Empire of the Suns NBA Draft Big Board 3.0: Final pre-draft rankings
The NBA Draft is less than a month away, and to celebrate the occasion, here’s our final and latest update to Empire of the Suns’ big board.
A few disclaimers before we get going:
These players are ranked with Phoenix in mind, accounting for both need and the types of players general manager James Jones has coveted, while also separating them by tiers.
If you’re looking for more of an extensive look on a majority of these prospects, our previous big boards cover them at length, and Empire of the Suns will also be rolling through the biggest names for the Suns in three different positional groupings.
Let’s dive in.
20. Tyrese Maxey, G, Kentucky, 19 years old (–)
Maxey’s a top 10-15 prospect but his lack of efficiency and floor general skills knock him down when factoring in what the Suns are looking for.
19. Leandro Bolmaro, G, Argentina, 19 years old (▼3)
Bolmaro plays a physical, downhill brand of basketball and is one of the best passers in the draft. His lack of a jumper is the reason he’s not a lottery-level prospect, but his court savvy, size and defensive effort make him a solid two-way bet.
He’d be a surprising Suns selection based on the three-point shooting being a primary fault, even though he’s got a lot of what they want in a young player.
18. Cole Anthony, PG, North Carolina, 20 years old (▼3)
Anthony’s worrisome efficiency and lack of explosion as a ball-handler cover most of why one of this draft’s best point guard prospects is down here, in a spot that accurately portrays that there are better options for the Suns.
17. Saddiq Bey, F, Villanova, 21 years old (NR)
We see a lot of prospects like Bey slip through the cracks in drafts. He’s a skilled wing who does a lot of things right on the court but is a few levels lower athletically than the typical forward.
Bey shot 45.1% from deep on 175 attempts last year and nearly 42% over his two years for the Wildcats. As expected, he does a lot of Jay Wright things on the court that force you to always hear about Villanova guys “playing the right way.”
There’s a controlled pace Bey plays at, seemingly on purpose because of his limited speed. He can make good reads as a ball-handler but doesn’t have the handle or burst to get by dudes. That limits his versatility, and as a result, his draft stock.
A smart, shooting wing like Bey should always be under consideration as a possibility in Phoenix.
16. Nico Mannion, PG, Arizona, 19 years old (▼3)
Mannion’s slow. Beyond that, he has just about everything the Suns would want out of their point guard. But he’s slow. And the floor general skills and high court sense did not translate to good numbers for Arizona anyway. And he’s slow.
Despite the obvious link of Mannion being a local product since high school, this would genuinely be the most surprising guy for Phoenix to take. Jones would basically be taking the same point guard back-to-back years in the first round. Because they’re slow.
15. Isaac Okoro, wing, Auburn, 19 years old (NR)
I really do not see how the Suns draft a player like Okoro, who shot 28.6% from three-point range with unencouraging mechanics. Still, he continues to be a consensus top-10 prospect across the board, so there’s value eventually.
Okoro is a great finisher, better-than-you-think passer and the best defender right now in this class. Everything on him circles back to the kid and how hard he works, so that’s where the optimism on his shot comes from and the extra boost for his intangibles.
The reality, though, is that players who can’t shoot don’t work on a team built around Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, and have also been avoided by Jones. In some draft classes, what Okoro does well would be enough, but this is a nice range for Phoenix with what they like.
14. Aaron Nesmith, wing, Vanderbilt, 20 years old (–)
Which brings us to Nesmith, who would have earned “the best shooter in the draft” tag if not for only a 14-game sample size. That sample size was 8.2 three-point attempts a game (!) and knocking down 52.2% (!!!) of ’em.
As my comrade Kevin Zimmerman and I covered on the Empire of the Suns podcast, Nesmith is fascinating. His team situation was a mess. Vanderbilt went 3-15 without him, where you can make a case that the offensive output asked for out of Nesmith impacted his troubling defensive performances.
The shot is legit. His off-ball movement, quick release, free throw numbers, etc. are all there. The scoring upside is at least enough for him to punish defenses if they focus too much on him from three, but as for passing, he averaged 0.9 assists per night in those 14 outings.
