12 Draft Prospects Guaranteed to Interest the Phoenix Suns
Ryan McDonough may have finished second to R.C. Buford in Executive of the Year voting, but the Phoenix Suns' first-year general manager was still the luckiest GM in the NBA this season.
No doubt, McDonough was also incredibly smart last summer. He looked at his roster—which did not look like much—and looked ahead to the 2014 draft class—which looked like a whole lot.
His idea? Trade away veterans approaching free agency for first-round picks. At the time, Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat had just led the team to a 25-win season and were likely to leave as free agents in another year. And the Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards were willing to send over first-round picks, in the deepest draft class in recent memory, for each of them?
It was a no-brainer for McDonough, and had the Suns lost 70 games this year, it still would have been the right move. But two throw-ins from the Scola trade—Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee—turned out to be fantastic fits in first-year coach Jeff Hornacek's system.
Hornacek, like McDonough, finished second to a San Antonio Spurs legend for a prestigious award in his first year on the job—only Gregg Popovich beat him out in Coach of the Year voting.
Hornacek, Green, Plumlee and a bunch of players who had career years won 48 games, something that McDonough had no idea was coming.
Now the Suns are in a ridiculously strong position. They have a powerful young roster and a dynamic young coach, and they still have all those draft picks.
The 2014 NBA draft, which was supposed to be the light at the end of an 82-game tunnel, is instead the crowning jewel on a season full of achievement.
Even the fact that the Suns became the second team ever to win 48 games and miss the playoffs works in their favor in a certain way, as they also became the second team ever to win 48 games and end up in the draft lottery.
Their luck ran out on lottery night (although becoming the most unlikely lottery-winning team ever would have been too much luck for one franchise), but entering the stacked 2014 draft with the No. 14, No. 18 and No. 27 pick is still an enviable position.
The question now is: Who should McDonough look at?
Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
Target Pick: Trading up
While the Suns would not mind adding four players from this esteemed draft class, they are already loaded with young talent.
What they lack is a difference-maker in the frontcourt. Moving a couple picks and a player or two to get into the top seven or eight would be worthwhile, considering there is a steep drop-off in frontcourt talent after Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh and Aaron Gordon.
Of these three, Vonleh stands out for Phoenix. Randle will likely go in the top five, and while Gordon would be a nice fit, he's more of a tweener than Vonleh, who is built like a prototypical NBA power forward despite being only 18 years old.
Vonleh is a 6'9", 247-pound kid who is only going to get bigger and stronger. He runs the floor well, has solid post skills that could become a staple of his in a few years and can stretch the defense out to 20 feet or more with an above-average jump shot for his size.
What makes him a special prospect, however, is the rebounding and defense that complement his diverse offensive game.
He's a monster on the glass, both offensively and defensively. He boxes out, fights hard for boards and uses his 7'3" wingspan to make up for his lack of leaping ability. He also defends the rim extremely well, using his length and motor to get to a ton of shots.
He'll never be Zach Randolph offensively, Serge Ibaka defensively or Kevin Love on the glass, but his potential as an all-around 4 should entice Phoenix. The Suns' frontcourt lacks post scoring, rebounding and rim protection, and Vonleh could satisfy all those needs at once.
McDonough should not hesitate to move multiple picks and any non-core player to get him.
Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
Target pick: No. 14
The Suns should not go overboard in trying to move up. There may not be a can't-miss prospect on the board at No. 14, but there are as many as 20 players in this class that could have gone in last year's top 10. This guarantees that Phoenix will not only be able to land a high-level prospect at the end of the lottery, but that they'll have their pick of several.
Out of all the players who might slip to No. 14, Michigan State's Gary Harris is the most intriguing for Phoenix.
While its starting backcourt is incredibly strong, Eric Bledsoe may sign a max-level offer sheet in restricted free agency. Drafting Harris would allow Phoenix to let Bledsoe and his iffy right knee sign elsewhere, then use the money to add a difference-maker on the front line.
Even if Bledsoe stays, Harris would be a strong addition to the Suns' rotation. He is a high-activity defender and probably the best defensive off guard in this class. His offensive game is polished, as he can create shots for himself and his teammates, and he makes the right decision with the ball.
Although his two-way excellence and his offensive maturity are big pluses, Harris' real value comes from his shooting. He has NBA three-point range, can shoot off the dribble and has a smooth mid-range game.
Defenders play up on him, but his quickness and basketball IQ make him a dangerous driver. If tightly guarded, he can regularly beat his man off the dribble and force big men to help, and he then has the passing skills to find his open teammate.
His cerebral play, shooting and quickness would fit perfectly into Hornacek's system, while his perimeter defense and playmaking ability would help satisfy Phoenix's biggest needs.
Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
Target pick: No. 14
Should Harris be gone—or even if he's still available—Tyler Ennis is the other backcourt player Phoenix should hope falls to No. 14.
Ennis might not have the physical tools, shooting ability or defensive prowess of Harris, but he is a better fit in Phoenix due to his ability to facilitate and his upside as a leader.
