EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Empire of the Suns NBA Draft Big Board 3.0: Pre-draft lottery outlook
The NCAA Tournament and college basketball season is curtains.
We’re approaching one of the biggest days of the Phoenix Suns’ season: the NBA Draft Lottery on May 14.
In order to get a better perspective on the stakes involved for the Suns, it’s time for another big board update. And for the first time this season, we’ll be incorporating Phoenix’s needs into the equation.
To those new around here, check out past renditions and our NCAA Tournament rankings for more in-depth introductions on what these guys can do, as we’ll be breaking down fit more in this edition.
Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up. Previous big board rankings appear in parentheses.
The worst-case scenario for the Suns is falling to seven, where I strongly believe there is a drop-off to guys we’d normally rank in the 13-20 range of an average NBA Draft class. For a pre-draft outlook, it’s ugly.
10. Coby White, G, North Carolina, 19 years old (NR)
White is our latest Jamal Crawford/Lou Williams point guard prospect who isn’t really a point guard and is probably gonna make his money giving you 18 a game off the bench.
The problem with these types of prospects is that Crawford and Williams are the top outcomes. Those guys are freaking outstanding at what they do, and if you’re about 15% worse than them, there’s an argument to be made they aren’t even impactful for a team. I’m looking at you, Zach LaVine.
Does White have the juice? A little bit!
I will rarely give you the “season montage” that can make anyone look like a top-10 pick but this is more to give you an idea of all the different ways White scores.
As you can see, his quicks off the bounce and the release on his jumper from those spots is where the Crawford/Williams comps start to percolate.
Phoenix could always use another ball-handler. Just one trustworthy enough to run an offense if they are a long-term point guard option, and, well, I’m not sure that’s White.
9. Brandon Clarke, C, Gonzaga, 22 years old (NR)
How early do the Suns say “screw it” and grab the guy who would almost definitely give them a good 14-18 minutes as a rookie?
As an undersized center off the bench, Clarke could keep the rim-running threat alive and well when Deandre Ayton rests. While the whole being a thin 6-foot-8 thing is an issue, Clarke is one of the best shot-blockers the draft has seen the past couple of years. His off-the-charts leaping ability is going to translate.
But can you really take a backup five man ninth overall? I’m shrugging my shoulders at this point.
8. Kevin Porter Jr., SG, USC, 18 years old (up 2)
Porter had quite the year to forget for the Trojans, battling injuries, an inconsistent role and a two-game suspension for a conduct issue.
But where I hold the most trepidation is how much of Porter we actually got to see playing as a lottery-level talent.
He played over 25 minutes in a game only four times, scoring in double figures 11 times. Again, that goes back to the setbacks he had to deal with.
From that standpoint, there isn’t much analysis here and you’ve just got to go with your gut based on what you’ve seen from him.
I keep coming back to two things.
One: his shiftiness and “shake” is terrific. Yes, the step-back below is nice, but how about the initial shoulder fake that creates the first bit of separation?
Two: Porter is a plus-athlete with a stocky frame. There’s a ton of upside in him growing beyond a handles guy and combining his burst, hops and strength consistently into drives like this.
If Porter can shoot (why hello there 41.2% from deep on 68 attempts) he’s a top-10 guy as an offensive-minded scorer off the bench, under that same branch of player as White.
Phoenix would have to hope he’s someone who isn’t a liability defensively, but Porter’s value as a shooter and transition weapon could be worthwhile off the bench as other elements of his game grow.
7. Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt, 19 years old (NR)
Garland having to sit all but five games this year due to a meniscus injury might have been the best thing to happen for his draft stock. This is not to say that he would have played his way out of the top-10 but the trend is to look elsewhere when everything else is rather uninspiring.
Garland’s pick-and-roll potential with his terrific handle and jumper prowess off the dribble has the hype growing, particularly with ESPN currently having him fourth.
ESPN’s Mike Schmitz makes a Dame comp below, presenting a legitimate argument I somewhat agree with because of where the NBA is trending for the most favorable point-guard skills.
Damian Lillard going bonkers should only strengthen Darius Garland's standing as a top-5 pick. Obviously not identical players but Garland's ability to shoot off the dribble with range in a variety of ways should be more coveted than ever. https://t.co/WxtN4yS8sJ pic.twitter.com/IbVurnS5ZP
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) April 24, 2019
But that’s looking past Garland’s faults too easily.
He doesn’t take care of the ball well at all and his overall “point guard” acumen is very concerning.
With that in mind, this draft doesn’t have much star potential, and Garland possesses a smidgen of it.
In Phoenix? Eh. It’s more of the qualms with Ja Morant in that Garland’s skillset is not beneficial to a young team looking to drastically improve the next two seasons. You’d have to hope he takes care of the ball enough to be trusted with 15-25 minutes off the bench as he gets acclimated. Not sure if you can.
We will see where Jarrett Culver winds up in the consensus rankings as more draft intel trickles out in the coming weeks, but the Suns falling past four would be a huge loss of value.
Some believe the cliff diving begins after two but I see it after four, still noting the first astronomical dip after Tier Zion.
6. Cam Reddish, G/F, Duke, 19 years old (down 3)
At a certain point, push comes to shove, you know? You can only leave Nassir Little in your top-10 for so long until the season is over and then you have to cross off any hope of him showing signs later in the season.
