EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Empire of the Suns’ NBA Draft 1st impressions, Pt. 1: Guard creators

Jul 26, 2021, 6:55 AM | Updated: Jul 28, 2021, 5:31 pm
(Getty Images)...
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Nine days after the Phoenix Suns’ season ended, the NBA Draft takes place. Due to the quick transition and a much more engaging season, Empire of the Suns is not nearly as caught up on draft prospects as usual, and with good reason!

With that in mind, we will be joining many of you in getting our first impressions on some of the potential choices for the Suns with the 29th pick on July 29. Instead of ranking these prospects, we’ll present a mix of our favorites in that range plus the ones we think you need to know about, for a total of 15 players across a three-part series.

Given the Suns’ current roster construction and this prospect pool, we’ll start with the most obvious group: guard creators.

There’s a great mix of talent across all positions for the Suns in the late first round. Instead of discussing lottery picks, it’s important to remember the portion of the draft we’re in. While all teams dream of finding a franchise cornerstone this deep into the draft, they’d also be thrilled to select a rotation piece.

And that’s what we’re looking for here. Keep less of your focus on someone who could factor into a future Big 3 and more of someone who could be a key part of the bench for years to come. That distinction will help with how we talk about these prospects, starting with the guard creators in this piece.

Behind Chris Paul and Devin Booker, the Suns were fortunate to have a breakout season from Cam Payne play a huge role on their team. But Payne is an unrestricted free agent, and behind him, there was not another consistent ball-handler who could provide playmaking in short spurts.

That’s who we’re looking for here, and will cover some of the notable candidates, with an asterisk to note we will cover another point guard or two in a latter part.

Jared Butler, PG, Baylor, 20 years old

Measurables – 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4 wingspan, 195 pounds

Stats – 16.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 4.8 APG, 2.0 SPG, 2.8 TPG, 47.1 FG%, 41.6 3P%, 78.0 FT%

Big board rankings – ESPN: 21, The Ringer: 27, The Athletic: 17

Butler is rock-solid and the ideal type of guard for the Suns to target.

A three-year player with the Bears, Butler was an All-American, made the Big 12’s All-Defense team and was the 2021 NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player for Baylor’s run to a national championship.  His efficiency took a jump as a junior, shooting a great 52.4% on his 2s.

His proficiency for spot-up shooting shined as well.

Butler’s shooting, off-ball movement and smarts make him a snug fit to play off someone like Booker or Paul. Size limitations hurt his defensive versatility, but he’s more than capable on that end and plays hard in general.

And while he’s not a high-end playmaker, Butler has improved as a passer year by year.

Butler’s stock slipped because he was originally not medically cleared by the NBA’s fitness-to-play panel to play before getting the nod on July 17. That naturally makes his draft stock a bit volatile, and when we’re talking mid-first round anyway, some guys will always slip.

This is your classic experienced, seasoned great college player whose lack of top skills and/or upside keep them outside the lottery. Off an early scan of this group, he seems like the best match for what the Suns usually target.

Ayo Dosunmu, G, Illinois, 21 years old

(Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Measurables – 6-foot-5, 6-foot-10 wingspan, 200 pounds

Stats – 20.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.1 SPG, 3.3 TPG, 48.8 FG%, 39.0 3P%, 78.3 FT%

Big board rankings – ESPN: 34, The Ringer: 33, The Athletic: 23

Dosunmu is finally in the draft after being a potential first-round pick each of the last two years. That extra time in college has made his game more well-rounded, and he went from an intriguing freshman to a First Team All-American and Bob Cousy award winner for the nation’s best point guard.

Like Butler, Dosunmu has a bevy of skills that will attract teams but also a lack of potential that would make him a surprising pick in the top-15.

Dosunmu is a tempo player, where he’ll decrease and increase his speed however necessary to navigate the defense.

Thanks to that big frame and solid vision, using that all together makes him a good provider.

That also had him shoot 64.9% at the rim, per Hoop-Math.

Add on his consistent defense and you’ve got one heck of a player who had a lot of great performances for Illinois.

The biggest question with Dosunmu is his jumper, and that mixed with not much explosive athleticism has him on the bubble of the first round.

Dosunmu shot 39.0% from deep this past season after 29.6% and 35.2% numbers the past two seasons, respectively. After posting 27.3% on two-point jumpers as a freshman, he did bump that number north of 38% in his last two years for the Illini, according to Hoop-Math, so there is some encouragement there.

But it’s a funky release and one that looks alarming off the bounce.

Whatever team takes him will need to have faith in its coaching staff and Dosunmu himself to iron that jumper out.

Miles McBride, PG, West Virginia, 20 years old

Measurables – 6-foot-2, 6-foot-9 wingspan, 200 pounds

Stats – 15.8 PPG, 3.9 APG, 4.9 RPG, 1.9 SPG, 1.8 TPG, 43.0 FG%, 41.4 3P%, 81.3 FT%

Big board rankings – ESPN: 32, The Ringer: 31, The Athletic: 22

Straight away, McBride makes a lot of sense.