In terms of pure point guards, there is not a better one in this draft. While he doesn't have the size and athleticism of Marcus Smart, Dante Exum, Zach LaVine or Elfrid Payton, Ennis possesses a feel for the game far superior to any other point guard prospect.
This translates to the ability to run an offense, find open teammates and take over as a scorer when necessary. He can shoot, is a killer transition player, has a secure handle and a great change-of-pace style. He plays like a less athletic Chris Paul.
Defensively, Ennis struggles against superior athletes. However, his incredibly competitive spirit and high basketball IQ mean he always finds a way to contribute, either by getting steals or crashing the boards, both of which he does exceptionally well.
The presence of Goran Dragic may make Phoenix hesitant to use its first pick on a point guard, but with Bledsoe's potential departure and Dragic entering the final year of his deal, the Suns could need another backcourt staple sooner than one might think.
Both Dragic and Bledsoe can play the 2. Their athleticism and scorer's mentality would be perfectly complemented by Ennis, who would also make a superb backup point guard as long as both of the current starters remain.
Dario Saric, SF/PF, Croatia
Target pick: No. 14
While Dario Saric should be below Harris and Ennis on Phoenix’s draft board, the Croatian forward does satisfy the team's more immediate need in the frontcourt.
Saric has been called a “point forward,” but this description does not do his game justice. It’s a term often thrown at any power forward who can pass and handle the ball, whereas Saric truly plays like a point guard trapped in a 6’10”, 225-pound body.
He doesn’t start the break with an outlet pass, he starts it by taking the ball up the court himself and making a play in the frontcourt. That's if he isn't running ahead of the ball, filling a lane in transition and cutting to the hoop for a fast-break score.
That isn’t to say Saric is a big guy who plays small. He’s a plus rebounder, a good post scorer and a smart, high-instinct defender.
He’s not very athletic in terms of quickness and leaping ability, but his smooth stride, above-average handle and point guard-like basketball IQ still make him a perfect fit in an up-tempo system.
While the roster was great in that type of system last year, the team had the second-fewest assists in the NBA. Balancing out Dragic—a shooting guard in a point guard’s body—with the point-guard-at-heart Saric should make Phoenix even more lethal in transition while also improving the team’s inside game.
Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
Target pick: 14 or 18
Potential aside, Adreian Payne should be much higher than Saric on Phoenix’s draft board. He’s stronger, longer, faster, far more athletic, a better scorer, a better outside shooter and has a better attitude towards the game.
Those aren't knocks against Saric, its just that Payne has the physical tools and the refined skills of a top-10 prospect.
The problem is that Payne has a considerable downside. His age (23) limits his potential considerably, as does a lung condition that will probably never allow him to play consistent starter minutes. The weaker parts of his game—his court vision, passing ability and defensive instincts—are unlikely to improve significantly due to his age.
Here’s the thing though: Can a 6’10”, 240-pound beast who can finish with authority, knock down three-pointers, block shots and play with fiery passion for 25 minutes a night really be considered a low-ceiling player for a No. 14 draft pick?
Here’s the second thing: Payne’s chances of reaching that ceiling are high. He played four years under Tom Izzo (remember that second-round pick a couple years ago named Draymond Green?) and has a legitimate NBA body and a superb motor.
The Suns may not want to use the No. 14 pick on him, if only because there are so many high-potential guys in this draft class. But slightly reaching on him would be smart if Harris, Ennis and Saric are all gone. If he makes it to No. 18, however, the Suns shouldn't hesitate to grab him.
Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
Target pick: 14 or 18
There is no way around it: Nik Stauskas is freakishly similar to Klay Thompson. And not just because they are both tall, multiyear college shooting guards who wear No. 11 and are likely to both be late-lottery picks.
Stauskas is the best shooter in this draft, and it isn’t close. Like Thompson, he is incredibly efficient in catch-and-shoot situations, can hit from every spot along the three-point arc, has deep range and can get hot in a hurry.
He also can create his own shot off the dribble, pull up in mid-range situations, use a screen to free up a shot or a drive and make plays from there. He can dump it off to bigs or finish himself, and like Thompson, he’ll surprise you with his leaping ability.
He is, however, a poor man’s Thompson.
He is just as tall (6’7”) but less lengthy and lacks lateral quickness, making him a subpar defender. He’s also a bad rebounder, which limits him to being a one-way shooting guard.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially not for Phoenix. If the Suns land a guy at No. 14—or better yet, No. 18—who can hit 200 threes a season and score 16-18 points per game with solid efficiency, they’ll have nailed the pick.
Considering that Stauskas, at his absolute worst, compares to Anthony Morrow, he is a great fit on a team that is trying to win now.
Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana Lafayette
Target pick: 18 or 27
The Suns are guaranteed to get one of the previously mentioned players at No. 14. If they do not, it will mean multiple high-lottery talents will have fallen to them.
Even at No. 18, there’s a very high likelihood that they get one of the players already discussed. But it is conceivable that the draft board is dried up at this point, in which case Payton should become the top target.
Payton is a prospect that will fall in this draft due to the top class of point guards: Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, Zach LaVine and Tyler Ennis. Aside from Ennis, those other three are all big, athletic and draw comparisons to Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. That hurts Payton, who is also tall and dynamic athletically but far less polished.
