Empire of the Suns NBA Draft Big Board: Trading up, Nos. 16, 31
We are finally here.
After months and months of discussing and debating the NBA Draft, we are at draft week.
Empire of the Suns has updated a running big board since November, and our latest covered our top-30 prospects for the Suns after the combine.
As always, there has been some movement, but we are changing things up with the draft so close.
We will cover three ranges: Trading up, the mid-first round and the start of the second round.
That is lots of ground to cover, so let’s get into it.
We are operating under two assumptions here: The Suns are selecting Deandre Ayton with the first overall pick and will be unable to trade back up into at least the top-six of the draft.
With that, we are going to eliminate Mohamed Bamba, Marvin Bagley III, Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Michael Porter Jr. from consideration. Based on all the buzz we are hearing, they are all unlikely to slip past six.
Here are the three best targets after that group.
Hot take: I would not do the “godfather offer” for any of these guys. I fail to see a seamless fit for any of them in Phoenix. If the cost isn’t completely absurd, though, I think it’s at least worth considering.
1. Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma, 19 years old (Projected range: 6-12)
Walk with me for a minute and join me on the two sides of the Trae Young road.
There are legitimate reasons to be down on Young. He’s small and not the most athletic dude. That combination makes him a tough sell to score off the dribble at will in the NBA and be anything but a bad defender.
There are legitimate reasons to be high on Young. He’s an exceptional passer and shooter. This makes his off-the-ball value sky-high, an undersold bit of his evaluation, and that adds obvious pluses to when he does have the ball.
In Phoenix, you’d be capping your ceiling unless Ayton is a good defensive player, Josh Jackson is terrific and Devin Booker is at least passable on that end.
You’d also have an offense that is almost impossible to stop if Ayton and Young have at least “decent” outcomes in their development on that end.
I’ll still take that offense, please!
2. Mikal Bridges, G/F, Villanova, 21 years old (Projected range: 7-14)
It’s difficult to come up with a much better fit in the draft to play in a wing rotation with Booker and Jackson than Bridges.
Bridges has rapidly improved into a great shooter and projects as a great defender of at least two positions in the NBA. He’s shown enough off the dribble under Jay Wright to have at least some scoring upside, which is important.
T.J. Warren is making a lot of money, though, and while Bridges could fit on the rotation, trading up for someone who would be your fourth wing is less than ideal.
If the Suns aren’t committed to Warren long-term and he is potentially even included in a trade-up deal, Bridges makes even more sense for a look.
3. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky, 19 years old (Projected range: 8-16)
Gilgeous-Alexander could fall to No. 16 and is unlikely to go in the top-10.
That is, at least, what the consensus was until Gilgeous-Alexander’s buzz grew Monday. Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo reported the sense is the Kentucky guard doesn’t get by No. 11 and The New York Times’ Marc Stein also reported the Toronto Raptors are extremely interested in trading up for him.
With that, let’s assume a trade-up is required for him, but not completely rule out him slipping.
Defensively and as a floor general, Gilgeous-Alexander checks most of the boxes of what you want long-term next to Booker.
The jumper is a question mark and he isn’t the fastest guard around, but Gilgeous-Alexander knows how to pick his spots and has some serious size as a lead guard.
Giving up something like the protected first-round pick from Milwaukee to move up 3-4 spots and lock up Gilgeous-Alexander will be in play if the reported hype around the point guard doesn’t reflect in the lottery selections.
We are disqualifying the likes of Gilgeous-Alexander, Lonnie Walker IV and Zhaire Smith from this group. One of them, including Texas A&M center Robert Williams or even Michigan State forward Miles Bridges, will fall to the 16th slot. But let us look beyond that.
Who else should be in the discussion besides the prospect who drops? We have our three favorites.
1. De’Anthony Melton, G, USC, 19 years old (Projected range: 18-35)
Melton is the best perimeter defender in this draft and part of the value in having someone like Booker is being able to put someone like Melton next to him in a long-term backcourt.
Melton’s point guard skills and scoring need some seasoning, but that’s fine playing behind Brandon Knight and being a defensive pest off the bench, in the meantime. Even if he isn’t a full-fledged point guard in the future, Booker and Jackson can take on most of the ball-handling duties.
If the Suns want to go defense first in any spot in the draft, taking Melton at No. 16 is the best bet.
2. Donte DiVincenzo, G, Villanova, 21 years old (Projected range: 14-25)
A tough, smart and skilled combo guard adding some shooting and winning traits to the Suns’ backcourt would be a good call.
DiVincenzo, as many Suns fans have noted, has some Booker qualities in the way he goes about scoring as a no-nonsense killer.
Sure, in the mid-first round you are hoping to grab a long-term starter, but we’ve seen how valuable a super first guard off the bench is and that seems like DiVincenzo’s role.
3. Kevin Huerter, G/F, Maryland, 19 years old (Projected range: 13-25)
Huerter is another form of what you’d get out of DiVincenzo.
An absolute sniper, Huerter also has some real value as an off-the-dribble provider — less so as a reliable scoring option and more so as an intelligent and savvy off-ball floor spacer.
Who he guards will swing his outcome, but the Suns have been one of the worst shooting teams in the NBA for years and Huerter’s shooting at the very least would be an instant boost.
This is where it’s extremely challenging to predict who will be on and off the board. With that, we will do our best and use ESPN’s big board as a reference point to eliminate the top-20 prospects from consideration.
1. Elie Okobo, PG, Pau-Lacq-Orthez (Projected range: 15-35)
Okobo falling into the second round would be a best-case scenario for the Suns if they don’t decide to go with a lead guard in the middle of the first round.
His athleticism, shooting and scoring give him instant value despite how much he needs to grow as an overall point guard.
Even with his expressed desire to come over to an NBA team right away, Okobo contributing while developing his point guard skills is a solid fit for the Suns as a microwave scoring lead guard.
2. Shake Milton, G, SMU (Projected range: 25-45)
Milton is a career 43 percent 3-point shooter on over five attempts a game, is 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot wingspan and can handle the ball to playmake a bit.
I am really confused at the lack of first-round buzz around him. Is he just bombing in interviews?
In Phoenix, he can function as a spot-up shooter while he improves defensively and occasionally makes plays off the bounce.
3. Landry Shamet, PG, Wichita State (Projected range: 25-50)
Maybe the most divisive part of the draft is figuring out how to rank the older point guards in this range.
As someone myself who continues to implore the masses on the importance of the Suns adding shooting, Shamet’s shortcomings in other aspects like creating separation from defenders and scoring around the rim won’t hurt so much for Phoenix.
X-factor skills are inevitable for prospects in this range, though, and if Shamet can be a high IQ shooter playing off Booker — or DiVincenzo in a long-term second unit — while being solid on defense, that’s a good grab in this range.