EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

2022 NBA Draft targets for Phoenix Suns: Bubble 1st-rounders

Jun 22, 2022, 8:14 AM
Andrew Nembhard #3 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs reacts after making a 3-point shot during the second hal...
Andrew Nembhard #3 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs reacts after making a 3-point shot during the second half against the Memphis Tigers in the second round of the 2022 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Moda Center on March 19, 2022 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/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.

We now gander through the edge of the first round and the beginning of the second round, the easiest part of the draft to trade into and come away with a decent player in.

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

Jake LaRavia, F, Wake Forest, 20 years old

(Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Measurables – 6-foot-8, 6-foot-10 wingspan, 227 pounds

Stats – 14.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 3.7 APG, 2.7 TPG, 1.7 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 55.9 FG%, 38.4 3P%, 77.7 FT%

Big board rankings – ESPN: 28, The Athletic: 21, The Ringer: 33

Wings like LaRavia are always an interesting test case to see if well-roundedness across the board without an elite skill is enough to be a high-impact forward. Prospects like him remind me of former Arizona Wildcat Solomon Hill, who had a very nice NBA career for himself but never put it together to be a big piece for a team.

As you can see by the above stats, LaRavia’s balance translates to his production. He’s a great passer and has a nose for the ball on both ends, particularly with his cutting.

He’s the smartest player I watched out of this crop, and usually a high basketball IQ brings on some savvy too.

He makes five plays in this next clip: Jumps to deny the initial pass for a layup, blocks the shot, swipes the ball away for the putback, fights for the loose ball and then saves the ball off the opponent to win the possession.

LaRavia’s engagement levels are incredibly high. Defensively, he’s always connected to the possession and is great as a help defender. I’m not sold on the defensive versatility and how he’d survive with switches against better athletes, even though Wake Forest did it quite a bit and he held up on his end.

On offense, it’ll just be about if LaRavia can shoot. The catch-and-shoot release looks great and the percentage (38.4%) is solid. But that’s only off 73 total attempts, and in his two prior seasons at Indiana State, he was 21-of-59 (35.6%). I buy him being at least decent because LaRavia’s touch on 73 two-point jumpers was an awesome 53.4%.

The only way he’s a dribble guy in the NBA is if he improves his agility, but if he does, that unlocks a whole other part of his game as a playmaker.

LaRavia is nails and has rightfully generated some buzz in the last couple of weeks to potentially go in the first round. The way he plays and just, in general, how easy LaRavia is to play with meshes well with what the Suns look for.

Wendell Moore Jr., G/F, Duke, 20 years old

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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

Stats – 13.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.4 APG, 1.9 TPG, 1.4 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 50.0 FG%, 41.3 3P%, 80.5 FT%

Big board rankings – ESPN: 37, The Athletic: 35, The Ringer: 38

We have less ground to cover here because Moore’s in the same vein of LaRavia, just with his sliders re-adjusted for more zip athletically. The sales pitch here is featuring Moore in a backcourt alongside a primary initiator, allowing you to get Moore’s defense, shooting, cutting and slashing without primary ball-handler stuff at his size.

Moore’s improvement in 3-point shooting was tremendous at Duke. He went from 21.1% on less than an attempt per game to 30.1% on three a night to that 41.3% with a similar amount of attempts as a junior. It’ll be important for him to prove that was legit in pre-draft workouts, and if it was, I’d be surprised if he makes it to the second round.

The wing made 65.3% of his shots around the basket and 68.8% were unassisted, where Moore’s NBA body helps me sign off on his slashing as a real weapon for him at the next level. On top of that, his 4.4 assists to 1.9 turnovers per game makes one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in this class.

Like LaRavia, there’s just an obvious capped ceiling beyond everything Moore does well. It does not help Moore’s stock that there was some clear passivity in his play over three seasons, and he’s going to need to overcome that quickly to earn a spot.

If he does, though, Moore’s combo guard offerings are plentiful and right up the Suns’ alley.

Andrew Nembhard, PG, Gonzaga, 22 years old

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Measurables – 6-foot-5, 6-foot-6 wingspan, 196 pounds

Stats – 11.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 5.8 APG, 1.9 TPG, 1.6 SPG, 0.1 BPG, 45.2 FG%, 38.3 3P%, 87.3 FT%

Big board rankings – ESPN: 35, The Athletic: 69, The Ringer: 27

Nembhard is a fun one to discuss. He has been one of the best point guards in the country for a while now, and while there wasn’t a huge jump in his averages this season, Nembhard made a strong case he’s an NBA player in his senior year because of more offensive pop.

He scored 15 or more points in 13 of his games after just four such occurrences the season prior. Beyond that, eight games as a junior with at least a pair of 3-point field goals jumped to 19.

The points per game only bumped from 9.2 to 11.8 but that’s because Nembhard was the point guard on two incredibly talented teams, so he made sure everyone ate.

Nembhard showcased all he has to offer in the NBA Combine scrimmage with 26 points and 11 assists.

He took his terrific pick-and-roll play up a notch this year by becoming more of a shooter off the bounce, including from 3, so now there’s a lot more scoring upside beyond his floaters. There’s such a strong level of understanding within Nembhard’s play and the way in which he controls tempo should help him offset athleticism concerns.

To go on another small tangent about the modern NBA, Nembhard’s ability to not only guard his position but another is where there is a slight pause. Can adequate one-position defenders survive in the postseason? I don’t think we’re quite there yet calling them dinosaurs.

It’s also not a guarantee that Nembhard is that. He’s big for a point guard. It’s just the red flags with a lack of length and agility.

There is a long, storied history with floor generals picked in the late first round to the early second to upgrade the backup point guard position. Tyler Ulis (2016), Frank Jackson (’17), Frank Mason III (’17), Jawun Evans (’17), Aaron Holiday (’18), Ty Jerome (’19) and Carsen Edwards (’19) didn’t pan out. Tyus Jones (’15), Jalen Brunson (’18), Devonte’ Graham (’18), Jaylen Nowell (’19) Payton Pritchard (’20) and Ayo Dosunmu (’21) all did to varying degrees.

Do the Suns want to take a swing at Nembhard to see which group he lands in? It sure wouldn’t hurt with the short- and long-term issues in the position’s depth chart.

Penguin Air

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