Empire of the Suns’ 5×5 NBA Draft Preview: Point guards in the running
The NBA has had more than enough time to scout the 2020 NBA Draft class, and despite that, there is still a lacking consensus on the group outside the top-three.
Point guard LaMelo Ball, guard Anthony Edwards and center James Wiseman are the prospects widely assumed to fall no further than five, and then there’s a scattered group that should stick in the lottery.
After that, outcomes range from lightly expected to completely unknown. With under three weeks to go, prospects’ stocks still feel fluid, particularly once you get outside those lottery locks. This is strengthened by the positional depth of this class, with guards, wings and bigs available in most parts of the first round.
This applies specifically to the Phoenix Suns with the No. 10 overall pick, as they are right on the border of those lottery-level guys being gone, and could go in almost any direction with the position they choose to draft.
Based on that, Empire of the Suns will review the three position groups and try to nail down the 25 guys (!) to keep an eye on, which is quite the juxtaposition from a typical draft being down to a handful of prospects.
Through a five-part series, we begin with the point guards that are the best bet to be under consideration at 10th overall.
Tyrese Haliburton, PG, Iowa State, 20
Measurables – 6-foot-5, 6-foot-8 wingspan, 175 pounds
Statistics – 15.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 6.5 APG, 2.5 SPG, 50.4 FG%, 41.9 3P%, 82.2 FT%
It’s hard to argue there’s a more complete player in the draft than Haliburton, who as a sophomore made a wild leap in production while remaining as efficient as his freshman year.
When it comes to the Suns, Haliburton immediately projects as a backup guard who can initiate offense as a true point guard but still contribute with his three-point shooting (42% on 5.6 attempts per game last year) off the ball.
Like point guard Ricky Rubio, Haliburton creates not by athleticism but by creating angles and using a thin 6-foot-5 frame to see over the top of defenses.
He’s as instinctual and as smart as any player in this class. His knowledge showed with his hustle chasing down players for blocks or anticipating off the ball on help defense.
We can continue making Rubio comps from there.
The handles may not be elite at this point, but Haliburton has enough to get by and it’s his attacking style in transition plays and pick-and-rolls that should blossom in a more spread NBA game.
He needs to put on weight to be able to swing between defending either guard position, but his athleticism maybe doesn’t get enough credit. He shot 75% at the rim and despite a funky release on his jumper posted 50-40-80 shooting splits as a sophomore. In time, he has the upside to follow in Rubio’s footsteps. – Kevin Zimmerman
Killian Hayes, G, France, 18
Rankings – ESPN: 10, The Ringer: 1, The Athletic: 9
Measurables – 6-foot-5, 6-foot-8 wingspan, 215 pounds
Statistics – 11.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 46.2 FG%, 29.4 3P%, 87.6 FT%
The best international prospect in this class, Hayes improved greatly year-to-year this past season, and the progress he showed as a point guard in particular is what was the most encouraging.
He showed enough in Germany to inspire confidence that he can be a full-time point guard, putting him beyond the combo guard moniker you might place on him based on the way he scores.
The passing is legit.
With a myriad of stepbacks and the usual sauce you’d come to expect from a skilled lefty, Hayes has scoring upside too. But I believe his second-best skill is actually his defense.
Check him out in the far corner here, flashing on the roll man before closing out and locking up shop.
Haliburton, during NBA Draft Combine Zoom calls, was asked how he thinks he compares to Hayes and Ball, and he said they’re different and the best at different things, going on to label Hayes the best defender. Given Haliburton’s own strengths defensively, it’s notable that he holds Hayes in that regard, and he’s right.
Hayes has a handful of little things down on that end already, and some big ones too, like getting through screens and sticking to ball-handlers.
Hayes adding some more craft and advancements in general to his handle is a must, something we don’t often feel the need to say about lead ball handlers, which is an obvious red flag.
He gets devalued, fairly so, for his dependency on going left, lack of explosion as a ball-handler and his jump-shooting numbers failing to produce any faith.
