The Off-Season Column: The Phoenix Suns 2014 NBA Draft Part 1

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Suns own the 14th, 18th, 27th and 44th pick in the draft. That could change very easily depending on what unfolds. I suspect we wouldn't see any change in that order till draft day. The Suns realistically could move up some spots by packaging their picks. For the purpose of this column, let's say the Suns won't be able to move up in the to draft Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart or Noah Vonleh. I am not sure anyone else is impossible to fall or get outside that top group. For the purpose of this discussion though, I am focusing more on who will be available at each of the picks we have.

I've actually been working on this post on/off since late April. Been reading a lot and watching plenty of videos. Trying to keep an open mind. What I want to explore is what kind of players from the draft could fit into the Suns system and would have success. Let me preface by saying I am definitely not a scout, expert or whatever noun is used nowadays to promote credibility in this inexact science. Let me also outline a few thoughts/assumptions/caveats.

1) Since the draft in the NBA is before free agency, unlike the NFL, teams are forced to address needs in draft ahead of time without foresight for signing free agents.

2) The Suns have a defined system that they want players to fit into i.e. skills like attacking the rim, 3 point shooting are considered important. As evidenced by last season's success, fit in a system is crucial to the development of a player's potential.

3) The Suns have needs. Chief among them are depth, athleticism at the forward position and rim protection.

Anyway, enough with the intro. Let's get to it.

Players I love for the Suns

Zach Lavine

Zach LaVine was a guy who should never have declared for the draft this year. So was Archie Goodwin. He just turned 19 in March but has the build of someone possibly even younger. He weighs 180lb at last check while being 6'5. Yikes. He can really get out in the open court though and has blazing speed and great leaping ability.

He'll probably be more of a cherry picker in transition than a take-you-on type of guys like Dragic and Bledsoe. He's got a quick first step but is shackled by his average handle and fear of encountering any human being 5 feet near the rim. He is more scared on contact than Tucker is of using his left hand in a fast break. As Draft Express notes:

LaVine made just 17 shots around the basket in the half-court this season in 37 games, and did so inefficiently at that, only hitting 45% of his attempts in these situations. He only got to the free throw line 2.8 times per-40 minutes pace adjusted, which rates dead last among all college players in our Top-100 prospect rankings.

My hope is that once this guy puts on weight, some of those issues will be resolved. I wouldn't at all be opposed to replacing Dionte Christmas' spot on the bench with this guy. Maybe we can just lock him in a weight room to start the season with only protein shakes for nutrition and check on him mid-way through the season and see how he does.

Aside from that, he is incapable of fighting through contact and screens and is unfocused on defense. He's also not a great passer and still has poor shot selection. A lot of things that require coaching and experience, which he lacks. The vibe I get with him is that you just have to wonder what he will become once he develops athletically enough and puts on the weight. The kid reminds me a lot of Corey Brewer in terms of his skill-set. He has possibly more upside as a shot creator a la Leandro Barbosa. I would consider him at #18 and jump on him at #27.

Elfrid Payton

The first time I saw this guy's face, I sort of thought of Ish Smith. Either that or this dude from the Fresh Prince. Then you watch his game and realize they are pretty much the same player. So why even bother drafting him when you can pay Ish nothing next year to play again for us? The answer may very well be that it's not worth it. However, Payton has the quickness of Ish with the Kendall Marshall like size at 6'4 and defense like Zabian Dowdell to make him better (perhaps not the best players to compare with...). Not to mention that he's a junior and somehow only 20 years old.

The one thing I really feel about this kid is that he will be one of the best perimeter defenders at the guard position. In my opinion, perimeter defense is becoming one of the most in demand skills in the NBA today because of the quality of guards in the game today. In the NBA, even if you have good interior defense, you still open up problems on perimeter shooting and roll men without good perimeter defenders. I believe a great deal of the success we've had this season is because a lot of teams lack this component to their teams. He displays that consistent effort and always ready stance that will serve well on a nighty basis.

