EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Empire of the Suns’ NBA Draft 1st impressions, Pt. 3: Upside picks

Jul 28, 2021, 6:55 AM | Updated: 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.

After covering 10 players, we wrap with the off-chance the Suns want to go with young upside.

If you’re a young 2021 NBA Draft prospect with good measurables but have a lot of development left in ya, you picked the wrong draft.

This class is oversaturated with those types of players in the back-half of the first round and into the second round. We could triple this list if we wanted to.

One of the 15-20 guys who meet that description will likely be a great player, and possibly a few good ones sprinked in too.

The draft terminology here is “taking a swing,” and if the Suns are in a position where they are OK with doing that on a prospect they believe in enough to give two years of guaranteed money to, we could see another developmental selection.

Remember, while Jalen Smith had NBA-ready skills, the Suns took him as more of a perimeter-oriented 4 than a stretch-five and have spent the last year helping him grow.

Could James Jones grab another project in this draft? Here are some possibilities at No. 29.

Tre Mann, PG, Florida, 20 years old

Measurables – 6-foot-4, 6-foot-4 wingspan, 178 pounds

Stats – 16.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.4 SPG, 2.8 TPG, 25.9 FG%, 40.2 3P%, 83.1%

Big board rankings – ESPN: 22, The Ringer: 28, The Athletic: 33

People who know Mann’s game might be confused by him landing in this group because he’s got some talent that’s good to go right now at the next level.

But the upside of his profile is his point guard skills and the seasoning of his floor general ability.

Mann’s one of the best bucket-getters in the first round. He’s got a great floater and is comfortable getting downhill, where a great combination of ball-handling and shake add up to one heck of a problem for opposing defenses.

From an overall standpoint when looking at shooting, Mann has to be among the highest graded too. He’s better than most on pull-ups, to say the least. Hoop-Math has the sophomore guard down with a rarely seen 69% of his 3s as unassisted. Any number north of 25% indicates quite a few solo performances, so over two-thirds of his bombs being off his own creation is outstanding.

Once he likes the amount of space he has, he’ll pull the trigger, even from a few feet further out.

If this sounds like a pretty darn good offensive player, that’s because it is. The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie ranked the top prospects in certain skills, and he had Mann first on pull-up shooting and second on floaters.

A look at some of that coming together:

Everything else needs work, which is when we arrive at our destination of Mann ultimately being a project.

Outside of athleticism concerns that might bottle up some of that offensive skillset, particularly finishing at the rim, Mann’s nothing more than an elementary point guard at this stage. He can make the right read and pass a good chunk of the time, but in terms of really creating for his teammates and running a game, that’s where you can see some needed improvement.

From watching the tape, he’s also one of the worst defenders. Just a whole lot going wrong there that would need to be worked on, and he doesn’t have the long arms or explosiveness laterally to get a head start.

Mann’s the type of prospect that will get bumped up boards by teams that believe in their development of young players. It’s no surprise he’s highest on ESPN’s intel-based board compared to others. The Suns, armed with a track record of doing that and in need of a long-term point guard, feel like a good fit.

Daishen Nix, PG, G League Ignite, 19 years old

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Measurables – 6-foot-4, 6-foot-7 wingspan, 226 pounds

Stats – 8.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.9 TPG, 38.4 FG%, 17.6 3P%, 71.4 FT%

Big board rankings – ESPN: 40, The Ringer: 61, The Athletic: 79

We need more beefy NBA point guards. Jrue Holiday is more of an ox, but seeing him bully smaller guards with strength in the playoffs is something missing in today’s game.

Nix is that big. He weighs more than most wings in this class and the coolest part about his outlook is that he’s got that frame with great floor vision, where he’s capable of more advanced reads than someone like Mann.

Unsurprisingly, he’s a driver with that big body, unafraid to get physical. It’s a bummer he’s not all that explosive as an athlete, because his finishing game could be elite if that was the case.

To already get to the required improvement, more change of pace to Nix’s games would really be a plus. He needs more manipulation to his space creation.

And that’s about it for the pros. The cons are a long list, including his lack of a jumper across the floor and big-time struggles defensively.

The amount of work to be done is why you see him outside the top-50 on two of those three big boards. But there’s a good NBA point guard in there, one that could be different and unique in a good way.

