NBA Draft prospects for Suns fans to know this postseason
With or without fans in attendance as coronavirus restrictions grow, major conference college basketball tournaments are kicking into gear in the back-half of this week with several top NBA Draft prospects hoping to build their resumes.
The Phoenix Suns’ 26-39 record as of Wednesday slots them into the 10th overall pick if the lottery goes as the odds would indicate.
Georgia’s Anthony Edwards is the only healthy current college basketball player who is very likely off the board in the top five picks. His Bulldogs won’t make the NCAA Tournament without winning the SEC Tournament, and it’s his last bit of action before draft preparation begins.
The Suns have a 13.9% chance of leaping into the top-four, where Edwards is among the options. We’ll get to him down the road in the case that the Suns get lucky.
More reasonably, there are a handful of college basketball players who could be in the mid-lottery range and available for Phoenix to select.
Here’s a get-to-know-them primer of who is playing and how they fit with the Suns.
Tyrese Maxey, G, Kentucky
FG%: 42.7 (29.2 % on 3FG)
ESPN big board spot: 8th
The 6-foot-3 combo guard is well-regarded for his all-around play. A scorer with a high-level feel, Maxey has struggled with his shot from deep this year, even though 88% of his makes from three-point range have been assisted.
Maxey isn’t an elite athlete but has the handles and shiftiness to project as a decent playmaker and scorer. Probably a point guard at the next level, he’s a willing defender and has enough in the tool box to do more than he’s currently been asked to.
He’s been overshadowed by Kentucky’s leading scorer, Immanuel Quickley, who has come on strong as a sophomore. It’s also not ideal for Maxey that he’s primarily played off the ball alongside point guard Ashton Hagans. It says something that UK coach John Calipari has trusted Maxey to the tune of 34.5 minutes per game.
Why should the Suns care?: They tend to draft players out of Kentucky, and Maxey fits the mold as a third guard who can flip between backing up Ricky Rubio and Devin Booker, taking ball handling pressure off both.
Next game: 10 a.m. Friday vs. Tennessee/Alabama (ESPN)
Obi Toppin, F, Dayton
FG%: 63.3 (39% on 3FG)
ESPN big board spot: 9th
A favorite to win the national college player of the year honor, the sophomore has led Dayton to a 29-2 mark entering the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
Toppin has put together a wildly efficient season, shooting at a 67.4% effective field goal percentage (50% is considered decent). At 6-foot-9 and 225 pounds, he’s a small-ball power forward who shoots 82.8% at the rim and nearly 40% from three-point range on 2.6 attempts per game.
Safe to say he plays within himself and the offense.
Defensively, there are concerns. He’s explosive but rigid in his movements. Can he defend in the switchy NBA?
Why should the Suns care?: Toppin projects as an improving shooter and the team certainly could use another athletic wing to join Kelly Oubre Jr., Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson should they commit to a wing-heavy lineup around Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. Oubre reaches free agency after 2020-21, and Toppin on the board in the middle of the lottery could make him an easy pick regardless of position and team need.
Next game: Friday, 9 a.m. vs. UMass/VCU (NBC Sports Network)
Cole Anthony, G, North Carolina
FG%: 38.5 (35.6% on 3FG)
ESPN big board spot: 12th
Let’s just get out of the way how bad this North Carolina team is: It went 4-7 during a stretch in which Anthony was injured from Dec. 8 to Feb. 1 and then proceeded to lose the first seven games after he returned.
The Tar Heels have won four of five heading into the ACC Tournament as Anthony has struggled in the last two.
Like Edwards in a way, Anthony has been forced to take bad shots on a team without other decent perimeter contributors. He has the scoring instincts that will translate to the NBA, but he might be on the small side of becoming an NBA shooting guard — he’ll have to play with a big point guard if not be the point guard.
His decision-making and vision aren’t other-worldly but enough to get by. He’s a decent defender who competes, too. A red flag might be his finishing ability. The 6-foot-3 Anthony is shooting 53.7% at the rim, a surprisingly poor number for a guy who is a pretty good athlete.
Why should the Suns care?: Anthony will need to be groomed as a true point guard like his UNC predecessor, Coby White. But like White has shown with the Chicago Bulls this year, being a microwave scorer in his rookie season is quite possible. It’s something that would surely help the Suns considering their backup point guard position.