As you could expect with a Mountaineer, he’s a terror on the defensive end. And with those long arms and sturdy frame, he could be a nuisance to some two-guards as well.

Yes, this clip is very Jevon Carter-esque in terms of not giving away an inch.

This is one of my favorite draft clips from this year.

McBride, however, is not like Carter in having a more limited offensive game and leaning toward being just a shooter at the next level, where we should quickly note he’s been really good too.

Anyway, there’s some sizzle in there with his offense. He had 15-plus points in 16 of his 29 games last season.

As you can see, though, there’s lots of pull-up jumpers in the mix, and McBride is closer to a good shooter than a great one in that area. He took almost half of his shots last season on two-point jumpers, 48.9% of ’em, and converted on 37.1% of the attempts. That’s why the field goal percentage is a bit low.

As a decision-maker, the thing that stands out the most watching McBride is his ability to act quickly when he understands the pressure he’s putting on the defense. He’s not lighting the world on fire by any means with advanced reads and doesn’t create a ton of space off the bounce, but if he gets a step ahead of the defense, the playmaking is there.

That and the lower turnover rate lends itself to 0.5 play in the Suns’ offense.

If McBride could bottle up some of his offensive game and simplify it a bit, getting away from some gunner tendencies, he’s one of the better possibilities in the late first round for Phoenix.

Jason Preston, G, Ohio, 21 years old

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Measurables – 6-foot-4, 6-foot-9 wingspan, 187 pounds

Stats – 15.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 7.3 APG, 1.5 SPG, 3.0 TPG, 51.4 FG%, 39.0 3P%, 59.6 FT%

Big board rankings – ESPN: 41, The Ringer: 38, The Athletic: 48

Preston is the most point-guardy point guard we will be going over.

There’s legitimate skill and intelligence to the way Preston passes. As someone not familiar with the whole class, I can’t make the declaration that he’s one of the best passers in the draft, but he has to be among the top-3.

In a repeat from Dosunmu, Preston is even slower than him, so he really needs to use size and change-of-pace elements to open things up for him.

He does, and in general, just sees the floor really well in all aspects.

While his free-throw percentage is a red flag, he’s got a good release on the jumper, was at 43.2% on his two-point jumpers after 45.5% last season and 25% of his 3s that contributed to a 39% mark from deep were unassisted.

Sprinkle in some crafty finishing with his size and you’ve got a nice, balanced offensive game.

The red flags are a lot more glaring. Preston just wasn’t a good athlete for the Bobcats, and it really showed on defense, where he will need some work. He’s dangerously flirting with the line of not being athletic enough to survive in the NBA, which obviously will affect his ball-handling duties and is why he’s not ranked in the first round by most.

But from the perspective of looking for a guard who has an accumulation of various abilities, Preston might be the best bet once we’re on the edge of the first round.

Austin Reaves, G, Oklahoma, 23 years old

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Measurables – 6-foot-5, 6-foot-6 wingspan, 206 pounds

Stats – 18.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 4.6 APG, 3.0 TPG, 44.3 FG%, 30.5 3P%, 86.5 FT%

Big board rankings – ESPN: 42, The Ringer: 34, The Athletic: 32

We will go over some more unconventional out-of-the-box prospects in a future post, and that’s where Reaves could have landed, but we’ll put him here.

Reaves is a wildcard, and if you’re a hoop head, it’s hard not to fall in love with his game. He’s a fiery off-the-bounce player who will whip out just about anything at any time, and his aggressive playstyle lends to that, armed with a loaded bag of tricks.

Pulling up from 30 feet? Sure. Euro-stepping into a swing pass to the weak-side corner? Why not. Stalling to find the late roll man? You betcha.

The dude is so used to playing physically and getting into the teeth of the defense that he’s built up an array of ways to score in those pockets of space that are somewhat unconventional.

Unsurprisingly, that led to him averaging a very high 6.8 free throw attempts per game last year for the Sooners.

Reaves’ three-point percentage (30.5%) immediately sticks out like a sore thumb, but almost 60% of his 3s were unassisted last season and he shot 43.9% on his two-point jumpers. Before getting on the ball more at Oklahoma, Reaves was at 42.5% from deep as a sophomore for Wichita State, and his career free-throw percentage of 84.4% is another positive indicator.

With that in mind, it’s affected by one of his weaknesses, which is wild and errant plays. A basketball maverick, he is, often doing too much. He’s probably not quick enough to defend most guards, either, and is too small to be a wing, so the tweener problem is there too.

If his jumper is legit, though, you’ve got a swiss army knife offensively. He’s a tough and skilled capital b Ball-player.

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