His shooting may not be on Ish Smith levels (shout out to Scott Howard on this waste of your life) but they are pretty bad. He shot 26% from three and 59% at the line. It may almost make you feel like this when he shoots. His shot is very flat, just like Archie's, who is getting his jump shot manquered by Hornacek. There is obviously more hope that a 20 year old can remake his shot than a 4 year vet like Ish.

The more I think about it though, the guys issues seem to be the type of issues Coach Hornacek and his staff feel comfortable dealing with. His shooting woes are something that may never get better. His tentativeness to attack the basket and be passive overall may never go away. His being very turnover prone may always be there. However, there are comparisons to our own guards that never used to be the best shooters and lacked for confidence at times. Plus, we already know that the Sun's staff saw something in Ish over likes of future Lakers' legend Kendall Marshall, Malcolm Lee and Shannon Brown to suggest they may take a chance on Payton. McD had Rondo among the highest rated players in his class with no jump shot whatsoever among his other question marks. McD was also high on Archie Goodwin who is also a poor shooter. The pick just screams Suns to me in terms of the kind of player he is and what the Suns will want out of him. Color me intrigued at the Wizards pick and praying we pick him if he's still there at 27.

Jerami Grant

This one IS my favorite prospects who should available for the Suns. This would probably be my favorite pick at 14 or at least 18. In my opinion, the kid has some Archie Goodwin in him at the forward position. When I first saw Goodwin's game, it was love at first sight. Same happened with this kid's game.

He is a premiere athlete at the SF position. This is something we don't have. We have Tucker who is sub-par to average athlete at the forward position and Marcus Morris who is your classic tweener. Grant provides the Suns with a player with the physical talent and measurables that no other player on the Suns have and will create mismatches. When I look at his potential as a defender, I also see a guy that has the length and quickness to match up against some of those tough to guard forwards like Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony that Tucker was forced to matchup with despite his physical disadvantage.

So what can he do?

  • Attack the rim with a quick first step. He's got that lanky and wirey build that will make him a creative finisher once he gets the strength. As DraftExpress notes:
  • Ranking third among small forward prospects in our top-100 attempting 7.7 free throws per-40 minutes pace-adjusted, Grant attacks the rim with reckless abandon, which is as much a positive aspect of his game as it is symptomatic of his lack of perimeter shooting ability and advanced offensive skills.
  • Defend with length and quickness. Has elite physical tools for defense. He can do stuff like this:
  • Is very capable of being a finisher in pick n rolls. You can create mismatches on different pick n rolls or even play small with him at the PF (once he gains strength).
  • Would also be a formidable threat from cuts to the basket and lobs to the basket.
  • He can do this. Yeah.

What does he struggle with?

  • SHOOTING. Has some limited mid range game but is very unreliable, especially from three. Will need a lot of work. He was 0-5 from three last season.
  • Needs to work on his handle. Gets out of control and will turn the ball over.
  • Needs experience and better feel for the game

Make no mistake, there is some bust potential with this guy. If he never develops a jump shot, he'll struggle in the shooting oriented NBA. However, he is a player we could really use on this team and if he continues to develop, I see a very bright future. As detailed among the other prospects above, I think that McD and Hornacek would be willing to take on players with these issues and put them in positions to succeed. He is only 20 years old and has a great upside. His ceiling is a Kawhi Leonard type player and his floor is probably an Al Faroq Aminu. Here is a stat comparions between him and Leonard:

Jerami Grant: 6’ 6.50’ (w/out shoes), 214lb, 7’ 2.75’’ wingspan, 8’ 11.00’’ standing reach
Kawhi Leonard: 6’6 (w/out shoes), 227lb, 7’ 3" wingspan, 8’ 10" standing reach

Quick comparison with DeAndre Daniels: They have a similar game in that they are athletic and have similar body types. Both have some face up game. However, I believe Grant is the superior prospect despite Daniels' superior shooting. Grant is more athletic, younger (by 2 years), better defender, much better at attacking the rim and drawing fouls (Daniels' is among the worst at drawing fouls among eligible draftees).

