EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

22 for 22: Does history favor wing picks in back-half of NBA Draft’s 1st round?

Jun 10, 2024, 8:36 AM | Updated: 8:51 am

General manager, James Jones of the Phoenix Suns before Game One of the Western Conference Second R...

General manager, James Jones of the Phoenix Suns before Game One of the Western Conference Second Round NBA Playoffs at Footprint Center on May 02, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Here are a few things we know about the upcoming Phoenix Suns offseason.

They would like to add a wing with size, fixing the season-long issue of being undersized in the starting lineup. Grayson Allen exceeded all expectations and was very good in this role. He also should not be the guy attempting to defend No. 1 options. Kevin Durant being the only playable wing was a huge disadvantage for Phoenix all year, especially when it came to how much more athletic other teams felt in comparison.

There is no easy way for the Suns to add this player. It’s not looking optimistic on the trade market unless Phoenix dangles an unprotected 2031 first-round pick. Free agency is just veteran’s minimum contracts, where last year the Suns whiffed on Keita Bates-Diop, Josh Okogie and Yuta Watanabe finding a role in the rotation.

That leaves the draft and the Suns’ 22nd overall selection this year. General manager James Jones usually targets older players who developed in college. As it turns out, wings with a few years of college experience more often than not go outside of the lottery in the first round. Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht will be a rare exception this year. And this draft class is particularly well-stocked with wings who are either international prospects or lack long-term experience in college.

There’s a chance Phoenix’s best opportunity at filling this need is taking a wing with the pick in the back-half of the first round, leading us to speculate on if Jones’ tendencies would be better for the Suns to stick to than a more raw forward prospect.

So how well do those picks traditionally go? Would a look at recent history suggest that a wing with experience is the way to go? Even more simply, is this spot in the draft a good place to find an experienced college wing? Let’s find out.

We will judge the success rate of these past selections using a new basketball metric that is taking the world by storm, KTTAG: Kellan Thinks They Are Good. You haven’t heard of it? Get out from under that rock! It’s everywhere!

All we’re doing is giving a player the nod if they have proven to be relatively successful as an NBA rotation player. If we were to plop one of them onto last year’s Suns, they would have at the very least earned minutes behind Royce O’Neale in that extra wing spot that Phoenix is attempting to fill this offseason.

And we’re looking at the best versions of these prospects. A solid indicator of this is if they ever cashed in after their rookie deal expired.

Yes, you will roll your eyes at me suggesting some names like Tony Snell, but he got a $46 million deal in 2017 because he was good! I swear! Solomon Hill had a brief run too! The Pelicans tossed him $48 million the year prior! Never forget!

Despite a few players already panning out from the last two drafts, our 10-year sample size will go from 2012-21. Again, we are looking at picks 15-30 and counting players who we would classify as wings. They aren’t bolted down to a big man skill set and they aren’t exclusively defined as a point guard, two-guard or combo guard. A certain threshold of size and versatility has to be met.

Here is the data and the conclusions:

Recent NBA Draft history of college-experienced wings

Over those 10 drafts, a total of 72 wings were taken between Nos. 15-30. That’s an average of a little more than seven per draft, making up nearly half of the back-half of the first round. No surprise there. But of the 72, 29 went on to be fairly solid contributors at one point in their careers. That’s a 40.3% hit rate on KTTAG. A surprise there.

As expected, there is almost always a diamond in the rough, and again that’s just among this positional group. And also as expected, a lot of teams aren’t able to parse through the rough to find said diamond.

The 2014 class churned out two good careers for Bogdan Bogdanovic (27th) and Kyle Anderson (30th).

Big men who didn’t pan out like Juancho Hernangomez, Guerschon Yabusele and Henry Ellenson were all taken in 2016 before Malik Beasley (19th), Caris LeVert (20th) and Pascal Siakam (27th). The next year, the inexperienced D.J. Wilson and Terrance Ferguson came off the board prior to OG Anunoby (23rd), Kyle Kuzma (27th) and Josh Hart (30th). 2020 gave us a few wings with some promising years ahead of them but none bigger than Jaden McDaniels (29th).

Now for the James Jones question. How many of these guys were experienced collegiate players with at least three years in school?

It was 23. And 14 panned out. A 60.9% KTTAG hit rate. Interesting!

Which means, yes, for non-college-experienced wings, the hit rate was just 15-for-49 (30.6%) on either international prospects or prospects who played two years or less of college ball.

Takeaways? Well, the working theory was the more NBA-ready prospects on the wing who usually slide down to this portion of the draft based on a lack of high-end potential have higher floors. The briefest of studies — with a silly acronym we made up because it sounds funny — has confirmed that.

Still, this is nothing close to a guarantee.

Even looking recently for collegiate mainstays from the 2022 draft class, Christian Braun (21st) has earned a KTTAG stamp of approval. David Roddy (23rd) and Wendell Moore Jr. (26th) have not.

Last year, Jamie Jaquez Jr. (18th) and Ben Sheppard (26th) donned the KTTAG designation before even getting selected. So did Julian Strawther (29th) and Kobe Brown (30th), who are in wait-and-see territory.

For this year, a fascinating wrinkle is there only appears to be one of these ready-now wings firmly graded outside the lottery and in the first round. Colorado’s Tristan Da Silva is the lone seasoned standout and who we will review in full for the next iteration of 22 for 22. In what should not be a shock, this has him rising in the pre-draft processes and it looks like he could even be off the board in the high teens. Da Silva is sandwiched by a bunch of one-and-done’s and International talents.

Kansas freshman Johnny Furphy, Miami freshman Kyshawn George, G League Ignite’s Tyler Smith, France’s Pacome Dadiet and the NBL’s Bobi Klintman could all go in the first round.

Maybe that inspires a slight reach on those more in Da Silva’s company, like North Carolina’s Harrison Ingram, Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr., San Francisco’s Jonathan Mogbo, Illinois’ Terrence Shannon Jr. or Cal’s Jaylon Tyson. Tyson, in particular, is moving up big boards after the NBA Combine and during workouts.

If the Suns don’t trade the pick and stay at No. 22, the odds are it is one of those players they select. And recent results tell us Jones’ line of thinking is the one to take.

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