He’s also quietly the best two-way prospect in this class on the perimeter. – Kellan Olson
Kira Lewis Jr., PG, Alabama, 19
Rankings – ESPN: 20, The Ringer: 14, The Athletic: 12
Measurables – 6-foot-3, 6-foot-5 wingspan, 180 pounds (per Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman)
Statistics – 18.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 45.9 FG%, 36.6 3P%, 80.2 FT%
We’ve written and said lots of praise on Lewis as a top-10 prospect already, so let’s go in the other direction for this snippet.
Lewis will be an archetype selection for a team, meaning they are picking him for the type of player they picture him becoming, not the one he is right now.
That’s a fancy way of saying he has upside, but as we’ve seen with lead guard prospects in the past, that projection exercise can be dangerous.
Dennis Smith Jr. flashed just about everything you’d want for a point guard, like Lewis did this year, and Smith had top-tier athleticism to build it off of. It didn’t matter.
Lewis has the blazing speed covered in that picture. That should translate to the decent feel he’s shown as a shooter, playmaker, finisher and defender. Notice how I said decent, though?
His best skill right now is probably his ability to get in the lane, but he still has to make the right play once he gets there, and finish too. He shot 57.9% at the rim, so that checks out. The tape showed a handful of missed reads, however, and that’s an area where he has to develop.
I’ll continue to point at his growth from his freshman to sophomore season as a reason to believe all these basketball traits he’s shown some potential in will keep improving. There’s just obvious risk there, and depending on how high you see both his ceiling and that risk factor is where he’s ranked for you. – Kellan Olson
Cole Anthony, PG, North Carolina, 20
Rankings – ESPN: 16, The Ringer: 15, The Athletic: 18
Measurables – 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4.5 wingspan, 190 pounds
Statistics – 18.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.3 SPG, 38.0 FG%, 34.8 3P%, 75.0 FT%
Anthony was in the discussion for the No. 1 pick last summer and a year later it couldn’t have gone much worse.
With those alarming numbers you see above, along with 3.5 turnovers a game, Anthony did not live up to the hype as a three-level scorer. The tape backed it up. He was a really frustrating prospect to watch.
Here’s a sizzle reel to give you an idea of the skillset offensively. His finishing is great, and the touch + feel + athleticism there is where someone higher on Anthony can start to argue the case for him.
That is why he’s still seen as a top 15-20 prospect, but this is either going to be a guy that clicks into place instantly or takes quite a while to turn into something if he even does at all. – Kellan Olson
Tyrese Maxey, G, Kentucky, 19
Rankings – ESPN: 15, The Ringer: 13, The Athletic: 16
Measurables – 6-foot-3, 6-foot-6 wingspan, 198 pounds
Statistics – 14.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.2 APG, 42.7 FG%, 29.2 3P%, 83.3 FT%
Read around, and it’s clear that Maxey will impress scouts and executives with his personality. He’s a hard worker and a good kid, but you’d have to buy that all those things will make him a much-improved player after a single year at Kentucky.
Maxey played a team-high 34.5 minutes per game — that says something about how trustworthy he was for coach John Calipari — while splitting backcourt duties with two other talented guards in Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Haggans. It’s projecting Maxey’s role in the NBA that leaves a lot to be desired.
At 6-foot-3 and under 200 pounds a year ago, he was more an off-ball guard and an inefficient one at that. He hit sub-30% from deep, took too many two-point jumpers and doesn’t have the numbers or the burst to say he will be anything special scoring against NBA-level help defenses.
And he hardly got to the line, either, relative to his 14 shots taken per game.
The positives: He plays within himself, does have a decent-looking shot (although a low release point) and has great feel on drives to make the right play or score with a floater or in awkward positions.
He’s a hard worker on defense and could swing between either guard position. He fits Suns GM James Jones’ prototype as a person and player. Maybe he develops into a solid decision-maker as a third guard playing an organizational role rather than a straight playmaking one. For the Suns at No. 10, it’s a matter if the point guard or power forward of the future is still on the board. – Kevin Zimmerman