Empire of the Suns NBA Draft Big Board, Pt. 3: Biggest sleeper at wing, PG

Jun 16, 2020, 8:48 AM | Updated: 1:13 pm
Florida State forward Patrick Williams (4) slams a dunk against Louisville in the second half of an...

Florida State forward Patrick Williams (4) slams a dunk against Louisville in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Tallahassee, Fla., Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

(AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

It’s that time of year again! Well, at least we assume it is.

The 2020 NBA Draft is coming at some point. It’s reportedly scheduled for Oct. 15. We’ll see.

The Phoenix Suns are currently slotted 10th in the reverse standings, which will hold if neither they nor the Eastern Conference’s Washington Wizards make the playoffs after an eight-game regular season.

Let’s take our time waiting to find out their draft slot by getting familiar with the top prospects.

With a third guard and power forward at the top of Phoenix’s shopping list this offseason, it’s actually quite a good class for James Jones and company to comb through.

Through two parts of the board, we work our way to the middle of the lottery, where there are two darkhorse options the Suns should have under consideration.

All statistics via Hoop-Math and Sports-Reference

Tier 3

12. Patrick Williams, wing, Florida State, 18 years old

The most valuable complementary piece in the NBA right now is a wing teams can go small with, someone who can hang on just about any defensive switch. They also need to be able to shoot and make the right play 95 times out of 100 when attacking closeouts, which usually comes with having to be able to score a bit, too.

That is this generation’s look of a “combo forward.” If they aren’t versatile enough, they will eventually be played off the floor the deeper their team gets into the playoffs. Lack of versatility is the reason why they might not survive.

There aren’t many of these players who are not All-Stars.

Houston has two in Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker. Draymond Green’s and Andre Iguodala’s championship roles with the Warriors are the obvious ones.

Orlando hopes Jonathan Isaac can be this guy, and he certainly has the defense part covered already. Phoenix wings Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mikal Bridges are the smaller, more wiry versions of this guy. Memphis and Miami have the more “big man” prototypes of this guy in Jaren Jackson Jr. and Bam Adebayo.

Harrison Barnes and Trevor Ariza keep getting paid because teams think they can be this guy. Atlanta and Charlotte drafted De’Andre Hunter and Miles Bridges to be this guy. The Heat’s Jae Crowder is an under-the-radar pick for this guy. San Antonio has somehow made Rudy Gay kinda work as this guy.

That was meant to visualize the slim pickings after those first three names. So that’s why Williams is ranked this high. He could be that guy.

Williams has a lot of balance to his game, with the caveat that some parts are far more developed than others.

At 6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan and some beef on him, Williams busts his ass defensively and looks like a player who takes pride in squaring up on ball-handlers while protecting the rim too.

It’s really tough to eyeball these things, but he appears to have just enough speed, burst and leaping ability to do his job in the key areas.

This sizzle reel covers most of that.

That’s where he’s ready to go.

Offensively, Williams has got some playmaking chops, but it’s more of being able to do it rather than execution, unfortunately. Williams had a 0.58 assist-to-turnover ratio that’s rather unfair to him being capable of some advanced passes.

He loves using his left hand, and note the slight pause on the dribble here to open up the passing lane to the corner.

And two more for ya: Williams likes keeping the ball moving and doesn’t hesitate too much. The archetype for him as a “0.5” offense player is strong.

A lot to like, right?

Two problems keep Williams from being a top-five guy in this class.

The jumper looks good. He also only took 50 three-pointers and made 32% of them. Nobody is going to feel great betting on that, but at least it’s a little easier to with the off-the-bounce playmaking potential.

Lastly, in an iffy role off the bench with the Seminoles, he wasn’t able to separate himself consistently. Williams averaged nine points a game and cracked double digits in just 13 games. At a certain point, you need production.

Even with those two caveats in mind and somewhat of a capped ceiling, it’s such a niche role he could fill in the NBA and full defensive efforts like this one convince you he will.

I’m in!

11. Obi Toppin, big, Dayton, 22 years old

(AP Photo/Aaron Doster, File)

It is impossible to rank Toppin. I’ve had him all over the place. I’m erring on the side of caution because he’s a train wreck defensively.

Toppin moves like he’s had 14 hip and back surgeries, and even worse, his instincts on pick-and-roll are horrendous. He can never seem to find himself in the right spot. It looks like he is physically incapable of bending over or swiveling his hips.

We’re talking about Enes Kanter levels of how relentlessly teams will pick on him. And when defending his own spot, those hips really hurt him again. Weighing only 220 pounds as a center or even power forward means he’s getting bodied by those guys too.

I don’t get it, because we’ve seen him do the dunks.

