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Empire of the Suns NBA Draft Big Board 5.0, Part II: Post-combine risers

(AP photos)

The NBA Draft season is really year-long, but it picks up in a hurry this time of year. Within the past week, teams learned where they will pick in the lottery and gathered loads of information coming out of the NBA Combine in Chicago.

With that in mind, it’s time for another big board update for Empire of the Suns.

We’ve had four different versions of our big board since November. Part one was our debut board with lottery rankings, part two was our mid-season update, part three was our pre-tournament look and part four was post-tournament, extended to 20 prospects and factored in both the Suns’ needs and tiers.

If you’re looking for more extensive analysis on some of the biggest names, you’ll find it there.

In part five, we decided it was only right to extend the list to 30 players considering the Suns, in addition to owning the Nos. 1 and 16 picks, select 31st and 59th overall as well.

After covering late first-round prospects in part one of the fifth update, let’s get into part two.

* indicates that a player has not hired an agent yet, which means they could still return to school before the deadline on May 30

Tier 5 (continued)

22. Robert Williams, C, Texas A&M, 20 years old  (▼6)

Williams started eighth on our board and now he’s all the way down here.

That should tell you why he fell: His play covered the spectrum from showing huge defensive upside as a switch-and-slide rim protector to periods of lackadaisical play.

Somewhere, though, that defensive potential and freaky athleticism has to be in the mid-first round because he can make plays like this.

It’s obvious what his potential is but he often floated through games. This draft range is notorious for good teams that have a serious track record of developing talent picking raw players and coming out with a diamond in the rough.

Let’s get to Robinson before covering the Suns fit.

21. Mitchell Robinson, C, Chalmette High School, 19 years old (▼3)

When a player sits out a year, guys who played are going to jump them in terms of stock, and that’s what happened to Robinson.

When Robinson’s offense is as underdeveloped as it appeared to be from his high school tape, there’s a lot hedging on his defense, which could still be great.

So, back to the fit for Williams or Robinson in Phoenix.

Where do the Suns’ offseason plans go at the center position? Is Alan Williams’ non-guaranteed deal getting cut? Is Tyson Chandler going to play next year? Is Deandre Ayton the pick at the top?  Is Phoenix going after free agent-to-be Clint Capela hard? If not, will the Suns pursue another free-agent center?

After all the dust clears on that, do the Suns want to develop a raw big man? Yeah, I’m not sure as well.

20. Kevin Huerter, F, Maryland, 19 years old* (NR)

Oh, you want shooting?

Check out the best Terrapin prospect since Alex Len who lacked any real NBA buzz until a month or two ago.

It starts with Huerter’s shooting stroke that might be the best in this class. You want to talk about load-up and fire? The kid has range, to say the least.

Shooters, though, need to be able to attack defenses off the dribble and make the right decision nine times out of 10.

That’s the department where you feel the best about Huerter when you boot up the game tape.

He did major favors for himself at the NBA Combine, where he sat after the first day of scrimmages because he showed his passing vision with plays like this.

Good athletic testing makes me feel better about Huerter’s poor wingspan and the tape supports he could be an above-average defender.

We talk about 3-and-D a lot because of the value, but sharpshooters like Huerter who have solid supplementary role player attributes are just as valuable. He doesn’t have to lock guys up like some of the guards available at the end of the first round to be regarded as a mid-first round option.

If the Suns want to completely overhaul the roster and have an open spot at small forward for a shooter, Huerter is a name for both Nos. 16 and 31.

19. Donte DiVincenzo, G, Villanova, 21 years old* (NR)

DiVincenzo is a killer, man. He can shoot off several situations and take turn an opponent’s aggressive closeout off the dribble into some crafty moves. When he exploded against Michigan in the national championship, though, he showed how freaking tough he is on drives.

Like everyone who plays real minutes for Jay Wright, he’s smart, works hard and makes winning plays all the time.

That shined through at the NBA Combine in 5-on-5 play, where DiVincenzo also tested outstanding athletically.

