EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Empire of the Suns’ NBA Draft 1st impressions, Pt. 2: Variety bag
Jul 27, 2021, 6:55 AM | Updated: Jul 28, 2021, 5:31 pm
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.
After starting with guard creators, it’s time to cover some more ground elsewhere.
Once you get past the top-15 or so of the NBA Draft, you’re going to start to find some odd NBA hopefuls.
Usually, it’s somewhere in the mix of critical flaws to their game with clear talent elsewhere that makes them intriguing.
Impending restricted free agent Jarred Vanderbilt is a recent example, a Kentucky wing with awesome defensive ability, good passing traits and little to no offense, including as a shooter. That plus injury concerns saw him slide to the second round at the 41st selection in 2018.
There are a few of those types of characters in this class, some of whom have an evident role they could fill at the next level.
Sharife Cooper, PG, Auburn, 20 years old
Measurables – Six feet tall, 180 pounds (no wingspan available)
Stats – 20.2 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 8.1 APG, 1.0 SPG, 4.2 TPG, 39.1 FG%, 22.8 3P%, 82.5 FT%
Big board rankings – ESPN: 17, The Ringer: 19, The Athletic: 24
I originally wasn’t going to include Cooper in the group of 15, but in the off-chance he slips because of how bizarre his profile is, he’s pretty much perfect to encapsulate this group.
Cooper is delightfully all over the place with his strengths and weaknesses. I have not fully perused this class, but I doubt I would have seen a better passer and ball-handler if I did.
Firstly, Sharife Cooper can flat out pass that thing. The variety, either hand, he’s so casual about the tough ones to make. Call them risky but he clearly has a knack for it and most importantly it’s extremely fun to watch. pic.twitter.com/VLna3kYEtb
— Darren Barker (@djbdarren) July 26, 2021
He possesses phenomenal touch on lob passes and can find just about any angle on ’em. I have no clue how he sees them at his size.
Despite narrowly reaching six feet tall, the freshman is a menace attacking the rim too. In the spirit of the honey badger, Cooper don’t care. He’s got a full bag of finishes and prefers to just barrel into his defender if possible. There’s some clear Isaiah Thomas inspiration here.
the more i watch the more i learn sharife cooper is a bully guard, javonte smart probably has 4-5 inches and 40 pounds on rife but he puts him in the rim like he's jimmy butler pic.twitter.com/MqZtCnidHz
— Ben Pfeifer (suns FINALS) (@Ben_Pfeifer_) June 2, 2021
Check out this lefty scoop.
sharife cooper slicing through these poor missouri bigs like hot butter all game, and phewwww the lefty inside hand scoop under the shot blocker pic.twitter.com/sZ4kA578zx
— Ben Pfeifer (suns FINALS) (@Ben_Pfeifer_) July 11, 2021
Cooper managed to shoot 51.7% at the rim with an absurd 47.3% of his total shots there, per Hoop-Math, and attempted a redonkulous 8.6 free throws per game. According to Sports-Reference, Cooper is one of 20 freshmen since 1992 to reach at least eight a night. Half of those names are big-time NBA prospects, including recent top picks like Trae Young, Ben Simmons and Michael Beasley, to some more throwbacks like Larry Hughes, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Allen Iverson.
So, we have a tremendous playmaker who scores inside at a bonkers rate. What’s the holdup here?
Well, there’s the three-point percentage of 22.8% that indeed was not a typo.
Cooper’s shooting form is awkward and just flatout bad. He leans back when he shoots and it’s a borderline set shot with how little lift he gets off the ground.
The free-throw shooting (82.5%) indicates the touch is there, but that low of a number and the release are huge red flags.
Cooper also tries too much with some passes (4.2 turnovers per game), needs to iron out his scoring everywhere else but at the rim and his defensive effort was not at the standard it should be for someone as small as him.
I have no idea how it’s going to work out for him in the league and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds. Cooper as an alternate or long-term replacement for Cam Payne makes sense in that same realm of change-of-pace, high-octane lead guard.
Quentin Grimes, G, Houston, 21 years old
Measurables – 6-foot-5, 6-foot-8 wingspan, 205 pounds
Stats – 17.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.8 TPG, 40.6 FG%, 40.3 3P%, 78.8 FT%
Big board rankings – ESPN: 29, The Ringer: 40, The Athletic: 38
Grimes is a more traditional prospect compared to this weird lot we’re covering.
His 40.3% mark at range was with over eight attempts per game. Using Sports-Reference as a guide, that’s an output we see only a handful of times each year, certifying Grimes as one of this class’s snipers.
