With uncertainty down low, Suns could add shot blocker in second round
PHOENIX — Lost in the shuffle of J.R. Smith’s blunder in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, overshadowed from the Tristan Thompson-Draymond Green altercation and ignored in the Warriors overtime win was … Jordan Bell?
OK, maybe not. But it raises this question: Why was a rookie, who didn’t average five points in the regular season, on the court for a combined 23 minutes in the first two games of the Finals?
Well, because he’s a rim protector.
Though he didn’t have a block in Game 1 or 2 of the Finals, the former Oregon standout had two rejections and five rebounds in the Warriors’ Game 7 win over the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals.
He even recorded the highest plus-minus (+17) between both teams in a game that possibly featured five future Hall of Famers.
Bell went 38th in last summer’s draft. And in terms of second-round value, his production is looked at with envy by every NBA general manager in the league. Sure his offensive game may not be fully developed, but he tallied 56 blocks in his rookie year, registering more blocks per minute than anyone on the Warriors.
So with two second-round picks in the June 21 draft, are the Suns eying an offensive project that can block shots?
“That’s something we will certainly look at,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said. “Is there a project who might be a little bit raw at this point but over a period of time, given that there will be, maybe, less pressure on the 31st pick or the 59th pick than whoever we draft first?
“We’ll certainly look at that.”
At their pre-draft workouts Thursday, the Suns got the chance to look at two guys — Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop and USC center Chimezie Metu — who may fit that mold. Both are both projected to be selected in the second round by NBADraft.net.
After recording a 7-foot-3 wingspan at the NBA Draft Combine, Bates-Diop has climbed up some draft boards — including The Ringer’s, which has him going at No. 17 — largely, in part, because NBA teams saw his shot-blocking ability with such long arms.
“It definitely helped a lot,” he said of his wingspan. “I didn’t think I’d be that long.”
Added McDonough: “Defensively, he’s really versatile. Again, the length, that freakish wingspan helps. He also slides pretty well.”
The Suns need all of those things from a big-man because, well, they may only have one center — Tyson Chandler — returning to the roster in a few months.
As McDonough was quick to point out, Phoenix has a team option on center Alan Williams, and Alex Len is approaching unrestricted free agency this summer — creating uncertainty at the position that may be addressed in the draft.
Of course, if the team selects Arizona center Deandre Ayton with the No. 1 overall pick, the need for a big-man in the second round would be subdued. It would also give them the flexibility to take a flyer on a great shot blocker who doesn’t need to make a huge offensive impact.
Like Jordan Bell.
“I think we’ll start at the top and make the decision on one, and then 16, and see positionally what we need in the second-round,” McDonough said.
Two years ago, the Suns were 13th in the league with 399 blocked shots. Last year, though, they blocked only 370 shots and fell to 21st. The difference? Len. As the Suns blocked shots total dropped by 29, Len’s totals dropped by 37 shots in that same span.
Chandler likely won’t come back to Phoenix after his contract expires following next season. And if Len leaves, another rim protector — on top of Ayton — who can get his fingers on a shot or two each game may in fact be needed.
Colorado forward George King, who also worked out for the Suns on Thursday, recalled a play where Metu blocked King’s shot off the backboard during the workout.
“I can tell you he plays with a lot of energy,” King said. “(He) likes to talk. I noticed that when he was at SC.”
Unlike Bates-Diop, Metu’s draft stock didn’t get a big boost at the combine. He only measured a 7-foot wingspan and said the process involved a lot of “medical stuff” after he sat out USC’s NIT games to avoid potential injury. He did say, though, that he met with the Suns.
Among all collegiate players last year, Metu was tied for 66th in the country with 59 blocks — finishing his USC career with 168 total. The 6-foot-11, 225-pound Metu said he thinks he’s good as good as some of the top bigs in this year’s draft, “maybe even better than some of them,” he added.
At pre-draft workouts, like the one he had in Phoenix Thursday, the projected 43rd-overall pick, according to The Ringer, said he tries to challenge everything at the rim to really emphasize his shot-blocking ability.
But, can that translate to the NBA?
“Yeah,” he said. “Absolutely.”
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