EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

22 for 22: Can Suns find rare instant contributor in NBA Draft?

Jun 14, 2024, 2:16 PM

Jaime Jaquez Jr. #11 of the Miami Heat is guarded by Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Golden State Warrior...

Jaime Jaquez Jr. #11 of the Miami Heat is guarded by Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Golden State Warriors in the second half at Chase Center on December 28, 2023 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

There is no doubting the value it would bring the Phoenix Suns to select a player in the NBA Draft who was a long-term part of what they do.

But Phoenix has committed just about everything to the short term. All of its decisions will be more centered around the now than the future — rightfully so.

With that in mind, the Suns’ decision with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2024 NBA Draft is going to be about whether they can identify a prospect who they believe has a real chance at getting playoff minutes next April.

Let’s figure out how realistic that is by going over some recent results. We previously went over how there are good odds around a wing selection in the back-half of the first round. But what that reviewed was whether those wings ever became a quality NBA player, not accounting for if they were a quality NBA player immediately.

We are bringing back our KTTAG (Kellan Thinks They Are Good) analytic to adequately judge how many players in the last five years immediately contributed as a rookie. We’re talking over a dozen minutes per game in a concrete role and with a level of play that wasn’t detrimental to the team, accepting the usual hurdles for first-year players.

This was difficult to contextualize and simplify at the same time, so we’re not so much focused on complete accuracy as we are gaining a general idea of whether the Suns have a half-decent chance of getting a useful rookie with the No. 22 pick. All-Rookie voting was a nice assist for some decisions. And a few of these guys have the surprising career path of helping right away before fading back down the totem pole.

For the sake of “range” and the lack of drop-off in a lot of cases from the mid-first round to the early second round, we will cover draft picks from 15-40. So over the past five years, that’s 130 prospects.

The number of prospects who I believe would earn a spot in the rotation if you stuck them on next year’s Suns team comes in at 25.

That’s a 19.2% hit rate on KTTAG. Not too inspiring.

Our main drawback is just across 2019-21 alone: There were a total of 18 prospects who were fair to characterize as a “late bloomer,” a young player who needed some mix of either more seasoning, a new situation or another factor.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker (17th, 2019) needed four years and a third team. Nic Claxton (31st, ’19) played 187 minutes as a rookie and is now of the best defensive big men in basketball. Miles McBride (36th, ’21) emerged on the New York Knicks just this season.

There are also lots of success stories beyond the lottery for NBA-ready guys and at least a major one each year.

Brandon Clarke (21st, 2019) was a quality big man in Memphis from the jump.

Immanuel Quickley (25th, 2020) earned Madison Square Garden’s respect right away as the Knicks’ sparkplug offensive guard and turned into the key trade chip for the OG Anunoby deal.

Ayo Dosunmu (38th, 2021) is stuck on a wonky Chicago Bulls squad, and smart teams are calling Chicago this offseason to see if they can steal away the well-rounded guard.

Walker Kessler (22nd, 2022) had great rim protection in Year 1 for the Utah Jazz.

Jaime Jaquez Jr. (18th, 2023) was one of the Miami Heat’s best players this year.

As you would imagine, the overwhelming majority of those 25 prospects spent at least two years in college and none of them were older international prospects. The only four exceptions were 19-year-old Alperen Sengun (16th, 2021) and the one-and-done trio of Isaiah Stewart (16th, 2020), Tyrese Maxey (21st, 2020) and Keyonte George (16th, 2023).

Ultimately, where we go from here is determining the “why?” behind the likelihood of the Suns trading their pick. It has been well established now in this 22 for 22 series that finding the right deal involving Phoenix’s salaries, plus the No. 22 pick, is a challenging task. They might just have to go for it with a rookie, as it is their best option to locate another piece of the puzzle this offseason.

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22 for 22: Can Suns find rare instant contributor in NBA Draft?