The Phoenix Suns finished dead last in the Western Conference a season ago with a 25-57 record—the worst finish for the franchise since the inaugural 1968-69 year. As a result, Phoenix needed to ace the 2013 NBA draft to get the wheels spinning toward a successful rebuild.
The quest to rise from the ashes starts with a new general manager, Ryan McDonough, and a new head coach, former Sun Jeff Hornacek. In the end, however, the product on the court needs a huge upgrade in talent to compete in the loaded Western Conference.
It’s typically best to let huge roster decisions simmer for 24 hours before coming to any rash conclusions. All of the facts need to be laid out on the table before accurate draft grades can be given.
So, now that we’re 24 hours removed from the Suns’ fifth overall draft choice of Maryland center Alex Len, it’s time to grade the struggling team’s 2013 draft decisions.
Alex Oriakhi draws parallels to another second-round prospect taken by Phoenix, Gani Lawal. Both players are physical low-post forwards who excel at rebounding.
The addition of Lawal in 2010 didn’t pay off for Phoenix, as the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket tore his ACL and recorded just two career minutes for the Suns. Phoenix can hope they find a diamond in the rough with Oriakhi, who played an integral role at UConn before transferring to Missouri for more playing time.
He’s an athletic big man who relentlessly attacks the glass. Although rebounding is his forte, he also cashed in on 63.9 percent of his field-goal attempts as a senior, so he made the most of his offensive chances.
Expect Oriakhi to fight hard for a roster spot.
Oriakhi could be a good complement to Luis Scola and Markieff Morris as a hard-nosed rebounder for Phoenix, but he’s far from a guarantee.
The Phoenix Suns held the 30th pick of the first round but decided to trade up one spot in order to grab Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin.
In the deal, Phoenix will take on the contract of Malcolm Lee, a 23-year-old shooting guard who averaged 4.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game in 16 games as a sophomore with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Golden State Warriors acquired Lee and the 26th pick in the draft from Minnesota before shipping him off to Phoenix for the 30th pick. The former UCLA Bruin is set to make $854,000 next season, according to Zach Buchanan of AZCentral.com.
Although the Suns acquired Lee, the true prize is Goodwin. The 6’5” guard led the Wildcats in scoring as a freshman, averaging 14.1 points per game. More was expected from Goodwin as a highly touted high school prospect, but the 18-year-old had the added responsibility of running the offense at point guard. That proved not to be the best fit for him.
He rebounds the ball well for his size and position, and he scored 20 or more points five times throughout the year as well.
Goodwin is still raw from an offensive standpoint, but at just 18 years old, he has a lot of time to improve.
I can’t grade this choice an "A" because there's still no guarantee Goodwin will reach his potential. The Suns also added Lee's salary by trading up one spot, which may prove meaningless, but still.
It’s safe to say the choice of Alex Len at fifth overall wasn’t particularly popular when David Stern announced Phoenix’s first draft decision.
With Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore—arguably the two best players in this draft—miraculously still available for the Suns at pick No. 5, the choice appeared to be a two-horse race.
The Suns have been desperate for a wing scoring option who can create his own shot and put up points in bulk. McLemore would have been perfect to fill that void as a prospect with All-Star potential and a flawless shooting stroke.
Phoenix has also been lacking an interior defensive presence seemingly since the inception of the franchise. Having averaged 4.4 blocks per game as a freshman at Kentucky, Noel was widely regarded as the best defender in the draft class.
Although Noel is a tantalizing prospect with huge potential, the Suns reportedly red-flagged the Kentucky Wildcat because of concerns about his surgically repaired knee, according to NBADraft.net via Twitter.
Considering the Suns have the best training staff in all of basketball, it’s easy to trust their judgment regarding injuries. If Noel returns to form and starts making NBA All-Star teams, though, the Suns’ reputation will take a hit for passing on him.
Noel was evidently passed on due to injury concerns, but that fails to justify the team’s decision to scoff at McLemore's availability.
The Suns essentially have no options at shooting guard moving forward (unless Archie Goodwin is given that job as an 18-year-old rookie). Wesley Johnson is set to hit free agency following a year in which he shot a vastly underwhelming 40.7 percent from the field. Meanwhile, Shannon Brown’s contract for next season is not guaranteed, so he could be out the door following a disappointing year spent in and out of the playing rotation.
The Suns decided to pass on two potential NBA All-Stars, but it appears they got the guy they wanted all along.
When Coach Hornacek met with the media to discuss the draft, he said the following:
Well I think it started with the first pick of the draft. When Anthony Bennett went first, I think everybody in the room was excited and thinking, ‘Hey, the guy that we have ranked highest on our board may end up getting there.’ And that’s exactly what happened with Alex.
So according to the team’s new head coach, Len was the guy they wanted from the outset. His career will undoubtedly be compared to those of McLemore and Noel moving forward (for good reason), but at least the franchise is confident with the young center.
Of course, this could very well mean the end of days for Marcin Gortat in Phoenix. Logically speaking, a spot should be opened for the rookie so he can get acclimated to the NBA. If McDonough doesn’t have a trade lined up to get assets for Gortat, taking Len makes far less sense.
Suns fans also can’t ignore the fact that the fifth overall pick didn’t make Maryland a highly competitive team. The Terrapins failed to make the NCAA tournament in 2013, finishing 8-10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Maryland did make a run in the NIT, but Len posted pedestrian averages of 11 points and seven rebounds per game in the tournament.
In addition, Len wasn’t selected to the All-ACC first, second or third team. It’s remarkable that Hornacek would also call the pick “a no-brainer” given that disconcerting bit of information.
Len will be compared with McLemore and Noel throughout his entire career now, and unless the Suns move Gortat, it’s hard to see the youngster getting much playing time next season. If Phoenix can get a good trade haul for Gortat, then this pick will look much better.