There are two schools of thought when it comes to developing NBA prospects. One is that young players need playing time coming out of college, and their growth will be stymied without regular rotation minutes. Another is that modern NBA prospects are rarely ready to play significant NBA minutes on a winning team, and can have a season or two as "redshirts."
By the second method, the prospects learn the on-court and off-court life of an NBA player, surrounded by (hopefully) positive influences who can teach them what to do, and what not to do. Additionally, teams who don't have the highest picks in the draft can draft for higher upside without requiring their kids to play right away. Think of it as delayed gratification, with the hopes of a bigger payoff down the road.
Under GM Ryan McDonough and Head Coach Jeff Hornacek, the Suns appear to have embraced the "high upside/delayed gratification" method with their first two sets of draft selections. Neither Alex Len nor Archie Goodwin contributed anything of note for last season's team, and it's questionable either of them or this year's draft picks will make an impact this season.
That's OK because it's a long game the Suns are playing here. The team likely isn't ready to contend this season, so the key will be how well this quartet can contribute in another year or two, or three. Of Len, Goodwin, T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis, only Len and Warren are of legal drinking age at 21, and each barely so. An NBA player generally doesn't hit his prime until his mid-20s, so patience is required with them all.
Nevertheless, we do have a season coming upon us here. How much can be expected of these young whippersnappers? Let's take a look, in alphabetical order:
Ennis gave many Suns fans a bit of indigestion with his selection. "ANOTHER PG? Don't we already have Dragic, Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas? And don't the Suns also have a few SGs worthy of playing time?" Age 19 at the time of the draft, and 20 now, Ennis is probably a couple of years away from being able to reliably contribute.
Could the Suns have instead drafted a "ready to help now" PF or C? Maybe, but sustainable, winning teams don't draft to plug immediate holes; they draft the player who they think gives their team the best chance to succeed long-term.
He's not the highest leaper, the fastest, or the quickest, but Ennis is a smart basketball player with natural leadership abilities. From Draft Express:
Ranking among the least turnover prone players in this group in isolations, pick and rolls, and spot-ups, Ennis's unique poise for a freshman shows on paper. He operated in the two man game extensively, as 32.9% of his possessions came on the pick and roll and 29.9% of his possessions derived from his own usage and his passes came from dishes out of the pick and roll, both of which rank 4th among point guard prospects. Sporting a 3.5 assist-to-turnover ratio in the half court overall, Ennis's decision-making when the game slows down is one of his biggest strengths relative to his peers.
There's long-term potential upside in that. For this season, it's hard to imagine Ennis will get on the court much for the Suns, given that Bledsoe, Dragic, IT, Green and Goodwin are ahead of him on the depth chart, but Ennis is an asset.
In a few years, and forward from that, Ennis will be an effective NBA point guard. His athleticism, while not outstanding, isn't a deal breaker, and he simply knows how to play the game. Smart point guards for the win.
I also quite enjoyed this, my first time watching Ennis play. See how cool he is nailing this game-winner? What's Fonzie like, Yolanda?
Goodwin is a remarkable athlete, and reputed to be an extremely hard worker, which brings fans exciting dreams. That combination tends to succeed, and we all hope Goodwin will. For now, he's probably not as far along in realizing his immense potential as Ennis is, because he hasn't displayed that natural knack for the game, for making the smart play.
His boom/bust profile hasn't changed too much since the day the Suns drafted Goodwin. The energy and athleticism is there, as is the lanky build with a long wingspan, but the jump shot and handle hasn't arrived yet, or even improved much. Goodwin also still looks a bit lost on the court at times.
Suns assistant coach Mike Longabardi expressed that he thinks Goodwin is ready to be a rotation player after this year's Summer League, and maybe Goodwin is ready for that on some teams in the NBA. Like Ennis, he'll be stuck at the back of a hell of a logjam of guards on the 2014-15 Suns. Barring injury or a trade, I don't expect much bottom line contribution from Goodwin this season. He remains a fertile piece of land for the Suns to cultivate into a beautiful garden one day.
The first draft pick of the McDonough/Hornacek era, and the Suns highest draft pick, at #5, since 1987 (Armen Gilliam), Len is also the one player on this list who has the opportunity to make a major contribution to this season's team.
We can say he was drafted for need because, when in franchise history have the Suns NOT needed a center? It's as true today as ever, and if Len can consistently provide an inside presence this year, it will transform the Suns from a fun-to-watch playoff bottom feeder to a real force in the West.
With only lightly acclaimed Miles Plumlee, and mutts Shavlik Randolph and Earl Barron as other centers on this current Suns roster, Len's skill set could potentially be game-changing. Need an enormous (listed at 7'1", 256 lb) big man to protect the rim, rebound, and score easy baskets down low, step out and hit mid-range shots, execute a few passes from the post? Why yes, we do.
Len can do all of those things, yet injuries (ankle and finger, neither apparently chronic) and inexperience have prevented him from doing so yet. Featuring a little of everything on both sides of the floor, and displaying pretty nifty mobility for a man his size, a breakthrough from Len would make this season's Suns a true threat in the West.
No pressure though, Alex. Get well and grow, but now or soon, I want to see that skill set in full force.
I fell in love with Warren soon after the draft, and everything he showed in Summer League and preseason so far has only reinforced my assessment. He can score in a variety of ways, and still has plenty of room for growth.
Warren did this in Summer League:
He's probably the most NBA-ready of the four. Warren can score on anybody, maybe even in his sleep; he makes it look that natural and easy. Len was the first McDonough pick, higher at #5 than Warren was at #14, but this year's draft was stronger than last year's.
Drafting Warren was as strong a statement as drafting Len, considering Warren doesn't fit the current profile for a SF. His 3-point shot is a work in progress, his defense is questionable, he's not incredibly athletic, yet he finds unconventional ways to put the ball in the basket. And he constantly runs, which will make him a great fit on the Suns for years to come.
For this season's team, Warren doesn't figure to play much, barring injury or a trade. P.J. Tucker and Marcus Morris stand above him on the depth chart, and small ball lineups could feature Gerald Green playing ahead of him at SF. Long term, Warren will score lots and lots of points in the NBA. If he's able to become an effective 3-point shooter, the Suns might have a future star on their hands.
With the exception of Len, who could play a huge role if he's healthy and has made progress since last season, the other youngsters are doubtful to make much impact this season due to the Suns' exceptional depth. We also shouldn't necessarily expect linear progress from any of them. Players have growing pains, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see one of this group start out on fire before hitting a rookie wall (remember Plumlee last season?).
Patience will be key, for us as fans, as well as for Suns management. Keep this in mind: Zero players on the Suns current roster were effective NBA rotation players at age 21. If any of Len, Goodwin, Warren or Ennis can be one this season, consider it a bonus.