EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns round out solid NBA Draft ahead of free agency

Jun 28, 2024, 8:23 PM | Updated: 8:51 pm

Osasere Ighodaro speaks to the media after being selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 40...

Osasere Ighodaro speaks to the media after being selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 40th pick during the second round of the 2024 NBA Draft at ESPN Seaport District Studios on June 27, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Luke Hales/Getty Images)

(Photo by Luke Hales/Getty Images)

In a roundabout way, the 2024 NBA Draft was right out the playbook for general manager James Jones.

Thursday’s second round included the Suns trading up to select Marquette center Oso Ighodaro, a four-year player with a certified resume and a well-rounded skill set that allows him to play right now. That ties directly into the 2019 selections of Cam Johnson and Ty Jerome, plus Toumani Camara last year.

Wednesday’s move of trading down six spots for Virginia wing Ryan Dunn is more in the mold of 2020 first-round pick Jalen Smith. Smith was an unconventional stretch big Phoenix envisioned as more of a larger wing, an attempt to take some of Smith’s lower value and capitalize on it by turning him into a player most scouts weren’t seeing.

There are some similarities there with Dunn, considering Dunn can’t shoot right now, so the Suns will likely have to be inventive with his offensive role. It might resemble more of a small-ball rolling 5 while the jumper develops. That is not conventional.

The addition of Ighodaro is a big one. While every prospect including Ighodaro has a route to becoming a bust, Dunn’s got very concerning shooting numbers and offensive tape that increases the risk on the pick. When factoring in the context of how Phoenix really needed to come out of this draft with at least a rotation player, the odds were shaky on just Dunn alone. But Ighodaro is one of the safest bets in the second round to become a serviceable pro.

Ighodaro has a strong base attribute-wise of mobility on both ends with a high basketball IQ. He should be a fairly versatile defensive big because of that combination. Don’t expect a guy absolutely flying around and changing games like Dunn but he is capable of executing all the schemes while moving his feet on switches.

While Ighodaro is not a hyper-explosive rim runner like some of the other center prospects discussed, he is a lob threat. And most importantly, he’s a really good passer, so short roll decision-making with tons of space will be no problem for him. He averaged over three assists per game the last two seasons.

Like Jusuf Nurkic, he will form instant chemistry with Kevin Durant on cuts. Ditto for Dunn.

Like Nurkic as well, Ighodaro will have to take care of the ball in order to maximize the returns on his passing. There are a few you see him toss you’d want back, and given the limited nature of Ighodaro’s future role, the turnovers have to be minimal.

There is limited downside with Ighodaro. What’s critical for him is that the agility and smarts smoothly translate. If he’s a step slower than we think or not downloading information in real time as quickly as he should on the court, that will be a major hitch in his plug-and-play value.

The upside is low. Ighodaro’s wingspan is below 7 feet at 6-foot-11 and he weighs 222 pounds. That’s right in the range of some bulkier wings like Terrence Shannon Jr. (219 pounds) and Jaylon Tyson (218 pounds). He would have to be an out-of-this-world passer and very good defender to become a starting-caliber center. But concerns with high-level rim protection and rebounding fade in a role of 12-20 minutes a night. That is why Ighodaro was pretty locked in as a second-round pick, and with that said, he should have a successful NBA career.

The two trades allowed Phoenix to have more chances at coming out of this draft haul with a rotation player, which was the end goal. That could have been just the guy selected 22nd but put more emphasis on that guy hitting. So when Wednesday concluded and the lone guy was Dunn, someone with a giant red flag that increases bust potential, the pick was hard to praise.

But now, with Ighodaro, an extra second-round pick to use in later trades and the work done after the draft, the Dunn pick is a great swing.

The Suns front office answered the wishes of us over here at Empire of the Suns for getting in on the undrafted two-way market that starts sizzling as soon as the first round concludes. The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported Clemson big P.J. Hall had several teams that wanted to select him in the second round before he ultimately signed a two-way deal with the Denver Nuggets.

That happens every year. Guys that should be drafted instead prefer the benefits a two-way contract provides. The Suns, armed now with a G League team, finally snagged one of these prospects.

Baylor wing Jalen Bridges should have been drafted as well but Phoenix was able to beat out several other teams in signing him on a two-way deal. His 3-and-D promise is to the point where between him, Dunn and Ighodaro, there isn’t a significant favorite amongst the three as to whom will emerge as a consistent part of Phoenix’s rotation next season.

