5 Top 2014 NBA Draft Prospects Phoenix Suns Should Target

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIApril 25, 2014

5 Top 2014 NBA Draft Prospects Phoenix Suns Should Target

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Phoenix Suns finished the regular season with a 48-34 record. That mark would have left the desert dwellers tied for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference but didn’t even crack the top eight out West. As a result, Phoenix is bound for the NBA draft lottery for the fourth consecutive year.

    General manager Ryan McDonough has said, “I think it’s unlikely that we’ll bring in three rookies to the Suns,” and, “Our preference would be to trade for a star,” according to BrightSideoftheSun.com’s Dave King. Despite those words, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to swap the organization’s picks for a big name.

    As a result, targeting specific guys who can help the squad as rookies certainly isn’t a bad Plan B if a blockbuster trade doesn’t pan out.

    The upstart Suns beat everyone’s expectations in 2013-14. Most Improved Player Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek and a collection of solid role players—led by Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker—showed that they can compete with anyone. However, the Suns still need a bona fide alpha dog who can be a go-to scorer in crunch time.

    Phoenix still has a 0.5 percent probability of winning the No. 1 overall pick. In the words of Lloyd Christmas from Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”

    Getting a shot at Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid or Jabari Parker is an admitted long shot. However, there will still be talented ballers on the board late in the lottery.

    Filling positions of need, adding depth/scoring as well as a big body who can protect the rim should all be targets for the Suns.

    Note: Although this article will focus primarily on potential lottery picks, some candidates should be targeted with the Suns' other picks in the first round from the Washington Wizards and Indiana Pacers.

5. Nick Johnson, SG, Arizona

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    Lenny Ignelzi

    Nick Johnson isn’t a guy the Suns should target with their own lottery pick. However, the perk of having three first-rounders is that various first-round talents will be Phoenix’s for the taking.

    Arizona’s Pac-12 Player of the Year recipient is an under-the-radar guy McDonough and Co. could pick up with Indiana’s pick near the end of the first round. He’s a tenacious and stingy defender who isn’t afraid to wreak havoc on that end of the floor. That’s a talent the Suns could use beside other dedicated defenders like Eric Bledsoe and P.J. Tucker.

    Johnson was also no stranger to producing on the offensive end, as he scored 16.3 points per game while draining 36.7 percent of his treys as a junior. He was often relied upon in crunch time and cashed more than his fair share of clutch free throws to ice games.

    Drafting a guard might make fans shake their heads due to the current tandem of Bledsoe and Dragic. However, the coaching staff had to rely on Ish Smith and the injury-prone Leandro Barbosa for backcourt depth during 2013-14.

    That isn’t a knock on Smith, because he played admirably in Bledsoe’s absence due to injury. Nonetheless, adding a guy who could help rest the starters during a grueling 82-game schedule would be a savvy move.

    A major knock on Johnson, though, is his height. At 6'3", he's very undersized as a potential NBA 2-guard. That's a problem, because he doesn't have the ball-handling and playmaking skills to play point consistently.

    With that said, Dragic is the same height, and he thrived out of the shooting guard spot en route to a career year.

    If any system can get the most out of the Arizona Wildcat, it's Phoenix.

    Well, I guess the San Antonio Spurs are another good fit, but that's a given with Gregg Popovich at the helm.

4. Dario Saric, SF/PF, International

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    International prospect Dario Saric brings a repertoire scouts rarely see from other players his size.

    At 6’10”, the Croatian swingman can play small forward or power forward. He has great ball-handling skills and a nice overall feel for the game. He also sports beautiful form on his jumper, which suggests he’ll become a much better shooter down the road. He’s making approximately 30 percent of his attempts from deep overseas, according to Draft Express.

    Saric could stand to bulk up a bit before joining the NBA ranks, but he has plenty of time to do so as he’s still just 20 years old.

    One of the primary selling points with Saric right now, though, is that Phoenix could stash him in Europe as he continues to develop.

