EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

23 for 22: NBA Draft offers no clear choice at PG for Phoenix Suns

Jun 26, 2024, 7:24 AM

There is no greater amount of possibilities to choose from for the Phoenix Suns with the 22nd pick in the NBA Draft than at point guard. A legitimate outcome when the Suns are on the clock could leave them with a half-dozen choices worth deliberating.

The issue is that none of the prospects check every box when it comes to maximizing the value of the selection and filling a need, too.

Let’s go through those boxes first.

The Suns need a floor-setter, a conductor of the orchestra or whatever other metaphor you can come up with for bringing the ball up and organizing the offense. That is a floor general acumen most basketball fans can tab easily enough.

Phoenix’s point guard also has to present himself as enough of a threat both on the ball and off it. This means giving the defense at least something to think about when coming around a ball screen besides passing or getting to the rim. While we’re on that subject, some rim pressure wouldn’t hurt, either.

There has to be trust in knocking down open 3s and making the right plays attacking closeouts. Defenses were choosing to leave Grayson Allen, the NBA leader in 3-point percentage, open when he was off the ball. So, you can imagine how often this point guard will have space when he doesn’t have the ball.

Defensively, we won’t be too greedy. Just need someone who can hang. This will be a rookie at the end of the day, so anyone will get targeted. It just can’t be a clear outright negative getting 15 minutes a game while obviously hurting the defense.

And, once again, we’re talking about someone who the Suns want to play immediately. The role is not a huge ask and possible for a first-year player to achieve. It’s 12-20 minutes off the bench of setting up Bradley Beal, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant for success while not screwing up anything else in the process.

OK, we’re there. If you did the assigned reading, you know we’ve reviewed all of the point guard prospects in question that could be on the board. If you didn’t, that’s OK. No need to SparkNotes it. We will do that for you.

Beginning from the top down, Pittsburgh guard Carlton Carrington has a pull-up jumper game with size that is likely too tantalizing for teams to let slip to the 20s, so it’s unlikely he’s there. But even if he is, Carrington struggles to score around the basket and while possessing clear potential as a playmaker, will need some development time to get there in that regard.

The best option in this blog boy’s opinion is Isaiah Collier out of USC. He’s got the best NBA package of size, quickness and strength athletically while generating a lot at the rim and making plenty of NBA passes off the heavy defensive rotations he forced. Collier also might not be able to shoot and snoozed a fair bit on defense. So, it’s not perfect to say the least.

Marquette’s Tyler Kolek is the No. 1 ask for lots of Suns fans and it is understandable. He’s a great pick-and-roll playmaker, scores inside, hits 3s and competes defensively. It’s just the lack of a reliable pick-and-roll partner in Phoenix to maximize his best skill of two-man game, the lack of scoring off the bounce and how his size will make him a target defensively that are worries.

That is the cut-off for OK value at No. 22. Collier has a ton of upside with attributes that can help the Suns right now that put him in the driver’s seat while Kolek’s likelihood of playing positive NBA minutes as a rookie is appealing enough to be a solid choice as well. If Phoenix didn’t have off-the-dribble scoring in droves, Carrington’s best skill and high ceiling overall have him atop the list.

This is a small part of why Phoenix’s best-case scenario in the draft is trading down, and that is relevant to this position discussion.

To quickly surmise for those of you slackers that once again didn’t do your homework, two teams that make a lot of sense are the Minnesota Timberwolves (Nos. 27 and 37) and Utah Jazz (Nos. 10, 29 and 32). Those are two organizations with a healthy amount of roster spots tied up and a good chunk of it is young talent.

Either 27th or 29th would be a better value on Kolek, who has a decent chance of still being on the board there. Collier could keep slipping but could also be gone by No. 22 as it is.

Those two picks, plus Nos. 32 and 37, make it more compelling to discuss UC Santa Barbara guard Ajay Mitchell and Spain’s Juan Nunez. Mitchell is more of a scorer and the jumper is a shrug of a “we’ll see how it goes!” but he’s got NBA stuff in his game right now. Nunez is the best passer and downhill playmaker out of anyone here, with big question marks everywhere else. Both have more upside than Kolek and arguably have a more definable top skill than him, too.

