Empire of the Suns NBA Draft Big Board: No. 6, trading down, No. 32
Welcome to NBA Draft week!
Every draft is different in terms of the amount of buzz and reporting done before the week kicks off, also known as smoke screen season, and it has been relatively quiet in the 2019 edition, particularly for the Phoenix Suns.
The expectation is the Suns would be interested in trading the No. 6 pick for a solid veteran at either point guard or power forward, but those deals don’t just materialize out of thin air.
We have no real feel for which prospect the Suns are leaning toward in that range and there’s real intrigue behind not only that but what they do as a whole.
We’ll run through the three best options for the Suns at six, 32 and trading down, keeping a realistic target in mind. For example, R.J. Barrett will very likely be the third overall pick, so putting him in here doesn’t make sense. Ditto for someone ranked in the mid-teens for the 32nd selection.
We begin at the top (and a reminder that individual pieces on the prospects can be found linked onto their name).
Culver offers the Suns the best chance of getting a player they can steadily rely on at this spot. The balance in his game, most notably as a ball-handler, should interest teams like the Suns that want to add more skill to that role.
Phoenix’s most important wings are Mikal Bridges and Kelly Oubre Jr., who contribute the most in other areas of the floor. That should alleviate any downside of adding to a logjam, which by the way, can we just worry about crossing the bridge of having too many good players to play once we actually get there?
Even if Culver has one of his lower outcomes as a heady wing off the bench, that’s still a player the Suns should want. And if Culver turns out to be the real deal, the dynamic of his skill set would be unique on the roster.
Garland still has to figure out how to be a point guard and that’s the last thing Phoenix should be drafting in this spot.
But, the 19-year-old has undeniable potential as a scorer in ball-screen situations and is absolutely lethal shooting off the dribble.
Because of the chance that Garland could be an offensive threat you have to start covering from 30 feet out, that’s always going to help Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton get more comfortable sharing the scoring burden.
Garland’s smidge of star upside at a position of need, and the fact that he would be the best prospect available in a scenario where Culver’s off the board, make it a fine point in “settling” for his selection sixth.
In my opinion, Culver and Garland are the only two guys in the sixth spot that are worthy of the selection. I’d already be prioritizing a trade of the pick without knowing that, but if we arrive at this worst-case scenario, trade down.
Hunter is an OK failsafe. The Suns currently do not have a defensive option like him who possesses the strength and physicality as a perimeter defender to challenge the stronger scoring wings across the league. Hunter is that dude.
He’d be the most difficult guy of these three to find playing time for, but if he comes in with a reliable 3-point jumper, they would need to.
Clarke’s got one of the top five easiest paths in this draft to being a trustworthy 20-plus minutes per game player. He’s an incredible athlete, plays hard and maximizes all that with the combination of a high basketball IQ, passable offensive skills and tremendous defensive ability.
The only thing stopping him is being 6-foot-8 with short arms, under 210 pounds and not having a functioning 3-point jumper. That limits his role as a small-ball five, likely forcing teams to play him as an undersized power forward depending on the matchup with opposing centers.
Once we get to eighth or ninth in the draft, that concern does not outweigh his potential as a versatile role player. The Suns only have Deandre Ayton back among their big men and Clarke is the triple threat of filling a need, giving the Suns a type of player they need and one that fits nicely alongside Ayton. If Culver and Garland are off the board, trading down a few spots for Clarke is the best option and is arguably the top one regardless of if either prospect is available at sixth overall.
2. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, G, Virginia Tech (20 years old)
I gotta be honest, I’m surprised at the lack of Alexander-Walker love in an otherwise murky and miserable portion of the draft the Suns find themselves in.
If the Suns’ desires for the player next to Devin Booker as reported by 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s John Gambadoro is a combo guard that can shoot, that’s literally what Alexander-Walker is.
At 6-foot-6, he shot over 38% from 3-point range in two years for the Hokies and this season got cozier taking it off the dribble.
He’s a long, smart defender who has a high motor, making up for any top-tier lateral movement concerns defending either guard position.
Alexander-Walker’s biggest weaknesses are as an individual ball-handler to create for himself and he wasn’t the best playmaker for his teammates in that role, either.
But that’s not what he would have to do in Phoenix and he’s the exact type of guard prospect the Suns should target. I have him ahead of Coby White on a Suns board and eighth overall.
Read the good lad Brendon Kleen’s profile here on Williams as a potential small-ball five.
As you can probably tell by now, the dynamics of this poor draft class have me preferring smart players who offer non-traditional skill sets.
Williams is another one, who you draft more to be a cog to help your three or four best players function instead of looking for a star here.
He’s proven himself capable of doing the dirty work of an NBA power forward, hounding the glass and making intelligent off-ball decisions as a help defender. We’ll see on Williams’ jumper and versatility as a scorer, but he was a monster of efficiency for the Volunteers scoring within 15 feet and is no zero on that end.
Phoenix is likely to go after a more traditional power forward on the trade/free agent market, so drafting Williams to zig where the other dude zags could suddenly shore up any worry from that position.
1. Chuma Okeke, F, Auburn (20 years old)
In 29 minutes a game, Okeke averaged 1.2 blocks and 1.8 steals a game as a 6-foot-7 power forward that weighs over 230 pounds. He had at least three steals in FIFTEEN different games this season, including a run of 18 total in his last six games. He has arguably the best instincts in the class on either end.
Okeke’s signature play is defending a ball screen and sniffing out when the ball-handler thinks he can get by.
This recovery on Ja Morant encapsulates the type of player he is. You’ll notice it isn’t necessarily speedy, but the full extra second he gets ahead by paying attention to his teammate blowing the coverage on a fake dribble handoff allows Okeke to get there in time to make a play on the ball.
He shot 49.6% from the field, and even better, 38.7% from 3-point range on 3.7 attempts a game. Maybe Okeke is too small to be a power forward and too slow to be a small forward, but at this point in the second round, I think he’s more than worth a flyer.
A playmaking big man who acts like his life is on the line while rebounding that can switch onto a few positions defensively should have some first-round appeal, no?
Cheatham may never shoot and he may be undersized as an NBA big, but you don’t need two hands to count how many guys in this class have his skill set.
Another theme you should be picking up on here is if there’s one opportunity this draft presents for the Suns once we get past the seven and eight spot, it’s the chance to pick up some depth in their big man rotation, specifically with an undersized four-man. Cheatham should appeal to the Suns for all the reasons I covered when he visited for a pre-draft workout.
3. Cameron Johnson, PF, North Carolina (23 years old)
Perhaps it’s unkind to Johnson to classify him as strictly a shooter, but I mean, he shot 45.7% from 3-point range on 210 attempts last year for the Tar Heels.
The Stepien’s Zach Milner covered some of the other parts of Johnson’s game that are going under the radar you can use to learn more about him.
The bottom line, though, is that we’ve got a 6-foot-9 sniper. If that volume and percentage can translate to a certain extent in the NBA, he doesn’t have to do much else on the floor to be worth playing.