My gut tells me he didn’t do enough team basketball things for the Commodores to give the Suns enough faith in drafting him. They could also have a better read on that after talking to him and the people around him. Once again, he’s a name to watch at No. 10.
13. Patrick Williams, F, Florida State, 19 years old (▼4)
Williams has some of the best upside in this draft and I’m here to buy whatever anyone is selling. He’s got the offensive and defensive versatility potential that is extremely sought after for wings.
At a certain point, however, I’m going to have to dock him a bit for being more of a “project” than most of the guys in front of him. Williams didn’t start for Florida State and the readiest of his skills is probably his defense, as his impressive decision-making and passing ability as a ball-handler still yielded only 1.0 assists to 1.7 turnovers a game. The shot is going to take a while to get right on proper volume.
Williams needs time, and I don’t think the Suns would want to wait with the next couple of names also in the mix. If they do pick Williams, though, that would say a lot about how Jones still values talent even when it’s not close to a finished product.
12. Devin Vassell, wing, Florida State, 19 years old (▼2)
Stop throwing things! Are you done ye— *ducks again*
OK. I’m still going strong on both Vassell’s strengths not being quite as elite as they are being touted as, and the rest of his game being a bit limited.
There were 26 players in Power Five conferences and the Big East last season who, like Vassell, shot 41% or better from three-point range with at least 3.5 attempts a game. A few of them are in this draft class, like Desmond Bane, Tyrese Haliburton and Nesmith.
As we learned with Mikal Bridges, a prospect Vassell is often compared to, a lot can hinge on the shot. Bridges could barely play at the start of last season because of how bad it got, and gym footage emerging of Vassell tweaking his release was a stark reminder of how much that matters to project his NBA impact.
Defensively, Vassell’s good on the ball, but not great, where Bridges was a monster at Villanova. Vassell earns points for his off-the-ball prowess, and it’s well deserved, but enough to be a top-5 prospect in this class?
To reiterate my take on him for the past few months, Vassell’s a very solid 3-and-D prospect. There are just better options among this group with a blend of more reliable skills and upside.
11. Desmond Bane, G, TCU, 22 years old (▲7)
Bane is the second-best wing prospect in this class. My pen is running out of ink after checking so many boxes for what the Suns prioritize.
His playmaking rise as a senior was great to see after building up a good resume as a sharpshooting, hard-nosed off-ball guard. The 3.9 assists a game was an earned statistical improvement with the reads he was capable of seeing and executing.
Bane shot 65% at the rim his last two seasons, and despite the percentage of his three-point shots being assisted dropping from 94.1% to 69.6%, he still shot 44.2% on 6.5 attempts a game.
The more game tape you watch of Bane, the more you’ll see his night-to-night impact. He compares his on-court mentality to Marcus Smart, and honestly, that’s a half-decent player comparison to boot.
The only thing hampering Bane is a lack of upside because of his athleticism, limiting his versatility on both ends, but he’s one of the first five names I’ll mention when asked who I feel the most sure about in this class. Monty Williams would love him.
10. Grant Riller, PG, Charleston, 23 years old (▼3)
The lack of competition and size must still be spooking teams on Riller, or they’re all going rogue on ranking him highly in the hopes of stealing him. His rise late in the process has not come.
Riller is one the most shifty and explosive ball-handlers we’ve seen in the last couple of years when it comes to the handle, and he’s the best finisher around the rim in this class. Anthony Edwards and he are so far away from this class’ third-best guard when it comes to an offensive skillset right now. It’s not close. At all.
The Suns don’t have another ball-handler outside of Booker that can consistently create offense. That’s not a huge problem right now, but boy is it going to keep becoming a bigger one until they solve it. Riller would at least help their progress in solving that.
9. James Wiseman, big, Memphis, 19 years old (▲3)
Wiseman’s going to be long gone by the time the Suns pick. If he’s somehow there at No. 10, that means something has gone horribly wrong for him.
8. Obi Toppin, big, Dayton, 22 years old (▼3)
Two things for Toppin outside of the nightmare factory inside his defensive tape:
He’s not nearly as good of a rebounder as he should be. The first time I looked at his numbers I thought I was on the wrong page.
