Empire of the Suns’ 5×5 NBA Draft Preview: Bigs in 2020
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 conclude with a big group that doesn’t have enough depth for 10 names, but two buzzworthy names near the top and three intriguing upside selections.
Obi Toppin, F/C, Dayton, 22
Measurables – 6-foot-9, 6-foot-11 wingspan, 220 pounds
Statistics – 20.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 63.3 FG%, 39.0 3P%, 70.2 FT%
If you’re the Suns and college basketball’s most efficient offensive player falls to No. 10, there aren’t many arguments to suggest that taking anyone else is an option.
Toppin’s fit for a team searching for a starting power forward of the future makes sense.
His three-point shot should space the court for Deandre Ayton. The springy athlete’s rim-rolling would also give Ayton a chance to sit in the corner for threes and would also complement a three-point shooting center who comes off the bench (Aron Baynes or otherwise). Toppin even has sneaky good passing skills.
But the dunks. Watching Toppin’s highlights, you can’t help but be reminded of the violent rim-attacking of former Suns forward Amar’e Stoudemire.
Incredibly dominant 35 seconds from Obi Toppin pic.twitter.com/BBI33agdOP
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) April 15, 2020
Toppin has a similar flare about his offense but comes in a thinner package, and it’s there where we can start to nitpick his flaws.
For one, it’s pretty ugly on defense.
As much as his athleticism pops off the ground, his achy movements laterally and hunched (yet high) defensive stance raise red flags about physical limitations on that end. Mentally, it’s to-be-determined.
This closeout from Obi Toppin is brutal. His high center of gravity is really problematic defensively pic.twitter.com/lwtEhlPjyd
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) March 28, 2020
Players in the past have overcome such concerning college tape once they’re coached up, but one wonders if a tweener power forward who doesn’t rebound at an elite rate or create much himself is worthy of a high draft pick. Times have changed since, say, Derrick Williams became the No. 2 pick by being an efficiency king with dunks and three-point accuracy in his sophomore college season.
Toppin was assisted on two-thirds of his ridiculous 83% makes at the rim and on a whole 94% of his three-point makes, per Hoop-Math. Those are high rates.
But that’s a worry if you’re drafting Toppin in the top-three or top-five. At No. 10, it’s hard to argue the Suns could do much better unless this draft got extra wild before they’re up. – Kevin Zimmerman
Onyeka Okongwu, C/PF, USC, 19
Measurables – 6-foot-9, 9-foot-1 wingspan, 245 pounds
Statistics – 16.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 2.7 BPG, 61.6 FG%, 25.0 3P% (4 total attempts), 72.0 FT%
My trusted colleague Kellan Olson likes to say this draft class has its warts. Well, count Okongwu as the least-warty players among it.
The USC freshman has definable NBA skills (rebounding, lateral quickness, touch) and plays within himself. That said, there’s a lot in the bag to like.
He’s an explosive leaper with great timing, as his blocking average would indicate, but his most intriguing ability as an NBA player is how fluidly he moves. That will help him stay on the floor to recover off hedges or switch late in games.
Onyeka Okongwu IQ on display with the non-flashy tag and rotation, adds the comfortable switch, lateral movement, and block to punctuate pic.twitter.com/aPEAvF0GDf
— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) August 20, 2020
Okongwu shot 42% on two-point jumpers, and that’s about guard-level numbers in an NBA center. He can attack in the post for hook shots with touch, or attack facing up to the hoop by pump-faking and taking a dribble or two.
He makes good decisions and can pass on simple reads to keep himself from forcing things that aren’t there. In other words, he knows his limitations.
Suns fans might see a slightly larger Marquese Chriss, although one who has a better idea of his role and where he fits in the fabric of a team from a schematic standpoint.
With the success the Heat and Lakers had with Bam and AD, the two most versatile defensive bigs in the NBA.
I’m not sure why Onyeka Okongwu isn’t getting talked about more as a top 5 pick. He really fits the mold of a Bam type player. pic.twitter.com/e0J9yHVPa3
— 🌟 (@LALeBron23) October 31, 2020
As a whole, maybe nothing pops other than Okongwu’s finishing ability, which by the way is still a huge part of playing as a big man in the league. His strength on screens and attacking the bucket are important parts of his package.
Yet among his 2020 classmates, it’s Okongwu’s lack of a huge red flag that arguably makes him the most complete player entering the draft. He’s smart, competes, adds a few NBA skills and is an above-average athlete in the mold that fits the modern game. – Kevin Zimmerman
Precious Achiuwa, F/C, Memphis, 21
Measurables – 6-foot-9, 7-foot-2 wingspan, 225 pounds
Statistics – 15.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 1.o APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.9 BPG, 49.3 FG%, 32.5 3P%, 59.9 FT%
If the Suns see zero appeal in options at No. 10, can’t make a trade and just want to take a shot, Achiuwa or the next guy would be my first suggestion.
Usually in college, you’ll see high-level talents like Achiuwa be restricted, but it seems like Penny Hardaway encouraged it. Instead of telling Achiuwa to focus on rebounding and defense like any coach handling someone this raw would do, it seems like Penny let the peacock fly.
Achiuwa took 3.2 two-point jumpers a game and shot a horrendous 21.4% on them. Yikes!!! Along with the 2.8 turnovers per game, his efficiency at the free throw line was poor at 59.9%.
There was some great stuff here, though. He averaged 3.0 offensive rebounds and 6.0 free throws per game, so he was still mixing it up inside.
