NBA Draft prospects for Phoenix Suns to target trading up

Jun 21, 2023, 10:55 AM | Updated: Jun 22, 2023, 10:51 am

Jaime Jaquez Jr. #24 of the UCLA Bruins brings the ball up the court against the Oregon Ducks in th...

Jaime Jaquez Jr. #24 of the UCLA Bruins brings the ball up the court against the Oregon Ducks in the first half of a semifinal game of the Pac-12 basketball tournament at T-Mobile Arena on March 10, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Bruins defeated the Ducks 75-56. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

After the Bradley Beal trade, it’s simple. The Phoenix Suns have just a few paths to adding the key contributors they need around Beal, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant.

They can trade Deandre Ayton, use their $5 million trade exception, sign players to the veteran’s minimum and sign their own free agents.

In addition, they can use the NBA Draft. We’ve talked about how Phoenix can buy an early-to-mid second round pick and also aggressively get in on the two-way signing market that emerges during the back half of the draft, outside of its own 52nd selection. Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro reports that the pending elements of the Beal trade will determine if the Suns pick either 52nd or 57th.

There’s also the chance an Ayton trade materializes by a certain point before Thursday winds down and includes a draft pick.

That trade could either be built around a selection higher up in the draft or another so-so asset the Suns would welcome in the 25-40 range. When it comes to the former, in the tiny chance Phoenix is able to get in the back half of the lottery on Thursday, there are some great fits there too. Kentucky’s Cason Wallace is an unbelievable defensive guard prospect, Kansas’ Gradey Dick and Connecticut’s Jordan Hawkins combine elite shooting with intangibles, while Michigan’s Kobe Bufkin has dynamic two-way potential as a glue guy.

More than likely, though, we’re talking about two sections of the draft: Guys on the first-round bubble and definitive second-rounders who could slip to the 50s and/or onto the two-way market.

The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie reported Phoenix has sniffed around about the 25-40 range, and in the event it gets into that zone, here are five names that suit what they should target. Speaking of Vecenie, we will be leaning on his excellent draft guide throughout for the true expertise.

Kris Murray, F, Iowa, 23 years old

Measurables – 6-foot-9, 213 pounds, 7-foot wingspan

Stats – 20.2 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 1.5 TPG, 47.6 FG%, 33.5 3P%, 72.9 FT%

Big board rankingsThe Athletic: 17, ESPN: 25, The Ringer: 28

The first three names we will cover have received green room invites, meaning it’s expected they will go in the first round. The Suns would be lucky to get any of ’em, all of which are in possession of NBA-ready skills that will help on good teams right away.

Murray, the twin brother of 2022 No. 4 overall pick Keegan in Sacramento, is someone Vecenie notes shares similarities to, in that “they stay within themselves, know their own games” and don’t make mistakes.

The idea behind Kris Murray is his size and how he’s going to be a plus defender with a reliable jumper that he “uses the threat of the shot to be an effective driver off the catch.” Vecenie’s Synergy numbers back up Murray’s proficiency in scoring around the rim as well.

Murray, however, has a shot that loads up on a slow release, and his catch-and-shoot numbers trended down this year (33.5%). Vecenie notes how he’s a bit worried about the delayed launch, and on my limited viewing, I agree.

But if the shot goes down, he’s a big 6-foot-9 wing who defends multiple positions, rebounds and is capable of scoring off the pressure primary threats in the offense take on. There are athleticism concerns, which is a common theme of “Suns guys” we look for, but he should be fine with how talented and aware he is on the floor.

Murray’s the exact type of wing the Suns don’t really have a chance at acquiring in free agency or trades given their restricted state.

Jaime Jaquez Jr., F, UCLA, 22 years old

Measurables – 6-foot-7, 227 pounds, 6-foot-10 wingspan

Stats – 17.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 1.8 TPG, 48.1 FG%, 31.7 3P%, 77.0 FT%

Big board rankingsThe Athletic: 23, ESPN: 30, The Ringer: 27

Jaquez is a baller. As the NBA gets more athletic, bigger and longer, players like him are going more under the radar. Heady, highly skilled and hard-working hoopers.

To be fair, a lot of these guys do whiff because those problems catch up to them, especially with the athletic, bigger and longer guys doing what they can do, too. It’s fitting to discuss in the draft that Victor Wembanyama headlines.

But a prospect like Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves went undrafted because of his flaws even though a lot of scouts knew the multi-faceted nature to his offensive game that came with smarts and toughness. Here’s LeBron James to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin in April about why he likes playing with Reaves so much.

“I don’t give a (expletive) about, like, athleticism; how great you can shoot the ball; how high you can jump; how fast you can run,” James said. “I like high basketball IQ guys. Obviously, you got to have that (expletive) to win a championship. You got to have guys that can do extraordinary (expletive). But like, I’ve always had a liking to guys that just know how to play the (expletive) game of basketball.”

Jaquez shot 32.8% from 3 in four years at UCLA. His agility/explosiveness profile rates low for a wing, and part of what helped him dominate in the Pac-12 for years was a back-to-the-basket game of isolations that won’t translate fully.