In the last five years, the two NCAA big men to go top-10 in the draft with 1.5 or less offensive rebounds a game are Jaren Jackson Jr. (1.5 on 21.8 minutes per game) and Frank Kaminsky (1.5 on 33.6 MPG). Toppin checks in at 1.2, nowhere close to the 2.5-3.5 that we typically see.
Secondly, with Toppin listed at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, he might even get handled physically by most NBA power forwards, let alone centers. Going small with him could present problems more than a benefit, which is why people are talking about him playing some small forward, but have they seen him move?!
Even with the obvious All-NBA potential his offense provides, I feel safer having him down here.
I’m still down with the idea of him and Ayton for all 48 minutes as a gravity-engulfing duo of rim-running fury, having one on the floor at all times to space the floor elsewhere. Them together, though? Tougher sell.
7. Kira Lewis Jr., PG, Alabama, 19 years old (▲1)
There’s a decent chance Lewis is my best available prospect for Phoenix when they’re up. I’m fascinated to see if Jones is willing to go a more developmental route or again select the win-now guy. Lewis could be great at just about everything asked of the position but it’ll take some patience.
6. Anthony Edwards, G, Georgia, 19 years old (▼1)
Edwards is the prospect I’m the most excited to see next season. There’s an outside shot Georgia was enough of a dumpster fire to hide the level of his talent, and then suddenly he’s very good the minute he steps on an NBA floor. Ja Morant was in a different and better situation at Murray State but had a similar problem in a college team not properly displaying the great heights of his ability.
Morant was either going to be awesome right away or take some time, and Edwards is the same in that regard. That’s why he’s probably going to be the No. 1 overall pick.
Edwards is gonna need the ball a whole lot, and there’s a delicate balance for the Suns in finding Booker scoring help while that guy also shares the ball with him and even sets Booker up too. There wasn’t enough to go off there from Edwards’ time on the Bulldogs to warrant a placement any higher.
5. Deni Avdija, F, Israel, 19 years old (▲6)
Avdija was really impressive when speaking with the media during the NBA Combine. He’s a skilled, smart basketball player that shouldn’t be punished too heavily for his shot, as I previously did the last rankings.
Even if he’s only a below-average three-point shooter, Avdija helps teams win in enough ways to be a plus on the floor still. The Suns don’t have a wing like him and he’d fit right in with the “0.5” offense.
4. Onyeka Okongwu, big, USC, 18 years old (–)
Like Toppin, Okongwu probably can’t start long term with Ayton. But the Suns could do a lot worse than grab someone they’d need to find minutes for (also known as a good basketball player) and I feel more confident Okongwu is going to be one than anyone else in this class. He’s a force inside on both ends and would bring energy and athleticism to the second unit.
3. Killian Hayes, G, France, 19 years old (–)
I’m legitimately not sure if the Suns would take Hayes if he was on the board at No. 10, which he could be. He might not be ready enough for what they’re looking for.
The primary ball-handler skills and offense overall aren’t quite up to par with some of the other top guards in this group. He’s ready on defense at least, and that might be the swing, but I’m not sure the Suns would gladly give him the keys to the second unit right away.
Hayes could be well worth the time to develop into one of the more ideal guard archetypes to put next to Booker, a primary initiator who can score and provide for others as a plus defender. But does that possibility interest Jones enough? We might have the chance to find out.
2. Tyrese Haliburton, PG, Iowa State, 20 years old (–)
Haliburton, on the other hand, has to appeal to this front office. He brings so much to the table as an overall contributor that the scoring concerns and lack of high-end defense can slide by. He’s right alongside Bane as the prospect I think Williams would vibe with the most, and Haliburton would perfectly understand his secondary role when he’s on the court with Booker or Ricky Rubio.
1. LaMelo Ball, PG, USA, 18 years old (–)
A front office needs to trust its development setting to believe Ball is the No. 1 prospect, and it’s hard to top Phoenix placing Ball as the heir apparent to Rubio under Williams’ watch.
Hidden inside all of Ball’s faults is the perfect point guard for Williams’ system, a dream setup guy for Ayton and a suitable running mate for Booker. That’s worth the risk.