    That’s an option McDonough has already been mulling. According to Dave King’s article the Suns GM said: “We could also draft a European player or two and leave them overseas.”

    Saric would benefit from learning on the job in the NBA, but his long-term outlook provides plenty of upside even if he spends a year or two more in Europe.

3. Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Michigan State Spartan Adreian Payne may not climb into the lottery. Nevertheless, his unique skill set as a 6’10” power forward who can shoot the three-ball makes him an interesting fit for the Phoenix Suns.

    Add in the fact that the 2014 draft is nearly devoid of viable big men after Joel Embiid, Julius Randle and Noah Vonleh—all projected to be drafted within the top 10. Taking Payne at No. 14 certainly isn’t far-fetched when accounting for that variable.

    Jeff Hornacek’s up-tempo offensive system thrives through confident shooting and the ability to spread the floor. Payne shot a ridiculously efficient 42.3 percent from downtown as a senior, so he fits right in with what Hornacek’s high-powered offense demands.

    Incumbent big man Channing Frye has a player option to return to the desert next season. If he opts out and becomes a free agent, the Suns may not want to engage in a bidding war to keep the veteran.

    Frye’s skill set is a rarity in today’s NBA, but he’s been very prone to shooting slumps throughout his career. That was on full display at the end of the 2013-14 season. The former University of Arizona standout shot a woeful 28.6 percent from deep during March and 31.7 percent from beyond the arc in April.

    Payne can score inside and out, rebound and block shots. Adding him to the frontcourt would help provide depth with an array of talents.

2. James Young, SF, Kentucky

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    John Bazemore

    The potential of Kentucky standout James Young is truly tantalizing.

    Despite some issues with consistency—which, honestly, is to be expected from all freshmen—Young still managed to average 14.3 points per game under head coach John Calipari. He also grabbed 4.3 rebounds per game, shot 34.9 percent from behind the arc and played well in the NCAA tournament.

    His ability to slash to the basket and step out to knock down threes would be a nice offensive complement to the dynamic backcourt duo of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. Phoenix needs more playmakers on that end of the floor to eliminate stagnant half-court lulls. With time, this incoming rookie could become a reliable go-to scorer.

    There is one key factor that might force Phoenix toward other options, though.

    Young is still, well, young. At just 18 years old, he may not be the best fit for a Suns team that is looking to add “win now” pieces.

    Nevertheless, McDonough nabbed another diaper dandy from the Wildcats’ program at the end of the draft last year via Archie Goodwin. Stockpiling athletic youngsters would only help the front office down the line if it intends to pull off a blockbuster trade.

1. Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The draft stock of Creighton sharpshooter Doug McDermott is a topic that is up for debate.

    The 2014 John R. Wooden Award winner was slotted to go ninth overall to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a mock draft by Bleacher Report’s Alex Kay but slipped to the Chicago Bulls at No. 16 in a mock by Kris Habbas of NBADraftInsider.com.

    He will certainly be a first-round pick after scoring a ridiculous 26.7 points per game as a senior. Whether or not he’ll be a lottery pick remains to be seen.

    Regardless of where he lands on draft day, though, McDermott is what he is: a lights-out three-point shooter whose biggest knock comes on the defensive end of the floor.

    As NBADraft.net put it, “He creates matchup problems on offense, but he is the matchup problem on defense, as he is a tweener who is too short and lacking in strength to guard the 4, but lacks the lateral quickness to guard 3’s.”

    His defensive capabilities at the NBA level are an area of concern, but McDermott shot higher than 40 percent from beyond the arc in each of his four collegiate seasons. Put simply, the kid can flat-out shoot.

    McDermott could make an instant impact for the Suns as a three-point sharpshooter off the bench. If P.J. Tucker gets brought back via free agency, he and the rookie could create an intriguing defense/offense platoon that would add more depth to the Suns’ roster.