EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Six NBA Draft targets the Suns could land in 2nd round after Nuggets trade

Jun 27, 2024, 6:05 AM | Updated: 7:56 am

The Phoenix Suns found more draft capital, trading out of the No. 22 slot to take the Denver Nuggets’ 28th pick and 56th pick in this draft, plus two more future second-rounders.

Phoenix nabbed Virginia wing Ryan Dunn with its first-rounder at Denver’s old position, giving the Big Three a defensive-minded wing to play alongside.

Can they upgrade with another ready-to-go player at 56? Here’s a look at six players who could fit in with the Suns and who could realistically be still on the board, in the opinions of Empire of the Suns podcast co-hosts Kellan Olson and Kevin Zimmerman.

Suns second-round pick candidates for the 2024 NBA Draft

Jamal Shead, PG, Houston, 21 years old

Measurables – 6-foot, 6-foot-3 wingspan, 201 pounds

Stats – 12.9 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 6.3 APG, 0.5 BPG, 2.2 SPG, 2.0 TPG, 40.9 FG%, 30.9 3P%, 77.9 FT%

Big board rankingsThe Athletic: 31, The Ringer: 55

You want a tough, winning — gasp — POINT GUARD? Shead’s draft range varies. He’s a smaller player who in the modern NBA could get picked on, but it’d be surprising if one team didn’t bet on him. His strong frame and competitiveness as a defender for one of the country’s best teams during the past two years could make up for the size.

Shead is a true floor general, an older player who you can envision directing an offense that includes Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal.

The 3-point shooting concerns are valid, though, and that now looks like a bigger deal considering Phoenix used their first-round choice on a defensive-minded non-shooter in Dunn.

Still, if he’s there at 56, it’d be hard to say no.

— Zimmerman

Keshad Johnson, PF, Arizona, 23 years old

Measurables – 6-foot-6, 6-foot-10 wingspan, 224 pounds

Stats – 11.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, 53.0 FG%, 38.7 3FG%

Big board rankingsThe Athletic: 51, The Ringer: 53

Johnson is the one prospect I identified as a clear second-rounder to keep an eye on where the proper fit could immediately have him positioned to be one of the steals of the draft. He’s an NBA athlete with real size on the wing, he rebounds, he can run and he just plays his ass off with a little bit of swagger, too.

How versatile he ultimately is determines his viability. Johnson is a switchable defender, but can he hang on quicker guards or is it just limited to wings? The 3-point shooting was solid but also looked the part of a jumper where you are asking more out of him when the line is moving back.

Like Dunn, Johnson would boost the Suns’ size and athleticism on the wing. A pretty easy pick to make if he’s there.

— Olson

Bronny James, G, USC, 19 years old

Measurables – 6-foot-2, 6-foot-7 wingspan, 210 pounds

Stats – 4.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.1 APG, 36.6 FG%, 26.7 3FG%

Big board rankingsThe Athletic: 72, The Ringer: 58

I understand the apprehension. But we are now in the part of the draft where the value makes sense. It’s worth noting the Los Angeles Lakers pick just prior to Phoenix at No. 55.

The realized version of James as a basketball player is exactly what the Suns want. He’s a high-IQ combo guard with a functional jumper who prides himself on irritating defensive play against ball-handlers. James himself at the NBA Combine said he strives to be like Jrue Holiday or Derrick White, and that is absolutely his sweet spot in a role where can be valuable to any team.

James, though, wasn’t able to prove for the Trojans that he’s the caliber of shooter or defender to warrant that type of projection. Hitting his ceiling requires threading the needle. He’s got to be a good shooter and good defender. The playmaking is just smart, reactionary plays, lacking real playmaking upside. He’s too small to get hyped up as a multi-positional defender beyond guards.

But in the mid-50s, he’s a solid bet.

— Olson

Cam Spencer, G, UConn, 24 years old

Measurables – 6-foot-3, 6-foot-5 wingspan, 205 pounds

Stats – 14.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.6 APG, 48.4FG%, 44.0 3FG%

Big board rankingsThe Athletic: 38, The Ringer: 43

You want some more edge to these Suns, right? Spencer has moxie in droves. He operates on the court with some attitude that suggests he knows he’s better than you, even if that’s incorrect at times. He was a perfect transfer addition by Dan Hurley to give the Huskies an elite shooter and sound secondary playmaker that filled in gaps elsewhere.

Spencer is small. He’s 6-foot-4 with a wingspan just an inch longer than that. While the competitiveness and toughness go a long way in his viability as a defender at the next level, he will be a constant target and has to survive in those stretches. He’s the type of guy to figure that out. Offensively, Spencer has got some real scoring pop with touch in other areas and fun footwork. He checks the boxes on movement shooting as well, so if he can find some space anywhere, he will make it happen. Creating the space is the challenge.

Spencer is a no-brainer if he’s on the board in the 50s. Most guys in the second round are lucky to have a certifiable NBA skill and Spencer’s shooting profile is among the best in this class. He would be slightly redundant on Phoenix’s roster but projects as someone who has a real shot to stick thanks to his intangibles.

— Olson

Jalen Bridges, F, Baylor, 23 years old

Measurables – 6-foot-7, 6-foot-10 wingspan, 213 pounds

Stats – 12.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.6 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.0 TPG, 46.6 FG%, 41.2 3P%, 82.3 FT%

Big board rankingsThe Athletic: 52, The Ringer: 46

Four years of Power Five ball split between West Virginia and Baylor gives Bridges plenty of experience. He fits the Cam Johnson mold of a bigger wing-sized shooter, though there was variance in his career: he shot below 33% his sophomore and junior seasons and above 40% his freshman and senior years. Weird.

Bridges was a sneaky solid finisher at the rim and can contribute on the rebounding front, make the right pass and defend.

His ceiling is not exactly high beyond the shooting becoming elite, and the floor gets pretty low if his senior year shooting splits tank back to those sophomore and junior level.

— Zimmerman

Tristen Newton, PG, UConn, 23 years old

Measurables – 6-foot-3, 6-foot-7 wingspan, 192 pounds

Stats – 15.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 41.5 FG%, 32.1 3FG%

Big board rankingsThe Athletic: 46, The Ringer: 57

Ditto with Shead, dude’s a winner. Newton also lacks the shooting chops, but unlike Shead he’s got legitimate NBA size for a lead guard, a steady demeanor and plenty of experience winning in college basketball.

On a team that included lottery picks Stephon Castle and Donovan Clingan, Spencer and another NBA prospect in Alex Karaban, who returned to school, it was Newton who ended up winning the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player honor after dropping 20 points and seven assists in the national title game.

— Zimmerman

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