Domantas Sabonis, Cheick Diallo highlight power forward position in Phoenix Suns pre-draft workouts

Jun 2, 2016, 4:20 PM
Gonzaga forward Domantas Sabonis smiles near the end of the teams' second-round game against Utah o...
Gonzaga forward Domantas Sabonis smiles near the end of the teams' second-round game against Utah on Saturday, March 19, 2016, in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Denver. Gonzaga won 82-59. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

PHOENIX — Among the many needs of the Phoenix Suns, the power forward position may be the most pressing.

Currently, the Suns have no players at that spot under contract for next season.

Free agents-to-be Mirza Teletovic and Jon Leuer remain options to return, but a more likely scenario is for the position to be filled through the NBA Draft.

Ben Simmons and Dragan Bender have been pegged as the top two power forwards in the draft, and they should hear their names called among the first five picks on June 23.

A half dozen or so others may be lottery-bound as well, including Gonzaga sophomore forward Domantas Sabonis and Kansas freshman Cheick Diallo, both of whom worked out for the Suns on Thursday and may be considered at No. 13, the second of the Suns’ two lottery picks.

“That was the main reason my agents had me come here,” Sabonis said. “There’s obviously a big hole in the power forward spot, so that’s why this was a great fit.”

Sabonis’ workout was an individual one — “I trust my agents, and that’s what they decided to do,” he said — and his first of the pre-draft process after choosing not to attend the combine in Chicago, again, at the advice of his agents.

“I was kind of nervous, but it was awesome. It was actually really exciting,” he said.

Without another big to go up against, the Suns threw what assistant general manager Pat Connelly called “token size” at Sabonis with player development coaches Jason Fraser and Chris Darnell.

“We were happy to get him in,” Connelly said, adding they had dinner with Sabonis the night before. “Always heard really good things about him. It was good to kind of get face time with him, talk to him and see what type of kid he is, and he’s a great kid.”

Sabonis, who turned 20 last month, earned honorable mention on The Associated Press All-America Team after averaging 17.6 points and 11.8 rebounds. He recorded 23 double-doubles, including in each of Gonzaga’s three games in the NCAA Tournament, where he excelled with 19.7 points, 14.3 rebounds and 56.8 percent shooting.

Sabonis left Gonzaga as the school’s all-time leader in career field goal percentage at .632.

“The most important thing for me is to win,” he said. “If the team ends up winning that’s a great feeling for the organization and the team.”

Standing 6-foot-10, Sabonis is good around the basket on both ends of the floor, and he said he’s constantly working on his shot, especially his mid-range game.

Sabonis also comes from some excellent bloodlines as the son of Hall of Famer and Portland Trail Blazers great Arvydas Sabonis.

“Obviously when your dad is a legendary center, you kind of have a great sounding board in your backyard,” Connelly said. “But, he’s also unique in the fact that, before he went to Gonzaga, he played Euroleague basketball in Malaga. He’s been in a pro environment before going to college and having the dad as well, so he’s got a lot of kind of different experiences and different people he can reach out to to give advice on the process.

Sabonis was unsure of his next workout, though finding an NBA home with the Suns sounded appealing.

“I was really into the team where they had Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire,” he said. “I loved how they played the pick-and-roll, it was just amazing. My Dad would always tell me to look at Amare and see how he finished, his energy…that energy level of keeping your high motor was really important.”

Meanwhile, Diallo has been shooting up draft boards.

A role player at Kansas, Diallo impressed teams at the combine averaging 13.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in two games.

“With Cheick (pronounced ‘Sheck’) you have really long arms and a body that’s coming along and coming along pretty quickly,” Connelly said. “He’s gotten more bulk from going to Kansas — they have a great strength staff.  Physically, he’s coming along nicely. Obviously, his wingspan kind of stands out.”

At the combine, Diallo’s wingspan measured the second-longest at 7-foot-4 ½.

“It’s helped a lot because I can block shots easily,” he said. “I don’t have to jump…and I can grab rebounds so easily.”

With his 6-foot-9 and 219-pound frame, Diallo has drawn comparisons to Denver’s Kenneth Faried

“I watch him every time. I watch video about him, so I think if I play harder — I want to be better than him like one day,” he said. “I do three things more than anybody else because I block shots, rebound the ball and run the floor.  That’s what a lot of teams are looking for, this kind of energy and I have more (to give), too.”

Diallo is relatively new to the game of basketball.

Originally from Mali, the eighth-largest country in Africa, Diallo played soccer growing up. He didn’t pick up a basketball until six years ago.

Diallo was a quick study.

A New York Gatorade Player of the Year in both 2014 and 2015, Diallo was the MVP in both the McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic games before committing to Kansas, where as a 19-year-old last season he came off the bench to average 3.0 points and 2.5 rebounds in only 7.5 minutes per game.

Diallo said he considered returning for his sophomore season, but ultimately decided “to go for the next level” and keep his name in the draft.

He worked out for Atlanta and San Antonio prior to his arrival in Phoenix.

Diallo was part of a six-player group that included five seniors: Arizona forward Ryan Anderson, Notre Dame forward Zach Auguste, James Madison guard Ron Curry, Baylor and former Tucson Amphitheater High guard Lester Medford and Wake Forest guard Codi Miller-McIntyre.

This was Miller-McIntyre’s second workout with the Suns, having participated in the team’s first pre-draft workout on May 18.

Whether or not Sabonis or Diallo are there when the Suns pick at No. 13 is anyone’s guess. There’s no guessing, however, as to how hard they’ll both work or the energy they’ll bring to a team.

“Motor is really high (in evaluating and projecting talent). It’s hard to develop motor,” Connelly said. “I think over time as kids mature and sometimes different positions add that later, but motor is a big thing. If you don’t play hard, you can be the most talented guy in the world, but you might not do anything if you can’t kind of get out there and take advantage of your skills.”

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Domantas Sabonis, Cheick Diallo highlight power forward position in Phoenix Suns pre-draft workouts