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.

Texas Tech's Jarrett Culver (23) celebrates after defeating Michigan State 61-51 in the second half in the semifinals of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Saturday, April 6, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Matt York) North Carolina's Kenny Williams (24) drives to the basket while Duke's RJ Barrett defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, March 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) Penn State's Josh Reaves (23) drives against Minnesota's Amir Coffey (5) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the second round of the Big Ten Conference tournament, Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) Indiana forward Juwan Morgan (13) moves to the basket under the defense of Wichita State forward Jaime Echenique (21) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the third round of the NIT tournament in Bloomington, Ind., Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (AP Photo/AJ Mast) Mississippi guard Terence Davis, right, shoots against Kentucky's Ashton Hagans, left, during an NCAA college basketball game in Oxford, Miss. on Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (Bruce Newman/The Oxford Eagle via AP) Nevada's Jordan Caroline smiles during team practice ahead of a first round men's college basketball game against Florida in the NCAA Tournament in Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday, March 20, 2019. At 6-foot-7 and 235 pounds, Jordan Caroline has a football player's build just like dad. The son of former NFL defensive end Simeon Rice, and grandson of ex-Chicago Bear J.C. Caroline is making a name for himself as Nevada's top scorer and rebounder. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik) TCU guard Alex Robinson (25) drives to the basket against Texas guard Kerwin Roach II (12) and guard Matt Coleman III during the first half of a semifinal college basketball game in the National Invitational Tournament, Tuesday, April 2, 2019, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) Washington's Jaylen Nowell (5) passes the ball against Oregon during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the final of the Pac-12 men's tournament Saturday, March 16, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher) Michigan guard Charles Matthews celebrates at the end of a second round men's college basketball game against Florida in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. Michigan won 64-49. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) Florida State's Terance Mann smiles during NCAA men's college basketball practice in Anaheim, Calif., Wednesday, March 27, 2019. Florida State plays Gonzaga in a west regional tournament semifinal on Thursday.(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) Wyoming's Justin James shoots over New Mexico's Jalen Harris during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Mountain West Conference men's tournament Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken) Saint Joseph's forward Charlie Brown Jr. reacts during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Davidson in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, Friday, March 15, 2019, in New York. Davidson won 70-60. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) FILE - In this Feb. 2, 2019, file photo, Boston College's Ky Bowman shoots over Notre Dame's Chris Doherty (15) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Boston. Bowman was named to the AP All-ACC team, Tuesday, March 12, 2019.(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File) Iowa's Tyler Cook, left, and Wisconsin's Ethan Happ battle for a rebound during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, March 7, 2019, in Madison, Wis. Wisconsin won 65-45. (AP Photo/Andy Manis) John Konchar, G, Purdue Fort Wayne19.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.4 assists per game (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Lipscomb guard Garrison Mathews reacts after scoring a 3-point goal bringing Lipscomb ahead in the last minutes of the second half of a semifinal college basketball game in the National Invitational Tournament against Wichita State , Tuesday, April 2, 2019, at Madison Square Garden in New York. Lipscomb won 71-64. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) Nevada's Cody Martin watches after his shot during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference men's tournament Friday, March 15, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken) Yale's Miye Oni, left, shoots as Harvard's Chris Lewis, right, defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in a for the Ivy League championship at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., Sunday, March 17, 2019, in New Haven, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) Texas forward Dylan Osetkowski (21) dunks during the second half of the championship basketball game in the National Invitational Tournament against Lipscomb, Thursday, April 4, 2019, at Madison Square Garden in New York. Texas won 81-66. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) Virginia Tech guard Justin Robinson (5) scores on Duke center Marques Bolden during the second half of an NCAA men's college basketball tournament East Region semifinal in Washington, Friday, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) St. John's Justin Simon (5) reacts alongside coach Chris Mullin, right, during the second half of the team's First Four game against Arizona State in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Wednesday, March 20, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) DePaul guard Max Strus (31) drives against St. John's guard Mustapha Heron (14) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Big East men's tournament Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in New York. St. John's won 82-74. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Nevada forward Tre'Shawn Thurman (0) reacts after being called for a foul during a first round men's college basketball game against Florida in the NCAA Tournament, Thursday, March 21, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) Tennessee forward Grant Williams celebrates after Tennessee beat Kentucky 82-78 in an NCAA college basketball game at the Southeastern Conference tournament Saturday, March 16, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Auburn guard Jared Harper (1) drives to the basket past Virginia forward Mamadi Diakite, right, during the second half in the semifinals of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Saturday, April 6, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) Dewan Hernandez, right, of Miami, and Charles Bassey, of Western Kentucky, battle for a ball on the first day of the NBA draft basketball combine in Chicago, Thursday, May 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) Wofford guard Fletcher Magee (3) celebrates with teammates after hitting a 3-point basket during the final moments of the second half against Seton Hall in a first-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Jacksonville, Fla. Thursday, March 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton) Texas Tech forward Tariq Owens (11) dunks the ball ahead of Virginia's Kyle Guy, left, and Jay Huff, right, during the first half in the championship of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Monday, April 8, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Matt York) Fresno State's Deshon Taylor (21) drives as Air Force's Christopher Joyce (5) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Mountain West Conference men's tournament Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken) Iowa State guard Nick Weiler-Babb (1) dribbles around Arizona guard Justin Coleman (12) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Maui Invitational, Monday, Nov. 19, 2018, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia) Connecticut guard Jalen Adams (4) drives on Arizona guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Southern California forward Bennie Boatwright (25) shoots in front of Southern Methodist guard Sterling Brown, left, in the first half of a first-round game in the men's NCAA college basketball tournament in Tulsa, Okla., Friday, March 17, 2017. Southern California won 66-65. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2019, file photo, Michigan forward Ignas Brazdeikis (13) goes to the basket, defended by Minnesota forward Eric Curry (24), in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Brazdeikas was Newcomer of the Year in the Big Ten Conference, Tuesday, March 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Ding, File) Zylan Cheatham, F, Arizona State12.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists per game(AP Photo/Amanda Loman) Marshall's Jon Elmore (33) drives for a layup against Green Bay in the championship game of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament on Thursday, April 4, 2019, at the Cam Henderson Center in Huntington, W.Va. (Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch via AP) Terry Harris, G, North Carolina A&T8.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 0.3 assists per game(Photo by Lauren Rakes/Getty Images)

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