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Suns receive average NBA Draft grades for Jalen Smith pick at No. 10

COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND - FEBRUARY 29: Jalen Smith #25 of the Maryland Terrapins looks on against the Michigan State Spartans at Xfinity Center on February 29, 2020 in College Park, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns turned heads when they selected Jalen Smith out of Maryland with the No. 10 overall pick in the draft on Wednesday night.

The selection of the 20-year-old forward also caught the attention of national pundits, most of which didn’t reciprocate the same love for the pick to that of GM James Jones.

Phoenix averaged a C- grade out of the eight grades compiled, with the highest mark being a B and the lowest being an F.

Here’s a look at the Suns’ 2020 NBA Draft grades:

Sporting News’ Mike Decourcy: B

Reasoning: Is Jalen Smith a bad pick? Oh, heck no. A franchise that has wandered aimlessly for most of the past decade is starting to understand what a difference it makes to have high-character players on the roster who play winning basketball. Smith was so committed to Maryland’s success that he never complained about being deployed out of position at center, and it paid off in a Big Ten championship. And he was a pain for opposing bigs in that role, because he guarded his position and he was exceptional at pick-and-pops. The only question is whether Phoenix could have traded down and still gotten him.

The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks: C

Reasoning: The Suns clearly don’t believe in draft ranges, that’s for sure. A year after shocking the NBA draft community by taking Cam Johnson at no. 11, they did it again with Smith, who was ranked no. 17 on The Ringer’s big board. There are more than a few similarities between the two players. Both are 3-and-D prospects with great size and big question marks surrounding every other part of their game. Shot-blocking centers with legitimate 3-point range aren’t quite as unusual as they used to be, but players like Smith are still fairly uncommon. The question is how much he can play as a power forward next to Deandre Ayton. Otherwise the Suns just used a top-10 pick on someone who can play only 15 minutes per game on their roster.

SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell: C

Reasoning: Phoenix made the most shocking pick of the lottery last year when they selected Cameron Johnson far ahead of his projections. The Suns have done it again this year by taking Jalen Smith at No. 10 when he was widely projected to be picked in the 20s. The 6’10 big man had an awesome sophomore year for Maryland, blossoming into an All-American. He’s certainly not an elite shooter like Johnson, but Smith is a solid floor spacer who should get plenty of open looks with Devin Booker and Chris Paul running the show. Smith’s issue is that he isn’t super quick or a great leaper, which limits his defensive impact. Johnson certainly had a nice rookie year for the Suns, so maybe Smith will surprise, too. This feels like a major reach, though.

Bleacher Reports’ Zach Buckley: C-

Reasoning: In terms of prospect value, it isn’t quite the reach that the Johnson pick seemed to be back then (though to general manager James Jones’ credit, that one worked out far better than expected). But with Deandre Ayton already holding down the interior, it’s hard to find a great fit for Smith. Before this positionless league created unicorns of all sizes and play styles, the label used to be attached to shot-blockers who could bury triples. Smith, then, might qualify as a throwback unicorn. In 2019-20, the 6’10” big man buried threes at a 36.8 percent rate and averaged 2.4 blocks per game. He’s almost a jumbo-sized three-and-D player, though he lacks the defensive versatility that label typically implies. Wasserman likened Smith to Myles Turner, who hasn’t reached stardom but has checked the boxes of a rim-protecting stretch 5. Getting a Myles Turner-type at No. 10 in this draft seems like a good thing. But if Smith is confined to a backup role, count this as the latest puzzler for Phoenix, especially with some cleaner fits—think Tyrese Haliburton and Devin Vassell—still on the board.

Sports Illustrated’s Michael Shapiro: C-

Reasoning: The Suns have now made surprising lottery picks in back-to-back years after drafting Jalen Smith with the No. 10 pick on Wednesday. Smith is a skilled shooter for his size, but his lack of mobility as a defender really calls into question his viability at the four. Deandre Ayton will likely anchor the paint in the desert for much of the next decade. Will there be room for Smith? Perhaps he can become a quality backup five, but it’s hard to imagine him thriving next to Ayton. Cameron Johnson had a strong rookie year after being the surprise of the 2019 lottery. Perhaps Smith can do the same, though I wouldn’t count on it.

CBS Sports’ Colin Ward-Henninger & Kyle Boone: D

Reasoning: Nobody could ever accuse the Suns of going by the book. Last year they shocked the draft world by taking Cam Johnson 11th overall (which has turned out pretty well), and Smith at 10 might have been even more unexpected. He has tremendous upside on both ends of the floor, but should a team with Deandre Ayton really take a center at No. 10 with some great wing options (Devin Vassell, Tyrese Haliburton, Aaron Nesmith) still available? Smith may end up being a good NBA player, but that doesn’t mean it was a good pick.

Yahoo! Sports’ Ben Rohrbach: D

Reasoning: The Suns kind of just did the Cameron Johnson thing again. Smith may well become a productive stretch forward, but his defensive limitations make him a reach at No. 10 and a more awkward fit alongside DeAndre Ayton. They may live to regret not taking Haliburton, who could have developed under Chris Paul as a future running mate for Devin Booker while still contributing in three-guard lineups straightaway.

USA Today’s Scott Gleeson: F

Reasoning: What were the Suns doing in this draft? After making a big move to acquire Chris Paul, there were plenty of roster voids. The frontcourt wasn’t necessarily one of those holes, however, so drafting forward Jalen Smith at No. 10 —when there were several more talented pieces out there — makes little sense. Especially because Smith is expected to be Deandre Ayton’s back-up. Vassell or Nesmith would’ve been much smarter picks for the Suns’ young nucleus.


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