And this is a crazy athlete we’re talking about, easily top-5 in the draft. Yes, he misses, but watch him move in open space here and then the defense at the end.
Holy crap. Precious Achiuwa is a freak athlete. Incredible display here, despite the missed shot: pic.twitter.com/LJiNRObnkQ
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) February 22, 2020
This is a complete defensive possession below as an anchor.
The appeal of Precious Achiuwa. Mobility and length pic.twitter.com/1C2UnTZ0ce
— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) June 11, 2020
His game and playstyle would require complete refinement, but he’s such a source of energy and so explosive that his defense, rebounding and finishing could be enough alone, even without the ball-handling and Pascal Siakam vibes he envisions himself putting off.
It would be genuinely shocking for the Suns to take him, but once that wore off, the appeal of a very switchable energy big makes some sense off the bench. Achiuwa’s age, 21, is the biggest thing working against him. He played like a super-young kid but he’s actually one of the oldest guys that will go in the first round. – Kellan Olson
Aleksej Pokusevski, PF, Serbia, 18
Measurables – 7 feet tall, 7-foot-3 wingspan, 201 pounds
Statistics – 9.9 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.7 BPG, 40.0 FG%, 32.1 3P%, 78.3 FT%
Let’s discuss a draft philosophy we haven’t hit on yet for the Suns.
What about wanting to punt on this pick entirely and getting that salary off the books? The draft and stash approach? That’s where we arrive at Pokusevski, who at 18, is going to need some time overseas.
The ball-handling, fluidity and point-forward skills are the most enticing elements of his game.
Pokusevski has vision and creates like he’s a point guard, not just some type of secondary creator to the side trying to do a passable job, pun intended.
It’s really unique because of Pokusevski’s size. As you see, he’s attacking defenses like he’s running the show. It’s hypnotizing for fans of upside.
Aleksej Pokusevski is a fascinating passer for an 18-year-old 7-footer. Quick decisions from the post, cross-court feeds off a live dribble and over-the-top reads.
Really impressive stuff: pic.twitter.com/tGwnAh0NBf
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) June 19, 2020
But he loves being flashy, and there are lots of possessions you’ll see him trying too much, borderline disrespecting defenses because he’s gotten too comfortable. There is a delicate balance to being the type of playmaker Pokusevski wants to be and he’s teetering and tottering all over the place.
He also doesn’t embrace contact on either end or even like to use his length on defense, which is where we bring up that he hasn’t even made it out of the second league in Greece, with Olympiakos keeping him down there off the top team.
Watch Pokusevski’s rim protection on this clip. This is the type of alarming stuff out of international prospects that indicates how long they’ve got to go.
I have no clue how he doesn’t put his hands up here when he makes this defensive rotation, especially when he is so long. How does he not have that down by now?
But then he uses it offensively with his strides and to get an angle on the pass. pic.twitter.com/k0ur4n1dh0
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) June 27, 2020
In my opinion, the largest source of optimism on Pokusevski is his jumper. He’s smooth with it off the bounce too.
One of the best-looking jumpers in the class. I think this is more promising than the ball-handling. pic.twitter.com/p2cNaGGHXt
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) June 27, 2020
Like Achiuwa, I think there needs to be a remodeling job done here.
If Pokusevski can focus more on shooting and attacking closeouts as opposed to running an offense while adding strength and showing more of a liking to defense, that’s where he can become a more valuable player. The passing is very, very good but gets tarnished by his habits. Harness that into a role player, though? That’s the stuff.
That’s asking a lot, obviously, and speaks to the problems with this class. Two of the guys with the highest upside requiring that is no bueno but makes them intriguing in the mid-first round. – Kellan Olson
Jalen Smith, C/PF, Maryland, 20
Measurables – 6-foot-10, 7-foot-1.5 wingspan, 225 pounds
Statistics – 15.5 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.7 SPG, 2.4 BPG, 53.8 FG%, 36.8 3P%, 75.0 FT%
Smith would be a reach for the Suns at No. 10 because his upside isn’t that of a starting power forward. An undersized center? Maybe.
The good news is Smith played mostly center at Maryland, and his defensive instincts for a relatively young player are there.
While he is not the smoothest athlete, his lateral quickness is good enough to hang just fine with more traditional NBA power forwards. He hits the glass hard and does the little stuff (screening, help defense) that Phoenix, for example, spent time teaching Ayton during his rookie year.
It’s Smith’s shooting that is especially compelling.
6-foot-10 Jalen Smith draining an off-movement 3 pic.twitter.com/Z82QGf3Fig
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) February 16, 2020
While he was just fine finishing at the rim on rolls, it’s his occasional pops that will become more frequent in the NBA.
He’s got enough off the bounce to attack over-aggressive closeouts to counter as well.
Jalen Smith's mobility and fluidity for a big is pretty impressive. Could have some fairly valuable scoring diversity in the NBA pic.twitter.com/AHO1CKmshC
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) February 16, 2020
For the Suns, it would be enticing to see a rookie big man with 7-foot-2 length and a 6-foot-10 frame mixing in there as a bigger power forward or backup center.
His rim-protecting abilities are pretty darn good, and the shooting would give you what Baynes provided early on in Monty Williams’ offense when Ayton was sitting out due to suspension.
Again, Smith’s willingness to stay busy — always moving, screening or attacking — and maturity could make him an instant-impact player. It’s just a matter of whether Phoenix would draft a guy who might be a solid seventh or eighth guy over someone with more upside. – Kevin Zimmerman