Joshua Primo, G/F, Alabama, 18 years old

Measurables – 6-foot-5, 6-foot-9 wingspan, 189 pounds

Stats – 8.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 0.8 APG, 1.4 TPG, 43.1 FG%, 38.1 3P%, 75.0 FT%

Big board rankings – ESPN: 25, The Ringer: 27, The Athletic: 34

I’m always surprised at why drafts seem to always lack prospects like Primo, guys who check the boxes athletically and physically to some degree with a properly functioning jump shot. Just look at the top-10 of the draft right now with Scottie Barnes and Jonathan Kuminga.

That’s where Primo differentiates himself. He’s a knockdown shooter already with a quick, fluid release.

Beyond that, Primo is the number one “flashes” guy I watched from this class.

Flashes can most of the time be labeled as a part of someone’s game that is not yet established, but they show signs of getting there in due time. Suns fans can think of Mikal Bridges’ midrange game, which we even saw potential in at Villanova before it’s turned into a legitimate part of his game a few years later.

Primo’s playmaking has more than just glimmers of hope, something he showcased in the NBA Combine’s scrimmages and briefly with the Crimson Tide as well. But remember, this was with 0.8 assists and 1.4 turnovers per game.

Imagine a possession like this in Monty Williams’ 0.5 system where Primo can relocate as a shooter, like we’ve seen Cam Johnson do.

Defensively is where we got the most light shining into the room. Primo just works hard on that end and has a healthy appetite for defending, with a proper understanding of it to boot.

To go back to Bridges, there was lots to like about his game after his sophomore year, when, if he would have declared, could have still likely been a first-round pick. Instead, he came back for one more go and then landed in the lottery.

Primo could have been in a similar position. Instead, he came out right away as a freshman and one of the youngest players in the class. He will take some time, but a patient team could be rewarded.

Jaden Springer, G, Tennessee, 18 years old

(Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Measurables – 6-foot-4, 6-foot-8 wingspan, 202 pounds

Stats – 12.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.2 SPG, 2.4 TPG, 46.7 FG%, 43.5 3P%, 81.0 FT%

Big board rankings – ESPN: 27, The Ringer: 22, The Athletic: 20

Springer’s lack of offense is the only thing keeping him out of the lottery, and it’s worth noting some of what hampers him there is the limited amount of pop to his acceleration off the bounce.

Defensively, he hounds guys. Some guys just love defense, and he looks like one of ’em.

To go back to Nix a notch down the beefy point guard scale, Springer still meets the qualifications. You’ve gotta live the way he barrels through dudes to get to the rim, and that’s where the most encouraging parts of his passing show up, particularly with dump-offs to bigs.

That’s a really exciting starting base for a future NBA point guard.

The jumper on 45 total attempts from 3 checked in at a very high 44.4%, but it’s a look that takes time for him to get off, one he’ll need to speed up.

It was a crowded roster on Tennessee where Springer didn’t get opportunities to work the offense much, but there’s a lack of overall scoring and playmaking he will have to get better at either guard spot. It’s that or becoming more of a reliable shooter.

His potential is undeniable and could have him go higher than the 20s. It’s just a matter of finding the right team that wants to develop him.

J.T. Thor, F/C, Auburn, 18 years old

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Measurables – 6-foot-9, 7-foot-3 wingspan, 203 pounds

Stats – 9.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 0.9 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1.6 TPG, 44.0 FG%, 29.7 3P%, 74.1 FT%

Big board rankings – ESPN: 28, The Ringer: 32, The Athletic: 43

Thor might be the rawest prospect that has a chance of going in the first round.

With that physical profile, Thor’s got some quickness that adds up to him not just being a multipositional defender, but a big who can do a combination of switching onto perimeter players while also protecting the rim.

Here are the feet moving:

And here are recoveries on the perimeter:

Everything else in Thor’s game is toolsy.

He’s a repeat of Jalen Smith in a way with his fluidity shooting the ball, including off of movement, but that was with a poor percentage from deep (29.7%).

Catch him on the right possession and the scoring potential is borderline irresistible.

But getting past the highlights and going to tape, Thor’s going to take a while.

His feel for the game is rough and he really would have benefitted from staying in school for another year or two to get that foundation set.

I’m not sure how much Thor ventures into repeat territory with Smith in terms of the Suns considering him, and that plus how long he has to go before becoming consistent would make it very surprising if he was Phoenix’s pick.

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