PHOENIX — Of the 18 former Kentucky players with roster spots in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns can claim three, the most of any team.
They may add a fourth later this month.
“That’s not a bad thing. They’ve had a lot of success over the past couple of years,” general manager Ryan McDonough said, referring to the Kentucky program. “It’s not something obviously we try to do. We just get the best players from wherever they come from.”
A record seven Kentucky players declared for the 2015 NBA Draft, with many considered first-round talent. That includes freshman shooting guard Devin Booker, whose name has been linked to the Suns and their pick at No. 13.
Coincidentally, Booker made Phoenix his first stop on a pre-draft workout tour that he said includes Oklahoma City and Denver in the coming days.
“This has been my dream my whole life,” he said of playing in the NBA.
Monday, Booker was the featured prospect in a group that included second-round hopefuls in Wyoming forward Derek Cooke Jr., UTEP forward Vince Hunter, Tennessee guard Josh Richardson, Ole Miss guard Jarvis Summers and Maryland guard Dez Wells.
One that had to watch his fellow Kentucky alum workout was Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe.
“I talked to him a little bit,” Booker said. “He said we could use another Kentucky guy, a knockdown shooter around here. You got Archie (Goodwin); basically the whole backcourt is Kentucky so, Brandon (Knight) also. I like the situation here.”
In his one season at Kentucky, Booker earned SEC Sixth Man of the Year honors averaging 10.0 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 38 games.
“I think he’s showed and will continue to show that he can do more than you might’ve seen watching Kentucky play. That’s no knock at them,” McDonough said. “Obviously, they had a great year, and there’s a reason they were 38-1 but they had so much talent that sometimes it’s hard for guys to show individually all of what they can do and he showed a lot of good things out here today.”
At 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, Booker has good size and strength for a two-guard at the next level plus his shooting ability, especially from long range, is what has him pegged as a potential lottery selection.
The Suns could use a player who can consistently knock down the 3-point shot, thus helping stretch the defense to open up penetrating lanes for Bledsoe and Knight, who is expected to return.
That area of the Suns’ offense mysteriously deserted them this season. They shot just 34.1 percent from three, tied for 20th-best in the league.
“That’s a need for us,” McDonough said. “Now, it doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily address it just via the draft. We’ll look at addressing it in free agency and perhaps via a trade as well. But it’s important for sure.”
Booker made 58 3-pointers, second most on the team. He shot 41.1 percent, which was highlighted by a seven-game stretch in which he connected on 20-of-28 (71.4 percent) 3-point shots.
Overall, Booker shot 47 percent from the field and 82.8 percent from the foul line.
“I feel like every team needs shooters,” he said. “Golden State is showing that right now. I’m a shooter. We’ll see where I end up.”
Booker is one of the younger players in the draft. He’ll turn 19 on Oct. 30.
McDonough came away impressed with Booker’s shooting stroke. “He does have a nice, natural touch,” he said. The GM lauded his ability to create his own spacing as well as spotting up coming off pick-and-rolls.
“A lot of time in the gym,” said Booker, who finished first in the post-workout three-minute conditioning run with 27 length-of-the-court trips. “I was staying consistent with my work and it came like second nature for me. Once people put that title on me that I’m one of the better shooters, I just wanted to be the best shooter and that’s what I feel like I was out to prove.
“I know the NBA is going to a lot of pick-and-roll and off the dribble, so I feel like I can do that also. People get caught up in trying to do things that they don’t do (well). I’m not one of those types. I say I keep it simple and just take what the defense gives me.”