EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

ASU’s Zylan Cheatham is perfect match for Suns’ desires in NBA Draft

Jun 1, 2019, 2:45 PM | Updated: 3:02 pm
(Photo by 98.7 FM Arizona's Sports Station's Kellan Olson)...
(Photo by 98.7 FM Arizona's Sports Station's Kellan Olson)
(Photo by 98.7 FM Arizona's Sports Station's Kellan Olson)

PHOENIX — Please excuse the narrative ease at which the state’s best college basketball player this season makes perfect sense for the state’s professional basketball team.

Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones has talked about the qualities his team is looking for in the 36 draft prospects they’ve seen over the past three days.

Jones has expanded on it more, but it essentially comes down to the intangibles. Basketball IQ, finishing plays, competing, etc. He’s also stressed balance in players, a handful of times referring to this current stage of basketball as a “complex game.”

He wants guys who can do a little bit of everything and play the right way while doing it.

Doesn’t Arizona State’s Zylan Cheatham come to mind right away?

Cheatham headlined Saturday’s 12 players in for Suns pre-draft workouts, and he’s in range for Phoenix.

ESPN ranks Cheatham at No. 45 on their big board and the Suns are slated to pick 32nd overall at the top of the second round.

Cheatham was, quite simply, the Sun Devils’ best at nearly everything. Passer, slasher, finisher, defender, scorer, rim protector and so on. Shooting is about the only claim you can make otherwise.

As a guy who is going to get love for his defense, smarts and motor, it’s important to start with Cheatham being responsible for a large portion of ASU’s playmaking.

When someone needed to make the right read or create something off the dribble for someone else, Cheatham was the most reliable on the team by a significant margin.

For a guy that doesn’t shoot, you can trust Cheatham to still add value offensively because of this.

The pass at 0:47, in particular — a rapid-fire kick to an open shooter on the weak-side wing — is what we refer to as an “NBA pass.” You need those quick reads to beat defensive rotations. That still qualifies as playmaking despite him holding the ball for less than a second.

Sounds like he’s still growing in that department too.

“Basketball IQ is something that I really tried to get a lot better with,” Cheatham said. “Trying to be a better student of the game.”

There’s a lot of asterisks we have to add here, to be fair. The handle is functional, but not desirable. His jumper for a 23-year-old projects farther away than it needs to be to inspire confidence. His lateral quickness is not on an elite level, meaning his upside as a switcher isn’t top-tier.

But he’s a great finisher, especially off two feet.

And, given the perspective locally one can provide, Cheatham is an awesome dude. There hasn’t been a player in Tempe this decade that has been raved about more as a person than him. Keep in mind, too, that Cheatham only spent two years at ASU, being eligible in only his senior year after transferring.

His emotion and workrate translate on the floor. The Suns could always use more rebounding, and Cheatham snagged 10.3 a night as a senior at only a listed 6-foot-8. That’s all about having a certain mentality.

Just watch where Cheatham is at the start of this video.

That’s a guy people want to play with.

Jones described Cheatham’s energy in the workout as “off the charts.”

“He brought an energy that kind of resonated in the building,” Jones said.

To go back to what Jones wants, in Phoenix, Cheatham fits right in as a four-man doing everything.

That includes defensively, where Cheatham already has some experience with that given the various looks Bobby Hurley ran at Arizona State.

“I can mesh with any team,” he said. “I’m pretty good guarding multiple spots, I know different coverages, I’m very vocal, which is something that’s really helping me … be that voice that guys kind of need to hear.”

It would be ignorant to look past the possibility Cheatham doesn’t work out in the NBA, what the potential other prospects in that range bring and more.

But perhaps we’re looking at upside the wrong way.

To go back to what I wrote about Tennesee forward Grant Williams, there’s a certain player archetype trending upward the past couple of years. Everyone is looking for the next Draymond Green, but players like Pascal Siakam and Malcolm Brogdon are slight tweaks that still check the boxes.

Cheatham knocks off quite a few as well.

Whether it’s as more of a situational piece off the bench or an integral one firmly in the rotation, Cheatham is undoubtedly the type of player and prospect the Suns should be interested in.

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