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Empire of the Suns’ 5×5 NBA Draft Preview: Wings in the running

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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 a month 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 guys.

Through a five-part series, we now go into wings, there are five that could potentially go in the lottery and all fit a bit with the Suns.

All statistics via Sports-Reference and Hoop-Math.

Isaac Okoro, G/F, Auburn, 19

RankingsESPN: 7, The Ringer: 9, The Athletic: 6

Measurables – 6-foot-6, 6-foot-9 wingspan, 225 pounds

Statistics – 12.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 51.4 FG%, 28.6 3P%, 67.2 FT%

Okoro is one of the prospects that is benefitting the most from a weak class.

He’s the best perimeter defender coming out, consistently makes good plays with the ball and has some passing appeal as a secondary ball-handler.

That plus his highly touted intangibles add up to enough fundamental basketball player skills that have him seemingly as a lock to go in the top-10. Some reliable and safe skills on the wing? Sure!

Okoro also had 55 turnovers to his 57 assists and the concerning shooting numbers above.

His finishing at the rim is great, where he posted a 67.8% mark (!). And he took most of his shots there, 61.1% (!!!) of ’em.

The situation is going to be big for him. – Kellan Olson

Devin Vassell, G/F, Florida State, 19

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Rankings – ESPN: 11, The Ringer: 7, The Athletic: 11

Measurables – 6-foot-7, 6-foot-10 wingspan, 194 pounds

Statistics – 12.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.0 BPG

How much offensive potential does Vassell have outside of the shooting?

For one, he got more comfortable off the bounce as a sophomore. His percentage of shots as two-point jumpers rose from 15.1% to 39.5%. His efficiency on nearly 40% of his total shots? 43.1%. That’s pretty good!

That spin is his favorite and a neat go-to move to have in his bag, ala Luka Doncic’s stepback.

What about passing? Ehhhh. Only 49 assists in 30 games, but a 2.13 assist-to-turnover ratio is encouraging. That’s more of being a smart player than anything, though.

He did shoot 69.4% at the rim, and while the burst + handle combo is fine, I think there’s enough here overall to believe he’s got something to his game beyond just being a catch-and-shoot guy in the corner.

A reason to rank him a bit higher, however? I lean no, but won’t look down on an argument going the other way. Keep an eye on the weight too. That’s real low for a wing. – Kellan Olson

Deni Avdija, F, Israel, 18

Rankings – ESPN: 4, The Ringer: 4, The Athletic: 10

Measurables – 6-foot-9, 6-foot-9 wingspan, 215 pounds

Statistics – 9.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, 50.5 FG%, 33.3 3P%, 58.8 FT%

Avdija made the most moves up draft boards during the pandemic because, well, he actually got to play basketball. And while his profile as a multi-faceted play-making forward may not scream top-five pick, he’s good enough in that role — and as a member of this questionable draft class — where he just might go that high.

Or teams don’t exactly get how he would fit in on their current roster and he slips. That’s where the Suns stand out.

Avdija’s projected ceiling would put him in the same role filled by power forward Dario Saric, who started for 51 games before carving out a new role as a backup big in the bubble. While Phoenix obviously found that its dual-wing lineups worked before and after the coronavirus pause, coach Monty Williams still preached about the value of that “connector” role played by Saric and Frank Kaminsky.

As far as Avdija, he’s that with less consistent shooting but more passing pop.

If he could put on weight, Avdija would be relatively fluid for a true power forward with ball-handling chops that could put teams in problematic spots.

How scary would it be for him to initiate a pick-and-roll with Deandre Ayton screening, forcing two opposing bigs to deal with Avdija’s passing and Ayton’s ability to roll or maybe even pop on occasion?

How nice would it be to take some more load off Devin Booker? Or how nice would it be for Booker if he could make a drive-and-kick play to Avdija, who can act as that “connector” by knowing immediately where to pass next for a Booker hockey assist?

That’s the dream.

Avdija’s athleticism should only improve with age. He’s got loads of playing experience and a maturity about him. The floor is quite high: He’s a player who should stick in the league for awhile. His jumper needs to get in order, but if that comes, he’s closer to his ceiling as a starting power forward.

Aaron Nesmith, G/F, Vanderbilt, 20

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Rankings – ESPN: 13, The Ringer: 19, The Athletic: 17

Measurables – 6-foot-6, 6-foot-10 wingspan, 213 pounds

Statistics – 23.0 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 0.9 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 51.2 FG%, 52.2 3P%, 82.5 FT%

Ain’t no typos in the stats above. Nesmith was a crazy good three-point shooter on a ridiculous 8.2 attempts per game, but we also must mention that came in a 14-game sample size before his year ended with a right foot injury.

That’s all the tape there is after his freshman year in which he struggled to hit 40% overall and shot just 34% from deep. Throw in how coach Jerry Stackhouse used him so much by coming off screens — there wasn’t much on-the-ball work — and evaluating him is tough.

But if you look at just his shooting, boy, it’s hard not to love it.

Nesmith fluidly gets into his shot off high-speed catches. He doesn’t waste time, energy or concern about whether a defender is closing in on him. Immediately as a pro, he’ll be coming in off the bench to fire away.

It’d be hard to argue that won’t translate to the NBA. If you’re the Suns at No. 10, you know you’re getting a guy to space the floor even more. It’s just a matter of who else on the board can bring multiple dimensions to a team.

If Nesmith can add counters to complement his shooting and uses his great frame to become a high-caliber defender, then he’s going to be a good player.

Patrick Williams, F, Florida State, 18

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Rankings – ESPN: 9, The Ringer: 16, The Athletic: 14

Measurables – 6-foot-8, 6-foot-11 wingspan, 225 pounds

Statistics – 9.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG

I’m still in on Williams but am definitely feeling fatigued by the amount of extra time we’ve had to look at these guys. He’s got a few accentuating skills that are pretty rad but I don’t want to get carried away with ranking him too high just because of some nifty accessories.

The lefty passes are intoxicating and his vision might be the best of all first-round wings.

Ditto for the feel on contesting shots around the rim. Here’s a swipe at the ball for a block followed by some verticality.

Watch it all together.

It’s like he has the starter kit for being an ultra-valuable wing, you know?

The productivity was low and the three-point shooting was uninspiring so you can only rank him so high, but if we’re ranking guys by strictly upside in this draft, I’m putting Williams in the top-five. Ryan McDonough would take him in a millisecond. – Kellan Olson


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