Same goes for Reddish, who readers/listeners will know I was pretty set on keeping at No. 3 the entire season. But, man, are there real concerns about his feel. Those are multiplied because Reddish is ideally a role player, and as you have seen with Mikal Bridges this season, that goes a long, long way for low-usage perimeter players.
I’ll be flabbergasted if he goes outside the top-seven because he could be a combination of a 6-foot-9 point-forward and 3-and-D specialist, which is why I thought I was never moving him from three.
But we all have to grow and move on. I have. For now.
Expect Reddish to slay workouts and lock himself in as a top-five pick throughout that process.
I have no faith he’d work out with the Suns given their track record with raw prospects lately and no longer having the head coach they fired.
5. De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia, 21 years old (–)
T’was not a good NCAA Tournament experience for those such as myself who had some faith in Hunter’s off-the-dribble game. He showed his severe limitations in that department when you factor in top-five pick value and what he should be showing as a 21-year-old in the ACC.
With that being said, Hunter’s defense might be the most reliable singular skill in the top-10. He will be a good defender in the NBA. The issue is everything else, where his frame and length ease some potential transition concerns.
Is that good enough to go top-five? In this draft, you betcha!
The Suns could look at Hunter as a three-four combo defensive specialist, providing more team-friendly value in those minutes than someone like T.J. Warren.
Big win for Phoenix if they hang top-four.
All three of these guys have the talent to be the third banana to Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. To be clear here before you rage in the comments, “HOW DO YOU HAVE JA MORANT BEHIND R.J. BARRETT AND JARRETT CULVER?!”: All three of these guys are agonizingly close for me in the rankings. I don’t see much of a difference at all between landing two or four.
4. Ja Morant, PG, Murray State, 19 years old (up 2)
If Morant is still a part of our pre-draft conversations with the Suns, I’ll have much more on why I’m lower on him than most.
For now, I’ll say a ball-dominant player as erratic with the ball as Morant scares me, especially when he’s one of the worst defenders we’ve seen in the top-five this decade. He is a consistent mess on that end.
If you want to make that same point for Trae Young, Morant’s not the passer, scorer or shooter Young is now and probably never will be.
But that’s rude to Morant’s game.
If we were to rank 19-year-old point guards on a scale in terms of the passes they can both see and execute, Morant’s about an 8.5 on that scale. He’s tremendous and he uses his left hand better than just about any right-handed 19-year-old point guard I’ve ever seen.
He’s got a whole lot in his arsenal to get buckets as well. The question is how efficient he can be in doing so, and I just don’t know right now.
My concerns about him and developing him off the bench for a team with playoff aspirations sooner rather than later bring more hesitation into ranking him top-three.
To be continued.
3. Jarrett Culver, F/G, Texas Tech, 19 years old (up 1)
I had a change in philosophy about two years ago with the Suns, where they simply need to get good basketball players. Look past fit, cost, whatever.
Yes, Kelly Oubre Jr. is a dream, players and fans love him and he plays his ass off. But, most importantly, he is a good NBA player. I don’t care how many wings the Suns have. Oubre is good and you don’t have many good players. Pay that man his money.
To bring that point to Culver, there’s some Bridges equity in the collection of his basketball talents.
He has true multi-positional size on the wing, sets up others with that size, scores with that size and plays tough with that size. He can shoot and defend just well enough.
The question is what he’s truly great at, and as the later rounds of the NCAA Tournament showed, he’s a few years away from being a primary or secondary option offensively if he can ever get there.
But, you know what, he’s good.
Jonathan Isaac might not be lighting the world on fire right now for the Orlando Magic but he’s one of the 20 best defenders in the NBA already and he turns 22 in October. That’s valuable, no matter what he does or doesn’t develop into as a dribble man.
That’s why I made the case for him two years ago, and why I will continue to make the case for guys like him and Culver in Phoenix.
2. R.J. Barrett, G/F, Duke, 18 years old (–)
Are we being too simple-minded in looking at Barrett as a high-volume MaMbA mEnTaLiTy scorer and not willing to evaluate other possibilities?
I kind of think so!
In the tournament, Barrett was Duke’s point guard and showed a willingness to make pass after pass. Whether it was a hockey assist or the primary feed, he was moving that thing around.
It was such a drastic change from his tunnel-vision-on-steroids work of the past that a lot of people noticed. That type of specific swap in style of play had to make his godfather Steve Nash (yes, really!) proud, and he took to the Twitter to let everyone know.
RJ Barrett (*yes, is my godson) is a next level playmaker at his age, 18, and size. Makes every read/pass. This is one skill that is easier in many respects due to the rules at the nba level but so damn valuable. Blown away at the reads and deliveries he made repetatively.
— Steve Nash (@SteveNash) April 1, 2019
As Nash notes, “reads” and “deliveries” were premium when he made the play. Once again, going off Nash, Barrett is 6-foot-7 and that expands his potential greatly as a playmaker.
A simple play and “read” like this is possible because he can see over the defense.
Now, is Barrett going to realize the best version of him is that guy and not the bad DeMar DeRozan impression with blinders on?
I have absolutely no idea! Boy, this draft class is neat, isn’t it?!
For the Suns, while playing behind Booker, Ayton and whoever is left on the wing, perhaps being that low on the pecking order could help Barrett see the light.
Tier Zion (Tier 1)
1. Zion Williamson, ?, Duke, 18 years old (–)
You can read all about my thoughts on Williamson and how he would change things in Phoenix here.
Let us all form a circle, hold hands and say a few words in hoping this isn’t the last time we can think about the possibility of that reality.