As the King went on about, though, dude just knows how to play. Jaquez’s high rebounding and steal numbers (like Murray) come down to feel and a terrific motor. He can really score and playmake out of his unique style too.

Vecenie raves about Jaquez’s team defense, to the point where an athlete like Jaquez can still be a positive on that end in his eyes.

I think Jaquez is an outstanding team defender who flies across the court and is constantly in position to disrupt what the opposition wants to do. He seems to really go into games understanding the scouting report.

While on-ball defense should be a huge priority to put around the Suns’ Big 3, it’ll prove just as important to have a wing connector capable of making the right play 100 times out of 100. I cannot emphasize enough how much this burned Phoenix last postseason. Jaquez would certainly help with that, but he’s earned a green room invite indicating his prospects of falling in the order look less likely.

Brandin Podziemski, G, Santa Clara, 20 years old

Measurables – 6-foot-5, 204 pounds, 6-foot-6 wingspan

Stats – 19.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 48.3 FG%, 43.8 3P%, 77.1 FT%

Big board rankingsThe Athletic: 42, ESPN: 27, The Ringer: 25

Podziemski comes with the same pitch as Jaquez, and his deficiences are even more direct. He’s small for a two-guard and his athleticism jumped out even more to Vecenie, who has serious questions on both ends.

Can he prove that he can guard anybody? His instincts on that end aren’t bad, but tools matter in the NBA on defense when you’re going up against 6-foot-6-plus primary creators with great length that are elite athletes.

His immense statistical profile of production and efficiency caught enough eyes, however, for Podziemski to be one of the big winners of the pre-draft process. He’s one of this class’s best shooters and really fills it up. (Random aside: he didn’t start playing basketball until he was 14.)

His NBA success will be directly tied to how he adapts. Just a season ago, Podziemski was at Illinois as a freshman, unable to break through in a sporadic role, before exploding as “the guy” for Santa Clara. If he can be comfortable in a secondary/supplementary spot, Podziemski will feast on NBA defenses.

Phoenix has three all-world scorers but that doesn’t mean it can just fill out the rest of the roster with specialists. Having a shooter like Podziemski that can score in bunches would be a solid way to approach a pick as well.

Ben Sheppard, G/F, Belmont, 22 years old

Measurables – 6-foot-6, 195 pounds, 6-foot-8 wingspan

Stats – 18.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 47.5 FG%, 41.5 3P%, 68.4 FT%

Big board rankingsThe Athletic: 28, ESPN: 36, The Ringer: 33

To slightly tweak that approach and go the shooting route again but on the wing, Sheppard’s your classic four-year player with athleticism concerns.

He’s not just a catch-and-shoot threat. The ol’ Bears had him flying around screens quite often and Sheppard can get rid of that thing in a hurry.

While it’s more of some line-drive stuff ala Cam Johnson, Sheppard can slash and finish once he turns the corner.

Vecenie likes the defensive acumen as well.

Smart, sharp defensive player. Took on the toughest assignments for Belmont on the wing this past season. Good anticipation. Hits passing lanes hard. Solid one-on-one defender.

Like Podziemski, a large chunk of the pie chart on his weaknesses come down to athleticism and how it impacts Sheppard’s NBA transition. Vecenie boils it down to how Sheppard “needs to prove he won’t get moved around all the time when players decide to attack him or when he tries to get to the rim as a driver.”

The shooting alone, if he can get past the sketchy free throw percentages, would be a boost for Phoenix and Sheppard does enough around that to feel good about his chances to stick.

Andre Jackson Jr., G/F, Connecticut, 21 years old

Measurables – 6-foot-7, 199 pounds, 6-foot-10 wingspan

Stats – 6.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 43.2 FG%, 28.1 3P%, 64.6 FT%

Big board rankingsThe Athletic: 29, ESPN: 32, The Ringer: 36

I’m sure there was a front office or two furious with UConn’s dominant run to a national championship that certainly bolstered Jackson’s stock, to the point where a non-shooting wing could even be a first-round selection and no longer a potential steal later on.

Jackson checks just about every box on the rundown for a winning player at the league’s most valuable position. The only blank ones are the most valuable ones.

Vecenie describes Jackson as a “terrific team defender” with “elite feel for the game” and a physical profile as one of the best athletes in his class.

All of that really jumps out in just a little bit of tape. Check out the recognition here to see his trapped teammate, how quickly he flashes the middle and takes a pass not intended for himself because he knows where he’s going with it (while there are less than 5 seconds left!).

Jackson’s jumper is wonky and unreliable. There is also even some justified hesitation in his ability to score while attacking closeouts.

But man can he read the floor and move the ball.

Vecenie brings up Gary Payton II and Bruce Brown as comparable, targeted outcomes in roles Jackson could succeed in despite his deficiencies. Spacing is the most important thing to put around Beal, Booker and Durant but it’s hard to imagine someone going in the 25-40 range that will impact winning more consistently and immediately than Jackson.

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