DiVincenzo sure feels like this year’s Kyle Kuzma and has reliable first guard off your bench written all over him. Plus, if his athleticism is strong enough to score and defend well in the NBA, he’s much more than that role.

Our checklist for the Suns this offseason is guys who can shoot, pass and defend. DiVincenzo checks all three.

18. Troy Brown, G/F, Oregon, 18 years old (▼5)

Brown, in theory, projects to check those boxes as well, but he didn’t in his one year playing for the Ducks.

He has great size as a wing and showed flashes as a defender and shooter. His great passing ability, though, is the only definitive standout NBA skill outside of his physical profile, so where can you rank him?

I settled on pushing him down a few spots and into this tier, where forecasting his NBA role is a bit murkier.

Tier 4

Our fourth tier is where we really dig in on names that are either prime options for the Suns at No. 16 or won’t be on the board by the time the Suns pick again in the first round.

17. Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama, 19 years old (▼2)

I have no idea how to rank Sexton for the Suns.

He has legitimate flaws. He’s a shoot-first point guard with efficiency issues, would not be in the top-half of athleticism among NBA point guards and averaged 3.6 assists a game.

He’s also one of the best competitors the draft has had in a while that adds real positives to his offense and defense. He gets to the free-throw line a whole lot and should be able to provide for others despite the low assist numbers.

For Phoenix, it would be a shock to see him available at No. 16. Beyond that, I don’t like the fit with Booker and think there are two better point guard prospects to put with him out of this range.

16. Kevin Knox, F, Kentucky, 18 years old (▲5)

Knox is a 2018 NBA stretch four built in a lab.

At 6-foot-9 with a wingspan a shade under 7 feet,  he shoots a good ball, pops athletically and has a sweet handle that he likes to use for floaters in the near-midrange area.

Knox, however, did not have a good time at Kentucky. He didn’t look comfortable with his role, struggled defensively like most of the team and wasn’t coming together as a prospect.

He’s a Boston Celtics-type wing, though, and that’s exactly why I think he’s going top-10. A long, switchable, athletic forward that can shoot is what teams are killing for right now.

There’s a lottery team watching the Celtics in the playoffs right now that’s like “ohhhh, we need those guys!” that will reach on him, and maybe they’re right to do so. I’m staring at you, New York.

He seems like a near-lock to not make it to No. 16, but the Suns don’t have room for him at the moment, anyway.

15. De’Anthony Melton, G, USC, 19 years old (▲2)

What we do know about Melton is that he’s the best guard defender in this class.

What we don’t know about Melton is how much his offense did or didn’t improve after not playing for USC this year.

Can he hit this shot consistently in the NBA?

He’s a top-10 prospect in this draft with some added scoring and shooting skills but a top-20 prospect if there’s not much there. This spot feels safe enough to project him, I guess.

There are more appealing prospects in this range of the draft than Melton from a “teams talking themselves into this guy” space and that’s why I think Melton could very well be on the board for the Suns at No. 16 — and could even freefall to 31st.

Defensively, Melton is the guy you want next to Devin Booker, and both Booker and Josh Jackson are the guys you want to play with Melton to maximize his talents. Even if the Suns take Luka Doncic No. 1, I’ll almost surely have Melton as one of the best prospects available for the Suns at No. 16.

14. Zhaire Smith, G, Texas Tech, 18 years old (–)

No matter how you feel about a prospect, you’ve got to take team need into consideration.

I love Smith, but I’m not sure where he plays or what he does for a Suns team that wants immediate contributions. Are high-level energy plays and defense enough while the rest of his game grows?

He measured at 6-foot-4 at the NBA Combine, a scary number for those who believe he has appeal as a small-ball 3 and small-ball 4.

There’s an off-chance Smith rapidly develops and is ready right away for NBA play, but a non-shooter (right now) like Smith outside of a positional need feels clunky to me.

But then you see an empty gym video like this and you think, oh, maybe this is 8-10 spots too low.

Smith is more likely to get picked at six than fall to 16, unfortunately. As far as a trade-up option, the aforementioned fit concerns have me not so thrilled with him compared to other names.


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