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EOTS’ 5 at No. 16: Would De’Anthony Melton be a reach for Suns?

Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen (10) and Southern California guard De'Anthony Melton (22) vie for a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Empire of the Suns is diving deep on the Phoenix Suns’ other picks besides the first overall selection, Nos. 16 and 31. We will be examining five players we feel are the best fits for the Suns in the mid-first round, then will break down the five positional groups on the Suns’ roster and who they could target in the late-first to early-second round.

It makes sense that the Phoenix Suns’ attempts at shoring up their point guard spot with a defensive specialist could start with free agents like Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart.

A player to take some load off Devin Booker will be welcomed, but more importantly it’s about adding a player who can take the toughest defensive responsibility against an opposing backcourt.

But Phoenix could also fill that role with a draft pick. There are a few options with the Suns’ 16th overall selection, though who is available remains murky. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is regarded by many as the best point guard prospect in this range, though he might not fall to the mid-first round. Zhaire Smith is a raw prospect who might be a little more risky.

Former USC Trojans guard De’Anthony Melton comes in the same mold but is a year older having just turned 20. Complicating matters is his 2017-18 season that never was — the FBI investigation in college basketball led USC to hold him out for the entire year, though he was never personally accused or linked to doing anything improper.

Strengths

If you turned Detroit Pistons center Ben Wallace, at his peak, into a 6-foot-3 guard with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, it might look like Melton’s defensive potential.

Melton, who weighed in at 193 pounds at the combine, projects as an elite defensive guard at either the 1 or 2. He moves well laterally and despite very underwhelming agility and speed numbers at the NBA Draft Combine showed as a freshman that he moves well and has a knack for causing trouble on and off the ball as a defender.

He was great at retreating against dribble-drives while staying in front of opponents to challenge their pull-ups or shots at the rim — he goes straight up on rim contests like a big man. His length led to blocks for himself and coerced opponents into making bad passes.

Melton’s off-ball awareness to help teammates was great but even better was his recovering. He did the latter so well that said ball handler would often throw the ball right to him as he challenged them and quickly recovered to his man.

He was the only player in 2016-17 to average at least 2.5 steals, 1.5 blocks, 8.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per 40 minutes.

Melton averaged 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 block and 1.9 steals in 27 minutes per game as a freshman while playing alongside a versatile group of ball handlers.

Offensively, he has decent handles and above-average vision. Despite playing a lot of shooting guard, he was easily the second-best passer on his team and showed flashes of making cross-court passes — seeing things before they opened up — and the ability to probe and use patience to hit the open man.

Weaknesses

While Melton likely spent the majority of his off-season working on his jump shot, he’s got a ways to go — like Bradley to start his NBA career — to prove himself capable of running an NBA offense.

He shot just 44 percent overall, 28 percent from three-point range and 71 percent from the foul stripe with a very mechanical release. It showed more fluidity this month at the combine, where Melton looked comfortable pulling up off the bounce and hitting some turnaround jumpers.

Still, teams will judge him on his college numbers two years ago. Melton struggled as much with two-point jumpers as he did with threes, shooting 34 percent on two-point jump shots. Melton shot 59 percent at the rim, a decent figure for someone his size. His above-average athleticism helped in that regard.

Does he have enough of a handle and shot to be a true point guard?

His pick-and-roll passing instincts are there, but not playing as much point in his single college season raises questions about his lead guard abilities.

Defensively, his instincts will take him a long way. Suboptimal combine agility statistics and only getting one max bench press rep, however, might make one pump the breaks about his physical profile falling into the category of elite when comparing him to a player like Smith.

The fit in Phoenix

Melton is viewed by most as a prospect who will be taken in the final third of the first round, and his stock has taken a big hit for reasons seemingly beyond his control.

Considering the unlikelihood of other top prospects also fitting the Suns’ need when it’s time to pick at No. 16, Melton might be a worth a selection, especially if the Suns feel he took a year off to get his jump shot in order. They desperately need playmakers and defenders at point guard.

Honorable mentions

With so much range to cover for the No. 16 pick, here are five more prospects we think you should keep an eye on for the Suns.

Lonnie Walker, G, Miami: Walker ranks high in terms of his shooting and athleticism on a comparable NBA scale. The rest of his game needs refinement, but he would very likely be the best player available at No. 16, and the Suns don’t have a bigger need than shooting.  — Kellan Olson

Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA: An efficient scorer, elite shooter and high-rate assist-man, Holiday loses steam by turning the ball over too much and struggling as an undersized defender. — Kevin Zimmerman

Troy Brown, G, Oregon: Brown has the physical profile of an NBA wing but besides his great passing, the rest of his game needs to develop. He does show potential in all aspects of the game, though, and Phoenix could always use more balanced players. — Kellan Olson

Dzanan Musa, F, Cedevita: The 6-foot-9 scoring wing has NBA range and a quick trigger that would help the Suns, but hovering around 200 pounds means the already-iffy defender needs some added weight to hold up in the NBA. He’s a draft-and-stash possibility. — Kevin Zimmerman

Elie Okobo, G, Béarnais Pau-Lacq-Orthez: Okobo is a scoring point guard with NBA size and athleticism who is soaring up draft boards in the past few months. A draft-and-stash option at a position of need has to be in play for the Suns. — Kellan Olson


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