Quentin Grimes closing in on 100 3PM this season (99-of-240). The 2018 @McDAAG standout hit 41.3% from deep this year, thanks to his quick release and little wasted movement. The 6'5 guard scored 18 tonight in UH's Elite Eight win and is one to watch during the pre-draft process. pic.twitter.com/fXv0RY8sh4
— Derek Murray (@dmurrayNBA) March 30, 2021
He fills in the margins elsewhere as well. Grimes is someone who gets his fingerprints on the game, whether it’s with rebounding or defense. His defensive ability on the ball, in particular, shows a lot of promise.
Beyond that, the “but” on Grimes is what he’s got to his game from there so he’s not just a floor spacer. Can he create enough space off the dribble? How about a little playmaking? Pull-up jumpers with that stroke?
That’s the type of stuff that keeps a prospect on the first-round bubble, even though the 3-and-D appeal is there with him as a two-guard.
At the NBA Combine, with a bold asterisk that this is a scrimmage at the NBA Combine we are talking about, there was some pop off the bounce with both scoring and passing.
6-5 + 21 y/o Quentin Grimes shot the ball exceptionally well last week, going 9/16 on 3's + 6/9 on 2's. He also showed much more dynamic passing + decision-making inside the arc than @DraftExpress had seen from him at the college level
More on ESPN >> https://t.co/WFQ5v4NRUb pic.twitter.com/0YiaZ2i0nu
— DraftExpressContent (@DXContent) June 29, 2021
Maybe that can be the extra bit to his game at the next level.
Either way, with the Suns who like to stagger two All-Star guards, Grimes’ skillset is ideal to play off either guy.
Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland, G, VCU, 20 years old
Measurables – 6-foot-3, 6-foot-9 wingspan, 169 pounds
Stats – 19.5 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.9 SPG, 3.1 TPG, 44.7 FG%, 37.1 3P%, 86.2 FT%
Big board rankings – ESPN: 30, The Ringer: 30, The Athletic: 31
Bouncing off that closing point on Grimes, the Suns could simply look to maximize offense with one of the guard spots on the depth chart. And if Hyland is there at No. 29, he’ll likely be the best guy to do that.
In the era of Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, we’re gonna start seeing more young guards like Hyland in the next 5-10 years. Hyland launches from range whenever he feels necessary, and his percentage of 37.1% will improve in the league when he’s asked to do less.
Nah'Shon Hyland ❤️pic.twitter.com/WTcmBWBfct
— Basketball NCAA (@BallNcaa) February 10, 2021
Hyland’s off-ball movement is sound too.
Just a textbook off-movement 3 from Nah'Shon Hyland. Efficient footwork, squares up immediately, drills it pic.twitter.com/4o6v0PnLvF
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) November 30, 2020
He’s got good creativity with his handle and changing speeds to get to the basket, where he shot 63.5%.
All of that in his game is really legit and has him deservedly in consideration for the first round. Everything else, though, is where I struggle.
The in-between scoring saw Hyland hit only 34.0% of his two-point jumpers last season after a 22.6% mark as a freshman. Getting that down I think would open up his passing more, where 2.1 assists to 3.1 turnovers per game is not great. Tunnel vision is present for him on occasion.
Defensively, it was discouraging from the limited tape I saw. Like Cooper, there’s not enough effort to make up for his issues, like a real wiry frame and a lack of physicality to his overall game.
There’s obviously a role for Hyland in the NBA as a heat-check scoring guard in a reserve spot, especially with his shooting. I’m not sure the well-roundedness is there to be a Suns guy, though.
Sandro Mamukelashvili, C/F, Seton Hall, 22 years old
Measurables – 6-foot-10, 7-foot-1 wingspan, 217 pounds
Stats – 17.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.1 SPG, 3.3 TPG, 43.4 FG%, 33.6 3P%, 71.4 FT%
Big board rankings – ESPN: 68, The Ringer: NR, The Athletic: 45
Alright, after two fairly straightforward prospects, it’s time to get funky again.
Mamukelashivili is a stretch big who has some legit quickness and crisp movement as a ball-handler. He’s fluid on passing and shooting out of those situations, where the appeal as an unorthodox playmaker lies.
The vision and ability to pass are there. He sometimes looks like a wing on the perimeter.
Career high seven assists last night for Sandro Mamukelashvili, who's playing some point-center for Seton Hall. Highlight reel of offensive versatility vs. Marquette: pic.twitter.com/nLjsJyE813
— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) December 18, 2020
The big took under half his shots at the rim, a surprise for someone his size, and just 55.4% for efficiency.
