EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

22 for 22: Is Tyler Kolek the right PG for Suns in 2024 NBA Draft?

Jun 18, 2024, 2:12 PM

Tyler Kolek #11 of the Marquette Golden Eagles shoots a free throw in the first half of the game ag...

Tyler Kolek #11 of the Marquette Golden Eagles shoots a free throw in the first half of the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Kohl Center on December 02, 2023 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

(Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

The overarching storyline of the Phoenix Suns’ offseason is they need a point guard. Phoenix also likes to draft experienced players out of college.

Enter Marquette’s Tyler Kolek, the easiest pick for mock drafters everywhere slotting in who goes to the Suns at No. 22 overall.

Kolek was one of the best players in college basketball the last two years and ends a four-year career at 23 years old. He is firmly placed outside the lottery as a prospect and will likely go somewhere in the 20s.

A trope in the NBA Draft we have highlighted in previous years applies to Kolek. There are awesome, experienced lead collegiate guards who float around the first-round bubble every year. They are usually there because of a holdback in their physical profile, such as being undersized or not quick enough. In some other cases, there’s a cap on how skilled they are to break down NBA defenses.

This was too much to overcome for Shabazz Napier (24th, 2014), Jerian Grant (20th, 2015), Joe Young (43rd, 2015), Frank Mason III (34th, 2017), Ty Jerome (24th, 2019), Carsen Edwards (33rd, 2019) and Malachi Flynn (29th, 2020).

Decent careers were carved out for Delon Wright (21st, 2015), Jevon Carter (32nd, 2018), Devonte’ Graham (34th, 2018), and Payton Pritchard (26th, 2020).

Ayo Dosunmu (38th, 2021) and Andrew Nembhard (31st, 2022) have solidified legitimate roles with upside to develop into more like Malcolm Brogdon (36th, 2016), Derrick White (29th, 2017) and Jalen Brunson (33rd, 2018).

Point being, it’s a rather hit-or-miss archetype.

Kolek was uber-productive last season, averaging 15.3 points and 7.3 assists per game with a 60% true shooting percentage. Stathead’s database goes back to 1953 and tracks only 17 players who have ever done that. The only two recent names on the NBA Draft radar were Ja Morant, one of the best guards in the NBA, and Denzel Valentine, a current Valley Sun. Now that’s two ends of a spectrum.

Naturally, because of who Kolek is and with T.J. McConnell coming off a breakout season, there is an easy comparison to make. Wondering if Kolek can be the guy the Suns haven’t been able to pry away from the Indiana Pacers for the same role is valid. But while there are some obvious similarities, they are different players, something worth exploring to define more of Kolek’s game.

McConnell has always been a prolific midrange player. The awkward-looking touch shots from 14 feet and in that were his signature at Arizona have been unlocked recently with Indiana. In McConnell’s last year with the Wildcats, 46.6% of his total shot attempts were two-point jumpers and he shot an awesome 48.6% on ’em. While Kolek shares good efficiency at 45.9%, they only made up 17.4% of his shots, per Hoop-Math.

Kolek took almost twice as many 3s as McConnell and in catch-and-shoot situations converted a terrific 44.9% of those triples.

But he was only at 29.6% off the dribble. He needs progress there and in creating a midrange game in order to become a more reliable offensive threat individually. Tracking data only had him down with 37 shot attempts as a pick-and-roll ball-handler.

What is going to make or break Kolek’s NBA future is how he is able to pick up on top defenses. McConnell is one of the smartest players in the league and uses his manipulation of what defenses are willing to give him to produce good possession after good possession. His ability to do that without a reliable 3-point shot (unless you give him three Mississippis to shoot it) often gets ignored.

Kolek seems quite sharp. The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie spoke with the guard about how similar Marquette’s offense was to what the principles are in the NBA, which should help his ability to contribute immediately.

The intangibles for Kolek are raved about.

He separated himself with the Golden Eagles as a leader, and his competitiveness gets brought up consistently. He would fit right in. Guys like that tend to be fine enough on defense and that’ll be Kolek as a pro. He will still get targeted a whole lot, though, as a 6-foot-1 point guard with a 6-foot-3 wingspan.

Kolek’s two-man playmaking game is phenomenal. While he’s not scoring outside the paint too much in these situations, he’s finding the big through tight windows.

The key differentiator there was “outside the paint” because getting in there is Kolek’s bread and butter.

He had 48.1% of his shots around the rim and the efficiency was 58.6%, two fairly ridiculous numbers when considering his size and how he really relies on quickness more than anything. He must still do this in the NBA to give his team some scoring pop when he’s on the ball.

