The Suns’ best bet in the 2024 NBA Draft could be at wing

May 8, 2024, 1:13 PM

The Phoenix Suns will change their rotation dynamics by adding a point guard or a big in the NBA Draft, free agency or through trade.

But look at the current state of the Western Conference alone, and the positionless, wing-heavy rosters of the Timberwolves and Thunder keep plowing through their playoff opponents.

There’s a sound argument that if the best player in the NBA Draft at the Suns’ No. 22 slot is a wing, they shouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. Even if Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal will eat up the available minutes. And even if three-and-D veteran Royce O’Neale returning on a new contract is a solid bet.

Phoenix had best consider how freeing it would be if someone other than their Big Three had to guard the best opposing perimeter player. It’d be nice to get a floor-spacer and perhaps some on-ball chops, too.

Good news is this draft class — regardless of how strong it is — should have a good deal of wings still on the board for the Suns at 22nd overall.

Wings for the Phoenix Suns to eye in the 2024 NBA Draft class

Kevin McCullar Jr., Kansas

A sturdy wing with 6-foot-7 size, McCullar made his living as a defensive presence in five years split between Texas Tech and Kansas. He has a knack for jumping passes, especially on the weakside. It’s clear he sees where offenses are trying to go.

On the ball, McCullar this past year found the balance to keep his foul rates down for the first time in his career. Offensively, he’s got more than enough handles and a lot of angle craftiness at the rim to average 18.3 points and 4.3 assists per game, and the Jayhawks utilized him as a pick-and-roll initiator.

McCullar checks the rebounding boxes, too. If he can be a mild shooting threat from the corners and be the off-ball slasher that was his bread-and-butter in college, there aren’t many other flaws to him.

Warts: There’s a noticeable hitch-slash-load-up on his shot, and 33% shooting on 4.5 attempts per game as a senior at least showed some life there. He was even worse, believe it or not, from the mid-range. Still, McCullar shot 45% last season despite a shooting volume bump of five shots more than any other season in his career.

Tristan da Silva, Colorado

The 6-foot-9 jumbo wing may not have standout athleticism or necessarily pop on the court, but it was his efficiency and reliability in four years with the Buffaloes that have him marked as a solidified first-round pick. Colorado ran the offense around da Silva and point guard K.J. Simpson, and the forward put up shooting splits of 49/50/84 while averaging 16.0 points and 2.4 assists.

He’s got off-the-bounce faceup skills — and 50% shooting on shots classified as two-point jumpers. That all projects as something beyond a strict three-and-D profile.

Warts: While da Silva can operate the offense and stretch the floor, he’s not necessarily a game-changer as a defender nor big enough to play small-ball center. And he’s not a good enough rebounder to think his pro team will get a boost on that end.

Kyshawn George, Miami

Suns executive James Jones doesn’t take many risks, but maybe he would consider doing so with eyes and ears probably often on his alma mater. George should firmly be a first-round pick despite having a year’s experience in college.

He is built like an NBA prototype at wing with a lanky 6-foot-8 frame. His wingspan and poking instincts allow him to disrupt ballhandlers when it seems he’s not even pressuring the ball. On offense, he mostly stuck beyond the arc but shot 41% there on 4.2 attempts in those limited minutes. He’s also got some basic playmaking equity.

Warts: The experience factor makes this a longshot. George started 16 of 31 games and only averaged 23.0 minutes for the Hurricanes. The averages of 7.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists are generally underwhelming.

Terrence Shannon Jr., Illinois

Urging from my Empire of the Suns podcast co-host Kellan Olson gets Shannon on the list here. Another five-year player, Shannon registers more as a guard/small forward, but he’s worth a mention because of his aggressiveness on both ends. Shannon took 14.4 shots per game and nearly half from three in 2023-24, where he hit a solid 36%.

His 8.6 free throws per game show how much he gets downhill, especially in transition. At 225 pounds and 6-foot-6, he’s got the body and athleticism to project as a Marcus Smart style of defender.

Warts: Shannon’s 2.3 assists per game as a super-senior were balanced with 2.0 turnovers. For a team like Phoenix, it would be about finding out whether downshifting his offensive aggression and shot volume would take away who he is and harm the Suns’ star players. Can he fully buy in to becoming a defensive ace while picking his spots to be aggressive on offense?

Ja’Kobe Walter, Baylor

Likely Baylor’s first of several prospects off the board, Walter falls on the scale of Shannon without the college production. The upside, though, is in a 6-foot-5 frame and his compete level that stood out in how he put in the effort chasing down players from behind even if he lost on-ball contain. Walter, like Shannon, attacks on offense.

He got to the foul stripe 5.2 times per game, where he shot 79% to allude to a jumper that’s better than his averages (38% overall and 34% from three on 6.3 attempts per game).

Warts: There isn’t enough evidence of efficiency, but there is upside in Walter’s play-making and lead guard chops at 6-foot-5. For the Suns’ purposes, it’s hard to imagine what his role would be in Year 1, but he’s worth a mention as a prospect who would have to fall to reach the Suns at 22.

Jalen Bridges, Baylor

To be honest, I’m including Bridges because he indeed has a name spliced between two recent Suns draft picks (Jalen Smith and Mikal Bridges), plays more like another Phoenix first-round pick (Cam Johnson) and to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Conner is compared to “Royce O’Neale crossed with Mikal Bridges.”

He doesn’t bring the on-ball juice of the other prospects on this list but is a low-mistake, long (6-foot-10 wingspan) three-and-D prospect. Bridges took the majority of his shots from three and hit 41% this past year.

Warts: The production was never there for Bridges, topping out at 12.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game as a senior. He would be a reach at 22, as he’s not listed as a first-round pick on notable big boards. But he got a combine invite for a reason.

Tyon Grant-Foster, Grand Canyon

Hammering a slow-paced Saint Mary’s team and then the fast-paced Alabama squad with 30 combined free throws in the NCAA Tournament showed how good of an athlete the 6-foot-7 wing is. Grant-Foster notably missed 13 of those foul shots and still ended up with, respectively, 22 and 29 points in those games.

It’s what he does around the margins that make him worth reaching for. He attacks the glass and causes problems on the ball and off from his athleticism alone. If you aren’t aware, watch this.

Warts: His history of heart problems likely caps his ceiling and keeps him out of the first round, as does his age (24 years old) and single year of college production in a mid-major conference. The medicals matter, but if they check out, expect him to challenge for a first-round pick. His 33% three-point shot needs to improve, but there was enough there to believe that can happen.

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