Phoenix should be willing to take with one.

With the lack of possible star power in Gilgeous-Alexander and Melton along with the larger risk of Walker, Robinson and Williams being busts, we end tier five here and start tier four in the next edition.

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Empire of the Suns NBA Draft Big Board 4.0, Part I: Mid-first targets