A bigger knack for drawing fouls would be nice with this in mind. Kolek was at just a tick above three free throws a night in his last two seasons.

Let’s go back to the passing while picturing his fit with the Suns. Kolek is a fine NBA prospect, a perfectly reasonable point guard prospect to rank on the edge of the first round. But will Phoenix get the best out of him?

Kolek’s profile as we discussed is headlined by playmaking in the pick-and-roll.

Why Tyler Kolek being drafted by the Suns might cause apprehension

Who is Kolek doing the above with in Phoenix? Jusuf Nurkic? Kolek would have done wonders to partially replace what Chris Paul did for Deandre Ayton, but the Suns do not have that type of diver at center right now.

What a rookie point guard will benefit from the most in Phoenix is tremendous spacing when running the occasional action for themselves. We know Kolek isn’t prolific as a shooter off the bounce, nor efficient, so it’s about getting to the rim. Does he have the consistent burst with his frame to do that? With that rim pressure, is he drawing defenses over to begin rotations or does it come down to him using under-the-rim finishing (like McConnell) to score against a rim protector?

This is where we come full circle. Every discussion on a point guard about the Suns comes back to what they are doing for the Suns. The go-to line here is “someone to get them organized.” So Kolek is … supposed to tell Bradley Beal, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant where to go? That’s really what’s needed here? Someone to dribble the ball up, wait for Durant to get a pindown screen and pass the ball to him? Beal and Booker really can’t do that?

Your answers to those questions likely align with your overall take on the need for a point guard this offseason and if you think Kolek is the right prospect for the Suns. As you can tell, there is some skepticism here. It’s simply on the Big 3 to be much better in a more organized situation next season. Kolek’s overwhelming value comes with his pick-and-roll play, which means he should have the ball a fair bit and that means it’s not in the hands of three far more capable players. Then again, it might just be a compromise to arrive at with filling the need off the bench.

Kolek would help Phoenix. He would bring rim pressure on the ball, consistent shooting and act as a high-level connector off the ball while bringing energy. Those are all pluses.

This just doesn’t seem like the situation to get the best out of a prospect with Kolek’s specific skills. Teams like Minnesota (27th) and Utah (29th) are two examples that have the bigs to mesh with Kolek’s biggest strength of his two-man game. Now, if the Suns are going to get funky on draft night and acquire a big with a different skill set either to start or come off the bench, it makes much more sense.

But for what Kolek thrives at and what the Suns would be asking him to do as a rookie, it doesn’t link up like some other targets in this range.

Empire of the Suns

Ryan Dunn #0 of the Phoenix Suns poses for a portrait during the 2024 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot at UNL...

Kellan Olson

Phoenix Suns pick up 1st win of summer league vs. Thunder

The Phoenix Suns pulled out their first win of summer league on Wednesday in a 100-99 final over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

4 days ago

Phoenix Suns owner, Mat Ishbia looks on during the first half of the NBA game against the Oklahoma ...

Kellan Olson

Suns’ Mat Ishbia sees other teams ‘hiding’ from spending in 2nd apron

The Phoenix Suns have continued to zig while other teams zag with the new limitations in place for the NBA's mega-spenders.

4 days ago

(Twitter photo/@Suns)...

Kellan Olson

Oso Ighodaro, David Roddy flash for summer Suns in loss to Pacers

Phoenix Suns second-round pick Oso Ighodaro flashed some of what he is capable of as an NBA-ready player in a loss for the summer Suns.

5 days ago

Devin Booker #15 of the United States drives against Canada in the second half of their exhibition ...

Kellan Olson

Devin Booker, Team USA continue exhibition tour with win over Australia

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker had another solid performance in the Team USA Showcase exhibition tour ahead of the Olympics.

6 days ago

Royce O'Neale of the Phoenix Suns...

Kevin Zimmerman

ESPN’s Marks: Royce O’Neale’s contract details show bargain for Suns

If we're to shrug at how Mat Ishbia cares to spend his money, Royce O'Neale's four-year, $42 million contract is a bargain.

10 days ago

Amen Thompson #29 of the 2024 USA Basketball Men's Select Team guards Devin Booker #15 of the 2024 ...

Kellan Olson

Devin Booker continues to look the part for Team USA vs. Canada

Devin Booker continued to prove why he will be a valuable asset in the Paris Olympics for Team USA in an exhibition win against Canada.

11 days ago

22 for 22: Is Tyler Kolek the right PG for Suns in 2024 NBA Draft?