He lacks a jump shot, is a bad free-throw shooter, turns the ball over and is limited in his finishing once he gets inside. This is why he’ll likely fall below the other point guards and down to this spot, where Phoenix should not hesitate to grab him.
Payton’s height (6’4”), length (6’7” wingspan), athleticism, ball-handling skills and defensive prowess make him an intriguing prospect automatically. The fact that he can run the point—he’s a good passer and very unselfish)—means he would be a lottery pick almost any other year.
Even if Payton doesn’t round out his game and become a dynamic NBA point guard, he would be a great fit with a Phoenix bench unit that lacks size, defense and guys who can create offensively.
Semaj Christon, PG, Xavier
Target pick: No. 27
Payton could potentially slip to No. 27, in which case the Suns should not think twice about drafting him. If he does not, and the Suns do not add a point guard at No. 14 or 18, Semaj Christon should be their selection.
He’s on the older side—he’ll be 22 in November—and has too many holes in his game to become a star considering his age, but that’s to be expected at the end of the first round.
What he could be is a defensive specialist who can score with his athleticism, and that would be a great fit on Phoenix’s bench. His long arms (6’6” wingspan) and high motor make him a pest on the perimeter, and when he forces turnovers he’s deadly in transition.
He’s limited in the half-court offense end due to poor shooting, weak handles and a lack of court vision, but as a role player in a transition team like Phoenix, he’d be an excellent fit.
Mitch McGary, PF/C, Michigan
Target pick: No. 27
Much like his Michigan teammate Stauskas, Mitch McGary is eerily similar to a Golden State Warriors player. This time it’s David Lee, and as with Stauskas/Thompson, the comparison goes far beyond the fact that they are both big lefties projected to go late in the first round.
McGary, like Lee, has the chance to be a future All-Star and the steal of this draft. He’s got a swiftness and gracefulness about his movement around the court that one would not expect to see from a guy as big (6’10”) and hefty (266 pounds, not all muscle) as he is.
He has a soft touch, great hands, good playmaking skills and solid post moves. He combines this skill set with a high basketball IQ and an excellent motor, making him a force on the glass despite his lack of athleticism.
Of course, if McGary looked like the next Lee, he wouldn’t go 30th. Scouts don’t usually sleep on the same player twice.
McGary has some work ethic issues, which could have been brushed off as questions based on his build until a positive marijuana test and one-year NCAA suspension prompted him to enter the draft this year.
But that’s why he’s likely to be around at No. 27, not why Phoenix should pass on him. If it fails to land Vonleh, Saric or Payne, McGary should absolutely be the choice at the end of Round 1.
Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee
Target pick: No. 27
Jarnell Stokes will almost certainly be around at No. 27. If McGary and Christon are gone, he should be Phoenix’s top choice regardless of whether or not it feels like a reach.
The power forward is only 20 despite playing three years at Tennessee. That experience and a compact 6’8”, 260-pound frame make him one of the more dominant post players in the draft. He knows how to get position, finish and get to the line. He also knows how to stop opponents from getting position and rebounds extremely well for his size.
There is always an aversion to drafting undersized power forwards who cannot shoot threes, because teams don’t want to lose size without stretching the floor. However, this fear becomes irrational when guys like Paul Millsap, DeJuan Blair, Draymond Green and Glen Davis slip into the second round of the draft.
Phoenix might be tempted to see if Stokes is still around at No. 50, but chances are he will not be. With a need for post scoring, post defense and rebounding, Stokes makes too much sense to pass up, especially as the team’s third selection of the draft.
No. 50 Pick
With three first-round picks, it would be in Phoenix’s best interest to move this one. Whether it is used to move up in Round 1, added to a deal to move into next year’s first round or thrown into a trade to acquire a current player, the Suns will have missed an opportunity if they end up picking at No. 50.
If they do end up here, they have to make the best of it.
Isaiah Austin, PF/C, Baylor
Austin is 7’1”, a nimble athlete, a good outside shooter and a capable scorer in the pick-and-roll. What else could a team want in a player?
Well, he is weak (220 pounds), doesn’t rebound well and has a fairly low basketball IQ. But that is still not enough to keep a huge dude who can run the floor, run the pick-and-roll and knock down shots out of the first round.
The real concern with Austin is that he is blind in his right eye. There is nothing about playing in the NBA that should make this a bigger issue than it was in college, but most teams will understandably pass on a guy with such a huge question mark when they are operating from a risk-averse perspective.
Since this will be Phoenix’s fourth pick of the draft, there is far more reason to take a risk on a guy with the height and skill set to be a game-changing NBA role player.
James McAdoo, SF/PF, North Carolina
A very good athlete with a 6’8”, 230-pound frame to match, McAdoo is potentially going to be available at No. 50 because he is a true tweener—he cannot defend power forwards due to his size, but cannot score on NBA small forwards due to his inability to create offense.
However, McAdoo is a skilled transition player who can hit outside shots, rebound and pass. In today’s NBA, he could fit in nicely as a power forward in a small lineup and has far more potential due to his athleticism and pre-college ceiling than most players who will be available here.
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