You watch him offensively and Suns fans will see the Amar’e Stoudemire glimpses they’ve heard about.

In this particular game at Rhode Island, his speed was ridiculous.

The ferocity on rim attacks. The quickness off the dribble. His surprising ability to pass when he’s got a limited window of time and space to do so. And the jumper from three looks to at least be serviceable.

So, offensively, we’re looking at one of the five or six guys in this class that has All-NBA upside. But the defense. My god. I don’t know how you can watch him there and be optimistic. The rebounding isn’t good either.

Because of this, I am utterly fascinated by watching his NBA career unfold. Anyone who claims to have a good idea of how Toppin is going to turn out as a pro is both wrong and an idiot.

Toppin is the oldest guy in this class rated in the top-20, which means he should traditionally be the most reliable in terms of a floor. I have no clue, man.

10. Grant Riller, PG, Charleston, 23 years old

It’s really unfortunate for Riller that he likely won’t have the combine and team-hosted workouts to show out because he would destroy this entire guard class at them. I’m talking defcon-five style annihilation.

As you can tell by now, this class has a dire lack of efficiency and production at guard, let alone someone who meets that as a goal and exceeds it as well.

Riller had his true shooting percentage above 60% and usage percentage above 30% in each of his last two seasons. Here are the guards who got picked in the NBA Draft to do that since 2010: Jimmer Fredette, Damian Lillard (twice), C.J. McCollum, Buddy Hield and Ja Morant.

Pretty good company, no?

Riller’s handle has an excellent combination of being tight with exceptional burst. Most importantly, he’s got a strong frame and embraces contact so he can carry guys on his shoulder and finish through them.

And he’s fully developed as a shooter off the bounce as well. It’s one of the best step-backs out of college we’ve seen in a couple of years.

His efficiency is remarkable when you dive deeper.

Riller is not a playmaker, averaging under four assists a game over his career, but he can make the first read when he gets in the key more often than not.

This is nifty.

With how much Riller consistently forces defenses to help, I’ll take that.

In what is a point of emphasis regarding this class, there is a real lack of skill, and a balanced package of it at that.

Riller possesses that, and even if he’s 23 with limited passing and whatever defense against bad competition, he’s a stronger bet because of his scoring prowess over the red flags on the development of the younger guys. I’m not sure if he will rise much in the next few months, but if I had to pick anyone to move out of the first-round bubble where he currently lies for most, it’s him.

9. Devin Vassell, wing, Florida State, 19 years old

(AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

We’ve seen variations of Vassell’s high floor 3-and-D skill set in the past couple of years. Bridges, Isaac, Hunter, etc. He compares pretty similar but with less potential.

Vassell is smaller than those guys, less capable of guarding four positions at a high level. At 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, strength development is going to be huge for him, and he weighs under 195 pounds at the moment.

He’s more of a terror for perimeter-based ball-handlers.

A lot of that is going to come through his help defense, where he’s one of the best prospects to come through the process in a while. It’s to the point where there are highlight reels of him mucking up dribble attacks.

On the ball, there’s less there, an important distinction to make. He’s someone we’re always talking about as a help defender first for a reason, even though his work on the ball is still not too shabby.

Vassell shot 41.7% off 168 attempts from three-point range over two years at Florida State, and a good indicator of him sticking in that good shooting range is how his form looks shooting off the bounce.

He made 43.1% of his two-point jumpers, an area of his game that didn’t even exist in his freshman season, and he shot an awesome 69.4% at the rim. He’s clearly been working and is still efficient enough without any serious creation skills. That’s good stuff, limitations aside.

All of that is valuable info because we get lost oftentimes on someone being a good/great/elite shooter to define their outlook.

If Vassell can make defenders stay by him or make them pay enough for leaving him, somewhere in the realm of above 37%, that makes him worth drafting in the top-10 when that is a skill he absolutely needs to be “good” at to merit that value.

Now, if he shoots just 36% or so, like 97 other players in the NBA did this season, then that’s a problem. A 2% jump to 38% chops that 97 down to 64, and the group drops further to 43 with another percent increase to 39%.

So, Vassell’s jumper appears projectable. But would I bet my life on a two-year sample size at the college level of under four attempts a game at 41%? Eh.

Nearly 100 players in college last year met his shooting volume and efficiency. Being a great shooter is getting harder.

This is probably an unfair way of saying that despite what Vassell clearly does well with coveted NBA skills, he’s not someone you should rank drastically high in a relatively weak draft because of it.

He’s a fine wing prospect, and when Suns GM James Jones said on a conference call in mid-April that he wants playmaking, defense and shooting, Vassell is one of the best matches.

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