KJ McDaniels

Another athletic specimen at the SF position. A fantastic leaper, defender, shot-blocker, disruptor of passing lanes and can really run in transition. He'd bring a lot of positive things for the Suns. The one thing I don't like about him as much compared to Jerami Grant is that isn't as willing to attack the rim. He falls in love with his jumpshot and will take some ill advised ones. He also probably dosen't have the upside that Grant does. McDaniels I could see starting on an NBA team but would be a guy that will find ways to score and thus be a 4th or 5th option. I would love the pick but after Grant.

Players I hate for the Suns

Rodney Hood

The good thing about Rodney Hood is that he will likely have a future in the NBA because he could be a 35-40% three point shooter. Beyond that, I am not sure he is gonna be able to do much. He really is a poor defender and NBA teams will capitalize having him defending on the wings. He's not a great slasher, rebounder, shot blocker or steal generator. The guy is already 22 years old and with the limited upside as is, there isn't a lot to love really. I see him as a guy can maybe average 8 points off the bench in the NBA and act mostly as a shooter with the occasional dribble drive. I'd pass on him if his name was still available.

Tyler Ennis

I think Ennis has the type of game that will probably translate into the NBA but is not a fit for the Suns. He is more of a traditional PG, pass first and quality shooting. He is not a great athlete (especially at the stacked PG class in the NBA) and will struggle at the next level guarding the quicker PGs and getting to/finishing around the rim. He will also probably not be there at 14 and may require for us trade up for him. No thanks. I know some team will take him because he has less question marks and has the "intangibles." I don't see a lot of upside in his game. I have a feeling he would struggle in our system.

*Start rant*

Looking at the best PGs in the NBA today, they are almost all two way players (Westbrook, Dragic, Bledsoe, Paul, Rose, Rondo). There are loads of backups picked up off the street who can provide a) defensive energy (Ronnie Price) or most commonly b) offensive energy (Nate Robinson, DJ Augustin etc..). The key is finding those two way PGs (like Payton). Those are the gems.

*End Rant*

TJ Warren

Although I see his versatility on the offensive end, I see some similarities to our own Marcus Morris. Marcus is also a tweener like he is who has trouble getting to the rim and I think Warren may have bigger issues defending at the next level. Although a talented scorer, I don't think we need him on this team.

Doug McDermott

Sorry to disappoint the Doug believers. It wouldn't surprise me if he carves a niche in the NBA. However, I have serious concerns about a 6-6 ¼ forward (without shoes) playing the 4 and terrified of him playing the 3 with a wingspan of most of the guards in the draft and poor/average lateral quickness. A lot of the easy cuts and layups he created in the Creighton offense won't work as easily with the length of NBA players. His 3 point shooting will likely be the reason he stays in the NBA, where he is highly accurate. To me, his insane college production will lead him to a top 10 pick a la Jimmer Fredette despite the red flags.

James Young

This is in my opinion a very over rated player. Color me surprised some have said he's a top 10 pick let alone lottery pick. I see a player who is truly coming out way before he should but with that limited upside to make up for the lack of experience. Although a player like LaVine comes out early, he'll have the athletic ability and versatility to contribute in ways and a team will be hard-pressed to pass on him early. I see an average athlete here with so many issues to work on, it wouldn't surprise me him going to the D-league for a while and struggle to get minutes. Unless you are a dynamite shooter (he's not), you can't be as poor on defense and force bad shots like he does and expect to get minutes. I would be delighted if he's gone by the time the Suns pick.


That's all for now. I may do another post like this with some more of the international players or other players in the draft lurking around but I wanted to cover some of the big names. Later on before the draft, I plan to make rankings at each position and maybe make some tiers. If there is interest, I may also do some on free agents but judging from the comments section, there isn't a lot of stuff that hasn't been thrown out already (except I would LOVE Paul Pierce and haven't seen his name thrown around much yet). There are a couple of names like Payne and Stauskas that I am back and forth and need more time to think about. I will say this though. I think some of the names thrown out on this blog probably aren't what McD prioritizes based on what I have studied from his draft history and philosophy. Although who really knows what McD is gonna do?

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