EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

2022 NBA Draft targets for Phoenix Suns: Mid-1st round possibilities

Jun 21, 2022, 7:55 AM | Updated: 10:44 am
E.J. Liddell #32 of the Ohio State Buckeyes jumps to shoot the ball in the first half of the game a...
E.J. Liddell #32 of the Ohio State Buckeyes jumps to shoot the ball in the first half of the game against the Villanova Wildcats during the second round of the 2022 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PPG PAINTS Arena on March 20, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns do not have a draft pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. There are a few reasons, however, to believe they could wind up with at least a player from this class, perhaps more.

For one, the rampant speculation surrounding a sign-and-trade for restricted free agent Deandre Ayton continues, and theoretical fits like the Atlanta Hawks (Nos. 16 and 44), Indiana Pacers (Nos. 6 and 31), Portland Trail Blazers (Nos. 7 and 36), San Antonio Spurs (Nos. 9, 20, 25 and 38) and Toronto Raptors (No. 33) all have draft picks that could be a part of a package for Ayton.

That deal, of course, would have to come through after the draft. Ayton can’t agree to sign with another team until free agency starts. Erm, at least to abide by the league’s rules. Tampering?! Who said that? I didn’t even bring it up! Regardless, a young player on a cheap deal would be of interest to Phoenix given the restrictions coming as a tax-paying team. Just depends on getting the right young player.

Secondly, Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro has been reporting on Burns & Gambo for a few weeks now that the Suns are interested in buying a second-round pick. Gambadoro has said to keep an eye on teams with more selections than they know what to do with, like Oklahoma City (Nos. 2, 12, 34 and the 14 million others they have this decade), Minnesota (Nos. 19, 40, 48 and 50) and Orlando (Nos. 1, 32 and 35).

Gambadoro’s reporting includes the possibility of the Suns including a player in a trade to get higher in the draft from there, and as we’ve covered, the Suns have their fair share of movable contracts.

The goal for this four-part series is to sift through this draft class and find a mix of the types of players that general manager James Jones normally targets with who they should be targeting in my opinion.

With the lottery covered, here are three guys in the range of the mid-first round that check some Suns boxes.

(All statistics via sports-reference and hoop-math)

Tari Eason, F/C, LSU, 21 years old

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Measurables – 6-foot-8, 7-foot-2 wingspan, 217 pounds

Stats – 16.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.0 APG, 2.2 TPG, 1.9 SPG, 1.1 BPG, 52.1 FG%, 35.9 3P%, 80.3 FT%

Big board rankings – ESPN: 17, The Athletic: 18, The Ringer: 16

Eason’s right there with the previously covered Jeremy Sochan of Baylor when it comes to activity level and amount of defensive versatility.

He earned the label of a defensive playmaker, meaning he’s consistently going to get his hands on the ball whether he’s defending the ball-handler or not.

Offensively, the athleticism that allows him to shine on the other end thrives in transition. He transferred from a smaller program in Cincinnati and came to LSU with a lot more spice off the bounce than expected, which quickly got him on the first-round radar.

Eason was a tremendously productive scorer in under 25 minutes per game coming off the bench, creating constant mismatch opportunities as a small-ball 5 who could beat any opposing defender with his dribble. The physical nature of his overall play has him unbothered by taking a few bumps in order to get to the basket.

All of this meshed together occasionally for some monstrous drives.

Eason’s also a glass easter with rebounds, snagging over two a game offensively. Unsurprisingly, this all brought on a great 5.7 free throw attempts per game where he knocked ’em down consistently.

The on-ball prowess is more for his own game, though, as Eason had 33 assists in 33 games. And there’s a fair bit of polishing left with his decision-making, and that recklessness on the ball carries over to how often he gets in foul trouble defensively.

That means he’s got to shoot. And, I’m not sure? Eason’s form is similar to Jaren Jackson Jr.’s, which isn’t great, but his percentage (35.9%) for a guy that wasn’t afraid to hoist them in pull-up situations is OK. And the free-throw line (80.3%) was a positive indicator.

There’s some development left for Eason before he can be envisioned as an NBA rotation player right away, and at his age, that’s why I have him more in this group than in the discussion for the top-10 where a similar prospect like Sochan lies.

But with that said, there is a lot to like.