Bridges at 6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan and NBA frame had a major improvement from 3-point range as a senior at 41.2%. And this was not just catch-and-shoot stuff. Check out this fluidity.

The athleticism won’t blow the roof off like Dunn but is solid enough for him to hang with the league’s better athletes. At Baylor, you have to defend, and Bridges showed some chops to scale up or down a position beyond the traditional wing. And on the tape, Bridges will make the smart cut or relocate as a shooter too. Some of his “be in the right spot” stuff lags at times considering his experience level but it’s a small ding.

What held the 23-year-old back from getting grouped with some of the other NBA-ready wings is the shooting spike makes that part of his profile an uncertainly and there’s not potential for him to be more than a good NBA wing. Good NBA wings also get paid over $20 million a year. If the shooting is in fact legit, he’s a dude.

Boo Buie could also be a dude. The five-year player at Northwestern that was one of the cult heroes of college basketball the last few years signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Suns, meaning he will suit up at Summer League, come to training camp and be eligible to get upgraded to a two-way contract before the start of the season. If they like what they see enough in Las Vegas, they could lock him up then as well.

In the way we discussed Jamal Shead and Tristen Newton coming into the draft as Suns targets in the second round, you’ll find point guard similarities a tier lower with Buie. High intangibles, gets buckets, well-respected poise, undersized and so on. Buie is the best scorer of the bunch. Northwestern the last half-decade has a catalogue of wins where he caught fire and created upsets in the Big Ten, like this year’s shocker over the top team in the country, Purdue.

Keep an eye on Buie in Vegas.

Good on the Suns shifting their philosophy here, by the way. It was admirable in a way how they tried to attack Summer League a different way, one year going with a team mainly compromised of older players from overseas, but now they’re beginning to get back to a real buildup of talent from the draft class. (That aforementioned team did find a NBA player too in Duop Reath. He just broke through in Portland. Nearly worked!).

With the dust settling from the NBA Draft we can reassess where the roster stands heading into free agency.

The starting lineup appears set for another go. Phoenix does have its 2031 first-round pick still, so maybe Matt Tellem has some multi-team trade magic in him to unleash that couldn’t get done on draft night. With now three second-round picks, maybe that’s enough ammo too. For now, that five is Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, Grayson Allen, Kevin Durant and Jusuf Nurkic. As a reminder, that group had an 11.1 net rating in 503 minutes, per NBA Stats.

Phoenix is focused on re-signing Royce O’Neale, which could happen at any minute or is already done by the time you are reading this. He’s a lock for 25+ minutes, and you know what, I’ll give Ighodaro minutes as a backup 5 right now too. The kid should be ready.

Those are the only certainties, with potential elsewhere on the roster for another to emerge. Dunn will play at times, and if the offensive purpose can be located, he’s in there every night. Nassir Little had a sneaky good November before his year got off the rails, thanks mainly to injuries. The Suns will have to replace Eric Gordon’s 3-point shooting volume and Damion Lee is in the running to do so. If Bol Bol is back — he’s got a player option — he will be in the running for minutes too.

There’s also a possible return for Josh Okogie, a full year of figuring out what to do with David Roddy and the long shot of Bridges and/or Buie being a guy.

What’s missing? The backup point guard, obviously. Kyle Lowry is the lone free agent that a price point of the veteran’s minimum seems reasonable for while also providing the combination of intangibles Phoenix would want in this role. A Cam Payne reunion as a change-of-pace, sparkplug reserve would be solid. I’m shrugging at the rest of the candidates in free agency.

Is Phoenix content with the backup 5 situation? Here’s the kicker with this draft: Ighodaro might not be the only 5 the Suns picked. If Dunn’s jumper is indeed going to take a while to be able to live with, the best use of him is as a screener or roaming body in the dunker’s spot (on the baseline). You can’t use Dunn like that with a center that can’t shoot like Ighodaro.

So, do the Suns sign a stretch 5 like Mo Bamba that would work better with Dunn off the bench while adding that spacing dynamic down low? Or is it just as simple as one of those rookies will play and the other won’t? Is there merit to a galaxy brain thought here that Nurkic is on the move and those two will be part of a platoon at the 5?

The wing seems pretty set. There aren’t a ton of minutes to dole out as it is if O’Neale is back, so if it’s finding one (1) trustworthy body as the eighth or ninth man out of Dunn, Little, Lee and potentially Bol and/or Okogie, that is not asking for too much.

Unless a big trade comes out of absolutely nowhere, the Suns are just tidying up on the margins now. They did fine work over a two-day draft to make that so.

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