Most importantly, the risk of their selections would be lessened by having a second player to pick.

While saying this knowing every prospect can be a bust, the weight on that one prospect at No. 22 working out makes it feel like too much of a gamble to select someone with clear bust potential. A mix of a comfortable-enough floor with a decent-sized gap to a ceiling is the way to go. All of these PGs apply but none feel truly safe at No. 22, outside of Kolek, but his ceiling is tougher to rack up optimism on.

It also takes less of a serious bite out of the value for a role that is honestly more minimal than is getting discussed, hence Kolek’s appeal. Beal and Booker are both under contract until at least 2027. Unless Beal’s carer takes an incredibly unfortunate turn in his early 30s, we’re talking about a point guard that wouldn’t dream of starting within three years.

That’s why I will fittingly end over 25,000 words released over 23 straight days on my personal favorite prospect in this class and a guy who fits what the Suns want in Houston point guard Jamal Shead.

The trade-down targets post covered his overall game. Ignore this shmuck and take the overall synopsis from The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie, who is with us on Shead Island and has him much higher than the consensus at No. 31 on his big board, thanks in large part to a tremendous energy and defensive profile that is the type of spark the Suns are desperate for.

The last time a smaller guard made an NBA All-Defense team was in 2020, when both Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Beverley did so. I think Shead has their kind of upside on that end of the court if he can figure out an offensive role by improving as a shooter. He is among the most instinctive, high-IQ defensive players I’ve ever evaluated and possesses arguably the best motor I’ve seen on defense. I have zero question that Shead will be an impactful player on that end of the floor. He needs enough offense to consistently stay on the court. He’s still young even though he’s a four-year player, as he won’t turn 22 until after Summer League. At a minimum, I’d be stunned if he doesn’t carve out a role as a backup point guard in the NBA. If his shooting comes along, there’s even a chance he becomes a high-impact role player. His defense is that good.

Vecenie adds in his strengths breakdown for Shead that the lead guard “knows how to play and distribute out of ball screens” while never getting sped up. The issues here as Vecenie notes are size and shooting. A 29.6% career mark from 3 across four seasons is tough and Shead would have to get it threatening for the mid-30s to get meaningful minutes in crunch time or in the postseason.

But to go back to the spark element, this Suns team is greatly in need of that. No matter what gets fixed in the vibes department by a coaching change, this group showed us last year they are going to hit serious lulls. Someone trying to lift them through that would be a major assist and Shead is the rare type of player who can provide that. He’d earn the trust of the veterans immediately while also curing Phoenix’s two-year long ailment of not possessing a capable defensive option for lead ball-handlers.

Out of all the arguments for adding a point guard next season and what that player would actually be, Shead is the best possibility.

To wrap on trading down and outlining the draft as a whole, the best-case scenario is doing so and landing two-to-three prospects that are a mix of upside short term and long term. Vecenie achieved this by having Phoenix trade down with the New York Knicks (Nos. 25 and 38 for No. 22) and Portland Trail Blazers (Nos. 34 and 40 for No. 25).

Going off the players he has available, Phoenix could select UCLA center Adem Bona at 34th to add tremendous athleticism and defensive versatility to the 5 rotation. It’s a skillset that is totally absent on the free agent market, which would give Bona a chance to play right away. At No. 38, Sweden’s Bobi Klintman is a large wing that can be a project developing on the G League Valley Suns. Finally, taking Shead at 40th gains a plug-and-play point guard with everything we talked about.

This is not bulletproof and would be considered a success if just one guy was able to positively contribute in the Durant era. But it’s more bites at the apple instead of just one bigger swing, giving the Suns a better chance to complete their goal of coming out of this draft with a rotation player for next season.

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23 for 22: NBA Draft offers no clear choice at PG for Phoenix Suns