Next game: 3 p.m. Wednesday vs. Syracuse (ESPN2)
Nico Mannion, PG, Arizona
FG%: 39.0 (32.5% on 3FG)
ESPN big board spot: 14th
Mannion looked like a sure top-10 pick heading into this college basketball season, but as his Wildcats have underachieved, so has he.
At 6-foot-3, his short wingspan (ESPN says it’s 6-foot-2.5) shows. Known to be an athlete based on his Ballislife.com highlights reels, Mannion has been underwhelming when put to the eye test there, shooting 54.8% at the rim and needing off-balance floaters to get off attempts.
His jump-shooting form has also been hot and cold, and his high-jumping release doesn’t allow him to get off shots quickly enough against closing defenders. Such things can be fixed, and he has the skillset to find answers.
At present, there’s a lot to like about his playmaking. He can make advanced passes in the relatively rare pick-and-roll sets Arizona puts him in. After Tyrese Haliburton of Iowa State, who suffered a season-ending injury, Mannion is the most pure NBA point guard prospect in college.
Why should the Suns care?: If they can get over the athleticism concerns and believe Mannion can develop into an average defender, there’s reason to believe he could be a pure point next to Booker. However, what they need now is scoring, and Anthony and Maxey have more promise there.
Next game: 2:30 p.m. Wednesday vs. Washington (Pac-12 Networks)
Isaac Okoro, SF, Auburn
FG%: 51.4 (29.0% on 3FG)
ESPN big board spot: 4th
Few prospects have scouts split like they are on Okoro. ESPN has Okoro rated as the fourth-best prospect, while others tab him as a mid-round option.
The freshman wing’s numbers don’t pop, but the film does.
Okoro is a versatile defender. He plays high level team defense and has strong shooting splits in a class of freshmen who are all chucking away and struggling on the defensive end. He finishes well at the rim and has promise from deep — although it’s concerning we don’t know his second-level scoring skills. Hoop-Math.com says he’s hit 0% of two-point jumpers because he’s hardly taken any.
It’s also curious that he doesn’t average even one block or steal per game despite his defensive profile.
Why should the Suns care?: Mikal Bridges’ value might lead them to another Mikal Bridges type who doesn’t blow up the box score but knows his role and plays it well.
Next game: 4 p.m. Friday vs. Texas A&M/Missouri (SEC Network)
Onyeka Okongwu, C/F, USC
ESPN big board spot: 6th
The freshman might be a more traditional center and a smaller one at that. He’s 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, but his athletic build projects that he can transition to the NBA immediately and keep up physically.
The block numbers speak to his natural rim protection abilities, and Okongwu also has the lateral agility to be an able defensive piece in a pick-and-roll heavy game.
Why should the Suns care?: The fit isn’t great if the Suns want to re-sign Aron Baynes, and rolling with two very young rotation bigs isn’t the best plan for winning soon. But Okongwu has high upside and could help bump up Phoenix’s athleticism as an energy big who can crash the offensive glass and rim-roll with shooters around him — if Frank Kaminsky and/or Dario Saric are back — next year.
Next game: 2:30 p.m. Thursday vs. Washington/Arizona (Pac-12 Networks)
Other first-round prospects to watch
Jaden McDaniels, F, Washington; Precious Achiuwa, PF, Memphis; Jahmi’us Ramsey, SG, Texas Tech; Josh Green, G/F, Arizona; Kira Lewis Jr., PG, Alabama; Cassius Winston, PG, Michigan State; Jalen Smith, PF, Maryland; Daniel Oturu, C, Minnesota
All of the above fall into one of two categories: raw prospects with high-upside or guys matching fits for the Suns.
McDaniels is a lanky, fluid athlete who struggled adjusting to the college game and would need a lot of seasoning. Ramsey (strong shooting combo guard) and Green (all-around wing) more easily slot into specific roles but likewise need time to grow.
Achiuwa is a bouncy and energetic shot-blocking 4 with a slim chance of becoming a spot-up threat. Jalen Smith fits that mold but has more promise as a spotup shooter, while Daniel Oturu is a floor-spacing center with great shot-blocking chops. Lewis is a fine shooter and solid playmaker who’s a bit undersized, while Winston fits the Suns’ recent mold of a winning, four-year college basketball player who could be a backup point from Day 1.