EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

22 for 22: Should Yves Missi or Kel’el Ware be Suns’ NBA Draft center target?

Jun 24, 2024, 9:35 AM

Yves Missi #21 of the Baylor Bears dunks against Robert Jones #12 of the Iowa State Cyclones during...

Yves Missi #21 of the Baylor Bears dunks against Robert Jones #12 of the Iowa State Cyclones during the second half of a semifinal game of the Big 12 Men's Basketball Tournament at T-Mobile Center on March 15, 2024 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images)

Welcome to the week of the 2024 NBA Draft.

The Phoenix Suns are severely handcuffed on the trade and free agent markets, leaving them the No. 22 pick as the big chip to fill one of their three needs: center, wing and point guard. Since those are, uh, like the three positions in basketball these days if you qualify a point guard as an “initiator,” they will have their fair share of choices when they are on the clock.

Center is the best crop in the back-half of the first round.

Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro reported on Burns & Gambo last week he does not expect Dayton big DaRon Holmes II to be under consideration for the Suns, citing Holmes’ lack of size as a concern.

It’s a disappointing player to rule out given Holmes’ dual offensive skill set of athletic dives and stretch capabilities has the easiest quick transition of any big in the class. Holmes’ lack of physicality at times and worries about how he would hold up as an anchor are justified but the change in dynamic he could provide the center rotation should have been intriguing to Phoenix.

Gambadoro also ruled out Duke center Kyle Filipowski, a thought with more logic behind it given he has athletic limitations like Jusuf Nurkic and would have a tough time as a rim protector given he is the rare T-Rex prospect of having the same wingspan as his height (6-foot-11).

Alas, that really leaves just two centers outside the lottery that are in range of the first round: Baylor’s Yves Missi and Indiana’s Kel’el Ware.

We’ll start with Missi since this is a fairly A-B-C scouting report to run through.

Missi’s strengths revolve around his mobility and activity. Being just shy of a 7-footer with a 7-foot-2 wingspan are solid enough measurables to work with when he moves the way he does.

You want dunks? You want lobs?

Then you see him put the ball on the deck. And then move his feet on the perimeter. And then block shots.

Missi shot 72% at the rim and actually had only 68.1% of those assisted, per Hoop-Math, which is accounted for by a fair amount of offensive rebounds but also a few of the self-creation flashes you saw above. Speaking of the offensive glass, Missi in 23 minutes per game grabbed 2.6 a contest.

As far as the upside goes with this pick for the Suns, there is a trio above the rest. It’s Missi, USC point guard Isaiah Collier and Pittsburgh guard Carlton Carrington. All three could be off the board by No. 22 for that reason.

The only concern on Missi is picking up the nuances. Baylor is maybe the most heralded defensive program over the last decade of college basketball so that put him to the test, which helped him in the long run while also showing the progress he still requires.

Here’s The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie with some observations on that.

Defensively, Missi’s technique is messy. His positioning is all over the map and indicative of a player still learning the game. … These issues are fixable, but he’s more of a project in ball screen coverages.

He needs to improve his anticipation at the rim. He knows where he needs to be, but if the driver adjusts, he does not make the necessary counter. He seems to predetermine where and when he’s going to jump. He tries to block everything, which can lead to fouls at times.

His overeagerness as a shot blocker also impacts his ability to end possessions with defensive rebounds.

It’s a slam-head-on-desk watch. Even in just a limited run-through of tape, his gaffes are evident and consistent.

But again, then you see him do some of the things like what is clipped together below and it’s even more frustrating because of how truly great he could become as a modern defensive center.

It makes sense considering the 20-year-old has only played competitive basketball for four years.

Missi shows no potential to become a shooting, scoring or playmaking threat at this time. That alone should bring some pause given the shift in the center position the last five years, but with where Missi is graded, it’s fine.

Ware, on the other hand, is a different story.

He’s even bigger, 7 feet tall with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. The agility makeup is slightly similar. Ware is going to pop with some fluidity as well. To the point on Holmes’ ability to pick-and-pop along with explosive rim running, Ware’s got all that in a larger build. Ditto for the shot-blocking and touch in shot-making areas.

Ware shot 73.6% at the rim and an even more impressive 44.6% on two-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math, armed with a capable floater game.

This is another one where you’re reading all that and wondering why this dude would even be around at No. 22. For what it’s worth, even though he’s ranked in the high teens at best and mostly in the 20s on big boards, I think he’s gone by then. Someone will get too enamored by what he does.

With that said, the 3-ball is not a known commodity. He only attempted a total of 95 across two collegiate seasons and was at 42.5% with Indiana this year after posting 27.3% at Oregon the season prior. His free-throw percentage in the combined years was 66%. The mechanics and such look solid, so it’s a decent bet, but not a sure thing. And a lot of his value is based off this versatility.

The other notable red flag is Ware’s inclination to — earmuffs Suns fans with flashbacks to a former young center — be aloof. He gets disconnected from the play a lot. It’s hard to tell whether it’s him not recognizing what he was supposed to do, just completely freezing in the moment or not caring enough to finish a play. This was a huge problem for the Ducks and his improvements after transferring are part of why he will be a first-round pick but if you pop on a game you’ll still see the moments.

 

The theme of both centers is risk. It undoubtedly holds a prominent position in both evaluations. When factoring in the context of how important this pick is to the Suns’ next couple of seasons of contention before we see what it’s like after years of building through second-apron restrictions and limited draft picks, snagging someone here with a large gap between floor and ceiling seems unwise. But they need something new at center and the biggest injection of talent would be via the draft.

We went into the season talking about how it’s more ideal if Nurkic isn’t finishing games and then it was so dire when he came off the court that there was no other choice. With a full offseason now to build the roster knowing Nurkic is on it, adding someone more fit for the modern demands of a 5 is right up there with any need to address.

Both could do it. Odds are one is going to have a decent-to-great career in the NBA and the other will not. The slight lean goes to Missi just because what he has to improve points toward inexperience more than anything, and he has more of a chance to be a positive contributor Day 1, as opposed to what has to go right for Ware off the jump.

The Suns might not have the chance to pick between the two, but if they do, they can’t get it wrong.

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22 for 22: Should Yves Missi or Kel’el Ware be Suns’ NBA Draft center target?