Pop Quiz: In the world of the NBA what are Robin Lopez and Luis Scola worth?
If that question was posed to Phoenix Suns fans a day before each of the players were traded the answer would in no way be a "first round pick in the incredibly talented 2014 ," but that, believe it or not is the answer. The two former Suns big men netted the team a second and a third pick in the first round of the draft this year.
Last year in a three team trade that sent Robin Lopez and Hakim Warrick to the New Orleans Pelicans for a lottery protected first round pick from the Minnesota Timberwolves that is only Top 13 protected for a team on the verge of the playoffs. In a top heavy Western Conference the Wolves have as good a chance as their middling peers of making the playoffs as a seven or eight seed.
Fast-forward a year and the team was able to ship away a Larry Bird favorite in Scola to the Indiana Pacers for a lottery protected first round pick, Gerald Green, and Miles Plumlee.
Couple that with the Suns own first round pick, likely in the Top 5, and the team has positioned themselves well for the upcoming draft. They have three tickets to the party that every team wants to get into.
What does this mean though?
No games have been played in college just yet, but the talent has been making waves over the years in high school, recently in tournaments, and creating an overall impression on the NBA decision-makers. One thing is fairly clear at this point. Andrew Wiggins (Kansas, Fr.) will be the first player off the board if (when) he declares for the 2014 NBA Draft.
Another thing is very clear. No matter the combination of picks, packages, money, and thorough begging no team is trading the top pick after they get it.
If the Suns win the lottery they win both Wiggins and two more talents with their picks, but if they do not there are plenty of potential franchise changing players coming from college and overseas. After Wiggins the Top 5 will feature in no order Jabari Parker (Duke, Fr.), Julius Randle (Kentucky, Fr.), , and (Oklahoma State, So.)Dante Exum (Australia, Undecided).
Any of those three could be building blocks for years to come.
Parker has been referenced to a Paul Pierce type with his methodical offensive skill-set, but he is built like Shawn Marion. A unique offensive combination at the four in a league that is becoming smaller and smaller. A more traditional four man, Randle, has drawn direct comparisons to Zach Randolph and Al Jefferson. At the 2013 Nike Hoops Summit several NBA decision-makers told me and other scouts just that.
The next tier features both Smart and Exum, combo guards that can be every bit as effective as a floor leader or off the ball scorer. Smart made the decision to return to school despite being in the running for the Top Overall Pick. Then there is Exum who has burst onto the scene with recent performances in tournaments showing he can compete and even out perform his peers.
Those are options in the Top 5, but as we see every year a Victor Oladipo or Damian Lillard can come from seemingly out of nowhere to go in the Top 5 of any draft. Time will tell who the 2014 version of that is.
If the Wolves sneak in the Playoffs or at the very least finish at No. 14 in the standings after the lottery then the team gets the opportunity at another lottery talent. In that range there are very talented prospects including , (Michigan, So.)Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Arizona, Fr.), , (Michigan State, Sr.)Dario Saric (Croatia, 1994), and . All of these prospects have Top 10 potential, but could be available between 14-17 with the Wolves pick. (Michigan, So.)
The Pacers are another story. They will compete for an NBA Championship which starts in the regular season where they will be one of the better teams no matter conference. That pick is likely going to be in the 25-30 range.
At that point there could be another Archie Goodwin in the mix for the Suns. Looking at prospects like Mario Hezonja (Croatia, 1995), , (Louisville, So.)Noah Vonleh (Indiana, Fr.), and Spencer DinWiddie (Colorado, Jr.) as options there. The draft process just started so there are other names that will be at each position of the draft, but just like this year it gives Ryan McDonough an excuse to see anyone and everyone in private workouts.
For more draft coverage checkout NBA Draft Insider.