While the three-point shooting over four years was south of 34%, the release looks good. But the jumper is far more gonna be based on how much belief the team that drafts/signs him has, because the numbers weren’t good there or on 2s, a woeful 30.7% last season.
And that’s where an NBA staff would reel Mamukelashivili in. The Pirates expanded his role, where the percentages got damaged.
Plays like this are where you really want to deploy that skillset. Get him away from initiating all the time and more so as a secondary guy asked to make the one read.
Sandro Mamukelashvili's passing and ball skills at a legit 6'11 is hard to miss. Someone worth tracking whether he stays in this year or not pic.twitter.com/nXfDoLJKBC
— Ben Pfeifer (suns FINALS) (@Ben_Pfeifer_) July 10, 2020
And to go back to his movement as a big, I was pleasantly surprised at some of the defensive flashes. He looks out of place quite a bit on that end, but maybe there are some tools to work with given his agility?
Watching my last Bouknight game for a bit and I'm glad I chose the last Seton Hall game
Sandro Mamukelashvili certainly pops for me in the background. Will dive into his offense more eventually, but had a really nice defensive possession flashing mobility and coverage diversity pic.twitter.com/qsWZWp0BQC
— Mark Schindler (@MSchindlerNBA) May 29, 2021
With that in mind, he’s not a rim protector. And teams would want to play Mamukelashivili as a 5 to maximize the opportunities offensively, so that mucks up the fit.
If you can’t tell already, Mamukelashivili requires a certain amount of buy-in. If you arrive with me there, however, there’s potential for a unique offensive weapon. The Suns could slide him into that Frank Kaminsky role, finding pockets of space within the offense for him to thrive as one of the last 2-3 guys the defense is thinking about.
Day’Ron Sharpe, C, North Carolina, 19 years old
Measurables – 6-foot-11, 7-foot-1 wingspan, 265 pounds
Stats – 9.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.4 APG, 2.0 TPG, 51.9 FG%, 50.5 FT%
Big board rankings – ESPN: 31, The Ringer: 36, The Athletic: 40
If Sharpe’s athleticism sliders were bumped up 10-20%, he’d be a lottery pick.
It’s easy to love the way he plays. Sharpe is rugged and never stops working, your classic traditional center that gets busy on the interior with a terrific motor.
He’s less explosiveness and more agility on his athletic profile, and that works fine because of how he runs the floor and makes himself available for passes around the rim.
The exciting wrinkle and where we start to veer off the path into a stranger prospect is Sharpe’s passing. While his turnovers (2.0 per game) were a bit high, his feel for rapid reads in the spots a post player will provide is excellent.
Re-watching Day'Ron Sharpe, his passing instincts are great. Some really quick reads. Only player on record with assist % > 15, O-rebounding % > 18. Also impressive 2.3 steal %. https://t.co/SxiM5Lw2Lw pic.twitter.com/wLGeamKY3H
— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) May 13, 2021
And as the above tweet references, Sharpe averaged a monstrous 3.3 offensive rebounds a night on just 19.2 minutes per game. He gnaws on glass.
After bringing that all together to establish what he does, Sharpe didn’t shoot 3s in college and has that woeful free-throw percentage (50.5%), so he needs to have real promise defensively to get some value.
With the aforementioned shiftiness, there’s potential as the backline of a ball screen and in switching situations. He’s right on the border of being a plus there.
UNC big man Day’Ron Sharpe switching onto and successfully guarding a point guard. One of my early favorite big men in the 2021 draft. I’m excited to see how he performs throughout conference play pic.twitter.com/RYMrVCjaxa
— Mavs / Magic Draft (@MavsDraft) January 13, 2021
The rim protection is there too, even though he doesn’t quite have the ups to be a true difference-maker.
Day’Ron Sharpe with a great interior rotation to step over and block the shot at the rim. Has been a really fun game from Sharpe pic.twitter.com/fxTWGftxLg
— Zach Milner (@ZachMilner13) December 1, 2020
The pause in Sharpe being a rock-solid first-rounder with a good bet on everything being transferrable is his finishing. Sharpe made 58.6% of his attempts at the rim, a number that should be much higher given the type of player he is, which points to a lack of touch.
Sharpe is a prospect who appears fairly normal at first until you really dive in, where things get interesting. And that’s before getting to the buzz from workouts that he’s developing a three-point shot.
Regardless, for a team like the Suns, if they want to add size with the pick, Sharpe being available would serve as one of the best options at the end of the first round.