Eason’s defensive activity produced a 4.5% steal percentage and 6.2% block percentage. When putting in those numbers plus a threshold of 20 games played, Sports-Reference’s database going back to 2010 only tabs Philadelphia 76ers wing Matisse Thybulle as a first-round NBA prospect that reached that in college. And it’s only 17 total players in general.

A defensive presence like that on the interior and wing for the Suns with some slashing bonuses should be intriguing for Phoenix.

E.J. Liddell, F, Ohio State, 21 years old

(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Measurables – 6-foot-7, 7-foot wingspan, 243 pounds

Stats – 19.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.5 APG, 2.4 TPG, 0.6 SPG, 2.6 BPG, 49.0 FG%, 37.4 3P%, 76.5 FT%

Big board rankings – ESPN: 20, The Athletic: 33, The Ringer: 20

Liddell is an interesting prospect to discuss right after Eason because it’s a similar offensive package with a more evolved product.

Liddell is a certified midrange maestro through his post game, attempting a little over half of his total shots on two-point jumpers (51.0%) and converting on a stellar 47.9% of ’em. A bonkers 81.2% of them were unassisted. That is some true individual value on offense.

There’s a lack of the burst that Eason possesses but Liddell is comfortable using his bulky frame to fight through contact to his spot and casually shoots over perfect contests. He plays at his own pace in a great way.

Liddell racked up nearly seven attempts at the foul line a night, and with two seasons as the primary scorer for the Buckeyes, he got better at finding passing angles when extra defensive attention crept his direction.

His 3-point shot is on a line and that presents cause for trepidation with the extended range the NBA requires, but given how he went from a non-shooter as a freshman to 37.4% on 3.8 attempts per game in his junior year, there are reasons to believe he would figure it out.

Liddell’s biggest battle will be with denying dribble penetration defensively so he can keep his exceptional shot-blocking acumen on the floor.

He’s one of those dudes who instinctually sniffs out help-side opportunities and then will elevate to evaporate the basketball’s existence from there.

The lack of explosiveness in his on-ball game across both sides is essentially where the big question sits because if he can create separation against NBA perimeter defenders, he’s putting up at least 15 points a night no problem. And then he’s a plus defender too.

Liddell’s mix of offensive skill and defensive playmaking through a high motor is the type of pop the Suns’ second unit lacks at the moment.

Jalen Williams, G/F, Santa Clara, 21 years old

(Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images)

Measurables – 6-foot-6, 7-foot-2 wingspan, 209 pounds

Stats – 18.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4.2 APG, 2.1 TPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 51.3 FG%, 39.6 3P%, 80.9 FT%

Big board rankings – ESPN: 21, The Athletic: 25, The Ringer: 17

There is at least one prospect a year that causes the majority of the league to do a doubletake less than three months before the draft. That doubletake results in said prospect shooting up the draft boards while the few teams that already had him that high are furiously headbutting their desks.

Meet Jalen Williams!

A meh athletic profile with meh production in the West Coast Conference didn’t warrant much attention for Williams the past two years until those numbers you see above popped off the screen in his junior season, as he improved his true shooting percentage by almost 10%, a dramatic uptick in efficiency.

All of a sudden, the Gilbert native and Perry High School alum looked the part of three-level scorer that allows his playmaking abilities blossom, a spot on the floor he can hold thanks to a 7-foot-2 wingspan that was the talk of the NBA Combine.

Williams has huge shoulders, a level of strength like Liddell’s he uses to get where he wants. He looks so under control and skilled that you wonder what exactly happened over the last year. Do we have a “Space Jam” incident on our hands? Are those the “Like Mike” sneakers on his feet?

He’s the real deal running pick-and-roll and sported a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, so to have someone with that skillset next to a primary initiator is why there’s so much hype here.

For a guy who struggled shooting the ball the previous season (27.4%), Williams had that 3-point percentage near 40% with 31% of his makes unassisted. That’s a great rate for a wing like Williams, who profiles as more of a secondary scorer.

Liddell is worth bringing up again because there’s a similar hesitation about Williams’ athleticism. Is he quick enough to guard NBA wings? How about the other way around with his drives to the rim? The defensive tape showed a guy who cared and tried, which is all you can ask for. At the very least, though, it caps his upside as a potential All-Star scorer unless a NBA strength and development program unlocks more.

Regardless, if what Williams showed offensively last year is real, he’s the type of supplementary on-ball option every team should want. We saw how a lack of options burned the Suns, and having others to turn to like Williams is what should be prioritized this offseason.

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