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Suns GM: Will take best player available, regardless of position

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker listens as the results of the NBA basketball draft lottery are announced, Tuesday, May 17, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
LISTEN: Ryan McDonough, Suns general manager

The NBA held its annual draft lottery Tuesday in New York, though with the way things ended up, it was really an unnecessary event.

The ping pong balls went chalk, meaning the order in which the teams were projected to draft is the one in which, barring a trade, they will.

For the Phoenix Suns, that means they hold the fourth and 13th picks in next month’s draft. The former selection they earned based on their 23-59 record, while the latter pick belongs to them courtesy of the trade that sent Markieff Morris to the Washington Wizards.

A look at the Suns’ projected roster for next season would seem to reveal a couple of places where they could use some help — specifically at power forward and maybe even small forward — as well as some where they seem to be pretty set, like point guard and shooting guard.

In fact, with Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Devin Booker and Archie Goodwin all currently on the roster and seemingly in line for heavy minutes next season, most would see guard as a position the Suns should avoid, at least with their first pick.

A guest of Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday morning, Suns GM Ryan McDonough was asked if the best player on the team’s draft board at No. 4 was a guard, would they take one?

“Yes,” he answered.

OK then.

When your strategy is taking the best player available, roster needs do not really play a role.

“That’s always been our philosophy,” he said. “I’ll give you a recent example: last year we were a relatively guard-heavy team going into the draft and the lottery, and Devin Booker was there at 13. He was certainly a guy we had rated higher than 13th on our board, and we took him.

“At the time I think there were some questions about, with a guard-heavy team, why you take somebody like Devin, and we feel like he had a chance to be a special player and obviously we feel even stronger about that now.”

Booker, of course, averaged 13.8 points, 2.6 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game as a rookie.

The fourth-year GM pointed out how the NBA can be a fluid league, especially when you factor in trades, injuries, and struggling players.

“I think if you look at the history of the draft, a lot of mistakes have been reaching for a “need,” he said. “I can think of a few examples off the top of my head that I’m not going to mention, but teams needed a certain position so they reached for a guy that probably wasn’t the best player available at the time, and that ended up burning them in the long run.

“Obviously we need to address our power forward spot somehow, after trading Morris to Washington at the deadline and with Mirza Teletovic and Jon Leuer being unrestricted free agents, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we need to pick a power forward at four.”

McDonough noted how the Suns also have the 13th pick and 28th picks in the first round, as well as No. 34 overall and a good amount of salary cap space.

“I think we’ll have some good trade options as well, so we’ll explore all of that,” he said.

According to the earliest of mock drafts, the Suns at four will likely be choosing from a group that includes Croatian forward Dragan Bender and California wing Jaylen Brown, both of whom are very talented but also come with some question marks.

McDonough said at this point he does not have a clear favorite or frontrunner for who he wants to pick, but at the same time is confident the Suns will land a talented player regardless of not being in position to land either of the top two prospects, LSU’s Ben Simmons or Duke’s Brandon Ingram.

“I can think of a few drafts in my career — and I’ve been in the league since 2003 now, so I’ve seen a decent number of them — where it looks like a “two player draft,” there’s a drop-off after the top-two,” he said. “And if you look at some of those drafts, and I think it can be hard for people who aren’t on the inside or don’t study it really closely to remember the vibe going into the draft, but if you look back at some of it I can think of a few recent examples where it certainly didn’t go that way or the guys who were drafted one and two were certainly not the best players to come out of the draft.

“We’ll look at guys in our range; I think we’ll have a lot of options at four and at 13 I think there will be some good players there as well.”

So while they would have loved to jump into one of the top two picks, McDonough is excited about the options and flexibility the Suns have with three first-round picks.

This is not the first time under McDonough’s stewardship where the Suns had a trio of first-round choices. In 2014 they held picks 14, 18 and 27 in the first round as well as No. 50 in the second, and used them to select T.J. Warren, Tyler Ennis, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Alec Brown, respectively.

Before the choices were made, however, there had been some talk of them trying to package the picks in order to move up in the draft.

Given that they hold the fourth pick, the Suns may not need to swing a deal to land a top player they covet, but with another four choices in this year’s draft, the thought of trying to swing a deal is certainly there.

“I think it’s really unlikely we draft four guys and then bring them all to training camp next year in Flagstaff,” McDonough said.

 

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