While some NBA teams may be trying to secure a playoff spot with just a couple dozen regular-season games left, the Phoenix Suns should already be shifting their focus to player development and this upcoming offseason.
The Suns will have two first-round picks in the upcoming draft, and as long as the Lakers miss the playoffs, Phoenix will have the opportunity to acquire two lottery prospects. If the draft were today, the Suns would have the sixth and 14th picks in the draft.
The Suns have a lot of holes in the current roster that need filling, and they can consider drafting a number of players. Goran Dragic has point guard covered, and the team already has plenty of power forwards, but the Suns could definitely use an explosive scorer on the wing, as well as a big man down low.
So, if the Suns kept their current draft position, who should they go after?
Ideally, Ben McLemore from Kansas is the best-case scenario. McLemore is an extremely athletic scorer, he has a great shooting stroke and can make a shot from any spot on the court, and he has the potential to be a great defender as well.
However, most mock drafts such as this one have McLemore going first now. Almost everyone agrees that he should be a top-three pick, and the Suns would need to get lucky in the lottery for a shot at drafting him.
So, with McLemore almost certainly off the board, the Suns should shift their attention to UCLA prospect Shabazz Muhammad.
Muhammad has seen his stock drop slightly since the season began, but the freshman guard-forward is still having a stellar season. Muhammad is averaging 18.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, and he is shooting 46 percent from the field as well as 45 percent from behind the arc.
Muhammad is a pure scorer, which is exactly what the Suns need, and that scoring ability stems from his athleticism. Shabazz is strong, he has an extremely quick first step, and he is explosive at the rim. He relentlessly attacks the basket and is extremely aggressive, and he can easily elevate over defenders to put them on a poster.
Shabazz does rely on his athleticism and physicality to be a successful scorer, and that means he may suffer through a rapid decline once he gets into his 30s as an NBA player. But as a fresh young prospect coming out of college, Muhammad has all the tools to be a go-to scoring option.
Of course, driving to the basket is not the only way he can score. Shabazz has decent range and should be able to make jump shots and some three-pointers at the NBA level, even though his jump shot is fairly inconsistent. He still could work on improving his range, but it won't be a huge problem for him going forward.
Additionally, the 6'6" wing can occasionally post up on smaller defenders. Muhammad would most likely be a shooting guard in Phoenix, where he would be a couple of inches taller than most of his opponents. In those cases, Muhammad has the strength to make a few shots in the low post, making him a threat to score in so many different ways.
There is no doubt that Muhammad is one of the most prolific scorers in college basketball. He definitely has the potential to score 20 points per game at a professional level, but he is also not a complete player.
Shabazz has one job on the offensive end, and that is to score. He rarely looks to create plays for teammates, and he averages just 0.9 assists per game this season. He isn't a great passer, nor does he look to pass; because of that he can occasionally be a black hole on offense.
The Suns already have Shannon Brown and Michael Beasley on the roster, and they will need to hope that Muhammad doesn't develop into another player with poor basketball I.Q and terrible shot selection.
Shabazz does have a lot of talent, and he has all the tools to be the next primary scoring option of the Phoenix Suns. He doesn't project to be a true franchise player, he may not be a great passer and he isn't an elite defender either (though not a bad one), but Muhammad could still be a major contributor for the Suns over the next several seasons.
In addition to adding a future go-to scorer, the Suns should try to closely examine all of the center prospects in this year's draft class.
The Suns have plenty of players at power forward now, but center is a problem. Marcin Gortat's contract will expire at the end of next season (if he hasn't already been traded), and Jermaine O'Neal is an expiring contract this season who is only getting older each year.
He may not be as well-known as Cody Zeller, Alex Len or Nerlens Noel, but Kelly Olynyk out of Gonzaga could be a great pickup for the Suns in the late lottery.
Olynyk is a 7'0" junior center, and he has done a great job of replacing former Gonzaga center and current Los Angeles Laker Robert Sacre.
This season, Olynyk is averaging 17.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. He is shooting a ridiculous 67 percent from the field, and he also leads the NCAA with a PER of 37.8.
What can Olynyk bring to Phoenix? Well, other than the hair, he is one of the best offensive centers in college basketball.
Olynyk is the perfect offensive big man. He is extremely mobile and quick for his size, and he has the ability to run the floor on the fast break. He is a surprisingly good free-throw shooter, connecting on 78 percent of his attempts, and he has enough range to knock down long jumpers with ease. Currently, Olynyk is shooting 38 percent from behind the arc.
Olynyk is also great in pick-and-roll scenarios, and he could create a nice pick-and-roll combo with point guard Goran Dragic.
But his real offensive strength is his low-post game. He has a great back-to-basket game, and despite the fact that he lacks a true go-to move in the post, Olynyk can establish great post position and score on even the best defensive-minded centers.
But while having a 7'0" who can score in so many ways might be nice, Olynyk also comes with plenty of weaknesses.
First of all, he is not athletic. He might be seven feet tall, but Olynyk is not a leaper, and he is not incredibly strong. This contributes to the fact that he only grabs seven rebounds per game, as stronger, more athletic centers often have the advantage over him.
Defensively, Olynyk is not special either. His defensive rating of 89.1 is actually fairly impressive, but he struggles in defending against the pick-and-roll, and he only averages 1.2 blocks per game, which is not impressive for a player his size.
Olynyk will almost certainly never be a superstar, but he could be a great offensive weapon and potential future starter for the Suns. Len, Zeller and Noel will all definitely be taken by the 14th pick, and Mason Plumlee projects to be more of a power forward, so Olynyk appears to be the best big man available.
Overall, the Suns could go a lot of different routes in the upcoming draft. Players like Ben McLemore, Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, Nerlens Noel, Otto Porter, Victor Olapido and Cody Zeller could all realistically be targets for the team with that first pick, and it is impossible to tell what they will do at this point.
But this draft could be huge for the Suns. It might not be known as an extremely strong class, but the 2013 draft has the potential to set the foundation of a contending Suns team for years to come.
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