EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

NBA Draft Combine: What might pop so far to the Suns

May 15, 2024, 11:29 AM | Updated: 12:12 pm

Jamal Shead, Houston Cougars...

Jamal Shead #1 of the Houston Cougars controls the ball during the 1st half of the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament game against Duke Blue Devils at American Airlines Center on March 29, 2024 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

ESPN’s coverage of the NBA Draft Combine on Tuesday hit heavily on the Phoenix Suns, a curious thing considering they only own the No. 22 overall pick.

It was also notable because there’s a very good chance they will pursue opportunities in the next month to trade that pick and perhaps package it with salaries to add a veteran to its 2024-25 rotation. Phoenix can’t pull the trigger on that until draft night.

Nonetheless, the coverage crew of Adrian Wojnarowski, Bobby Marks, Sean Farnham and more kept coming back to the Suns. Cameras caught president of basketball operations and general manager James Jones and new head coach Mike Budenholzer taking in the scrimmages.

A draft that’s going to be as unpredictable in the lottery down to the second round will remain a point of interest until the Suns can trade out of that draft slot.

The combine talent itself is interesting considering where Phoenix stands. A few top prospects will be drafted well before the Suns pick. The strong majority, especially of the scrimmage participants, are not projected to be first-rounders.

Here are a few thoughts from the combine so far if we’re viewing things through a Suns lens. We’ll hit on point guard reaches, a wing who the Suns would be lucky to be able to draft and then instant-impact role players who are projected to be solidly second-rounders.

The combine is making experienced point guards look good

Later on, we’ll get into an intriguing backup point guard free-agent market that the Suns could attack with the veteran’s minimum. We saw that Cam Payne Instagram story where the soon-to-be free agent is either suggesting he’s up for an Arizona Diamondbacks game or insinuating he could return to the Suns.

For now, soon-to-be rookie point guards are thriving at the combine scrimmages, which are largely rostering players who would be reaches for the Suns’ draft slot.

Three standouts who likely project as second-rounders were helping their stock Tuesday, with another scrimmage day on the docket for Wednesday. I will leave it to you to guess whether the Suns would even discuss them at No. 22 or if they could fall out of the draft altogether:

Jamal Shead: ESPN’s crew at the scene in Chicago couldn’t stop talking about Shead, who led winning teams at Houston and put up 14 points and four assists in 25 minutes during his scrimmage on Tuesday. Paired with his usual aggressive defense, the offensive juice only helps him considering he checks all of the other boxes. Shead measured the day prior at 6-foot-0.25 without shoes and 200.8 pounds with a 6-foot-3 wingspan. Size is going to bog down his stock, but that stock is still rising.

Ajay Mitchell: A bigger lead guard at 6-foot-3.25, the UC Santa Barbara prospect scored five points but piled up seven assists in his scrimmage, dictating pace and flinging the ball around in a bevy of ways off pick-and-roll actions. The real question is whether he has enough shake and the handles to be an on-ball guard — he’s getting Andrew Nembhard comparisons — but the athletic profile has clocked in better than expected. Mitchell contributed nine points and two assists off the bench Wednesday.

K.J. Simpson: A highly productive player at Colorado, he brings shooting chops (43% from three last year). He played 24 minutes off the bench in the first scrimmage and dropped 16 points, though without an assist, adding three steals. He followed that with an 11-point, four-assist performacne Wednesday. Like Shead, it’d be viewed as a reach for Simpson to be drafted in the first round. Simpson had the best athletic testing showing among the point guards fighting for first-round consideration. Do the Suns need a score-first point? Probably not, but he’s worth mentioning.

Notably, Alabama guard Mark Sears did not participate in the scrimmages despite being rostered. He was labeled with an injury/illness designation after measuring in below 5-foot-11 but popping in the athletic testing.

Devin Carter is moving out of Suns territory

It was already considered lucky if Providence guard Devin Carter was still on the board at No. 22. As one of the better prospects who went through drills at the combine, he is still largely tabbed as a non-lottery pick. His participation in most everything but the scrimmages might change that.

While he didn’t hit 6-foot-3, he posted a 6-foot-8.75 wingspan. A 42-inch max vertical and his 35-inch standing vertical tied for the best of the 2024 combine. That projects a high-level athlete that meshes with his profile as a perimeter defensive ace. He was third in the lane agility test and 10th in the shuttle. Carter’s three-quarter sprint time of 2.87 seconds set a combine record.

At Providence last year, the son of former NBA guard Anthony Carter was a 19.7-point per game scorer and averaged 8.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists. Despite a slow-loading release, he shot 38% from three on 6.8 attempts per game and added 1.8 steals.

The only thing that wouldn’t line up for a Phoenix fit is that he’s not the best lead guard from a ball-handling perspective. Still, if he’s available at 22nd, that shouldn’t be a concern.

Ready-to-go players of note

Oso Ighodaro, the undersized center out of Marquette via Desert Vista High School, put up eight points, five assists, six rebounds and two steals in 23 minutes of scrimmage action. And he took just two field goals while getting to the foul stripe six times.

His stock is a bit everywhere, from mid-first round to deep into the second. If the Suns envision him as a young Thaddeus Young, that would be the comp to make.

Let’s run down the experienced 3-and-D wings while we’re here:

North Carolina jumbo wing Harrison Ingram flashed by going 3-of-5 from three and added three steals to go with 14 points and four rebounds. He’s viewed as a high second-rounder because of his size, shooting chops and athleticism.

Creighton’s Baylor Scheierman was the other wing standout Tuesday after posting 17 points, eight boards and three steals.

Other productive scrimmage participants who project as role players on Tuesday were Baylor’s Jalen Bridges (11 points, two steals) and Arizona’s Pelle Larsson (12 points, 5-of-6 from the FT line).

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