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Ryan McDonough's progress report entering Phoenix Suns' free agency

Since the word grade has crept closer to taboo status after chatter over its irrelevancy, bordering on offensiveness, I have decided to go with a much less invidious method of "critiquing" the early returns of the McDonough era in this "progress report." Since this is not a grade, there will only be be astute analysis and biased observations. Please feel free to kick my teeth in below in the comments.

Forever tied together.
Forever tied together.

Draft History/Talent Evaluation

In 2004 the Celtics had an impressive draft based on where they were selecting. Al Jefferson (15), Delonte West (24) and Tony Allen (25) all went on to successful NBA careers, while Justin Reed (40) did not. Since McDonough joined the team in 2003 it's hard to know how much impact his input had on these selections. Since he was credited with the Rajon Rondo pick in 2006 let's bypass the 2005 draft and start with 2006.

Check out a couple of Dave King's stories on this subject by clicking here or here.

1. Rajon Rondo (21)*

2. Gabe Pruitt (32)

3. Glen Davis (35)*

4. J.R. Giddens (30)

5. Semih Erden (60)

6. Lester Hudson (58)

7. Avery Bradley (19)

8. Luke Harangody (52)

9. JaJuan Johnson (27)*

10. E'Twaun Moore (55)

11. Jared Sullinger (21)

12. Fab Melo (22)

13. Kris Joseph (51)

*Players acquired in draft day trades.

Rondo was a spectacular pick.

Avery Bradley may be a solid starter.

Davis is a fringe starter on a bad team.

Moore may hang around as an NBA player.

The book is still out on Sullinger, Melo and Joseph, but only Sullinger showed much promise his rookie season.

The other seven picks were garbage.

Between #19-35 three of the Celtics six picks were solid.

The Celtics never drafted a player that stuck below #35.

The Celtics never picked higher than #19.

McDonough was part of one great success, a mixed bag of late firsts and seconds, and was never involved in drafting a lottery talent. I won't dismiss Rondo from the discussion, but is every GM that hit one pick a great talent evaluator? Because if the Rondo pick is considered an outlier the rest isn't very impressive.

Safety vs. Risk

McDonough's first lottery pick, and a relatively high one at #5, has been viewed by some critics as a "safe" pick. I aver that only picks inside the lottery can really be viewed as safe. The expectations past that point drop precipitously, alleviating much of the blame for a pick that goes awry (which is the rule, not the exception).

Lottery picks can be safe or risky. There is always chatter of high floor/low ceiling players in contrast to risk/reward prospects. My belief is that Alex Len was more of the former. Based on my own rampant, and likely fatuous, speculation players like Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore have more potential than Len. I would slot Len in a class with Otto Porter Jr. as guys who are likely to have solid careers, Len more solid than Porter, but are unlikely to make multiple all-star appearances.


It has been propounded by some that based on McDonough's background, track record, pedigree, glowing endorsements and the general buzz surrounding his hiring that the fans should put trust in his ability to make the right moves until he proves otherwise. My stance is that trust is something that is earned, not passed around frivolously.

I am cautiously optimistic that Ryan will continue his meteoric rise through the NBA ranks based on his consideration as a prodigy in the eyes of esteemed personnel across the league, but the truth remains that he is still a novice to this new role. When a new employee starts in my company I have a level of confidence based on his qualifications coming in, but his performance is scrutinized much more than established employees that I trust based on years of proving their ability.

I prefer the word rope over trust. At this point I'm willing to extend him enough to make a lasso or a noose.

Getting His Guy

Despite my leanings that the Suns went the safe route, they have touted Alex Len as their #1 overall BPA. While I have no reason to doubt their probity, I think it's "safe" to suggest that every team is going to speak favorably about the selections they make on draft night.

Four other teams that picked ahead of the Suns also felt they got "their guy." Who's wrong and who's right? Did Cleveland pick for need or was Anthony Bennett easily ahead of the pack? Is it possible that Victor Oladipo might have been #1 on the Suns' board? Usually a team picking that high wouldn't admit that the player they picked at #5 was fifth on their draft board... At the same time, there's no advantage in making wild claims that could invite more criticism down the road. Then again, we're coming off the epic failure of Lance Blanks, so there's that...

By trumpeting Len in this fashion the Suns left several windows to the future open.

1. The Suns chose to forego the sexy picks. Either McLemore or Noel would have probably been received with more accolades and fanfare. McLemore, especially, would have been more of an instant gratification pick as he plays a more exciting brand of basketball complete with high flying dunks. The Suns felt they made the correct big picture pick.

2. If any other player in the draft class turns out better than Len, which is very likely, they have given naysayers an opening to rebuke their selection since they have revealed the top of their board. If either Noel or McLemore, or both, proves to be a better pro the pick will look even more egregious.

3. If Len turns out to be the man they'll make the four teams ahead of them look inept and can strut around as the smartest team in the room (similar to the Celtics in 2006). The Suns have basically given the rest of the league a little bit of a Jared Dudley, "What's up!?"


The Suns went young. The Suns went with players who are unlikely to be game changers as rookies. Len isn't going to be the favorite of many pundits to win rookie of the year accolades. Both are unpolished, Goodwin moreso than Len, and will take time to grow into and embrace their new NBA roles.

We've been introduced to Babby's "dry powder" philosophy during his tenure here, and in line with that the newbies were desiccant picks. They fit splendidly into a long term rebuilding project. A plan that favors prudence to haste. A plan to rebuild the "right way."(Although I don't necessarily think that quick and right have to be mutually exclusive... of course that's just me).


By opening their team workouts and giving media more access to the proceedings the Suns actually managed to be more clandestine than the cloak and dagger nature of recent years. I never understood the policy of working out players behind closed doors and it appears that McDonough didn't either. Instead he chose to hide right in front of our faces.

The lack of predictability among whom the Suns were targeting should be lauded. Unlike last year, when I successfully predicted the Suns would choose Kendall Marshall (whom I didn't want the team to pick) despite the furtive nature of the team's activities leading into the draft, this year I was admittedly nonplused when Len's name was called. How many of you thought it would be him with Noel and McLemore still available?

I'm still of the belief that the Suns were high on Oladipo, but even after the draft I would be intrigued to find out exactly what the Suns board actually looked like... because I still have no idea. The ability of the team to be more open with their fans while still being able to keep their plans completely under wraps is refreshing.

Free Agency and the Future

1. Ryan has a track record of being at least a competent talent evaluator. Hopefully this will translate to success in this area. The first case study with the Suns is in progress.

2. I felt the Suns went the safe route with the #5 pick... and so did McDonough. If a team picks the player they had ranked #1 overall that probably seems a pretty safe proposition. It still remains unclear whether the team might be willing to gamble a lottery pick on a high ceiling player with issues. For instance, a guy that drops due to possible character concerns associated with a mother with a criminal record and an itinerant history related to schooling. In a league with very few guarantees, trepidation over a calculated gamble can be self-defeating.

3. McDonough has all the qualifications to succeed, but my trust in him will evolve on a merit based system. I'm sure Ryan would agree that it's something he needs to earn.

4. Ryan apparently has no problem with going after the players he covets completely independent of external influences. This is a collaborative effort between him and his staff.

5. Be patient. The Suns are going to be.

6. Expect the Suns to be an open book... inscribed with invisible ink. Or don't expect anything. The Suns have been anything but predictable since McDonough's hiring.

7. Based on McMiracle's obsession with preparedness there is at least some reason to be confident that the moves of today adumbrate favorably towards a return to prominence in the future... After all, luck favors the prepared.

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