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Phoenix Suns Draft Preview: The Mysterious Malik Pope

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RIP #Top5Protected

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Draft Position Update

#Top5Protected is no more friends. It's a sad time. Fortunately (?) the Suns have their own first-round pick still and it will surely stay in the lottery. The bright side (HA!) of this is every game the Suns lose they get closer and closer to gaining more ping pong balls.

However, Suns fans should not be looking forward to moving up in the draft standings. Playoff hopefuls in the East like Brooklyn, Detroit, Indiana, and Boston are at least seven wins behind them in the upside-down standings trying to chase Charlotte and Miami for the seven and eight seed. While the Suns losing a ton of games the rest of the season wouldn't be surprising, the Suns would still require a lot of winning from those East teams to move up a couple of spots in the draft and that's not something that's too reliable.

Still, it's something to keep an eye on every now and then because 19 of the 23 remaining games in the schedule are against playoff hopefuls, with most of those teams being in the West.

So even though some prospects are clearly out of range now, we will tread on and continue to preview prospects. More so, I'm going to focus on those prospects slotted around the 10-20 range and we will get more specific the closer we get to the actual draft. I'll use this space here in each prospect update to give you a screenshot of the current standings.

In case you missed it, here are the previews that have already been posted. The Suns could still trade up or win the lottery for one of these guys, but stranger things have not really happened so don't get your hopes up.

Karl-Anthony Towns
D'Angelo Russell
Stanley Johnson
Kevon Looney
Myles Turner
Montrezl Harrell

For some recent context, I could see Turner slipping to the late lottery, while Harrell is ranged from 15-20 as of now. The rest of those prospects would require a lottery miracle.

With this "update" style sort of post, this time we will go with a much more mysterious and difficult to judge prospect in Malik Pope.

Malik Pope

SF/PF, 6'10", 205 lbs, Freshman (19 in July)
14.3 MPG, 5.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.7 BPG, 45.7 FG%, 41.7 3P%, 70 FT%

Pope's going to be the biggest enigma in this draft coming out of college basketball. He's a freshman at San Diego State who only averages 14 minutes a game and his position on draft boards across the web is all over the place.

Chad Ford shot Pope up his board and has him at 16, but DraftExpress (much more concrete on repositioning players) still has him at 30 in the 2016 draft and Sam Vecenie at CBS Sports just debuted him on his board last week at 76.

The Mystery

So what's the deal? First of all, there's the minutes issue. Pope is a raw prospect in his own sense, but he's extra special because he missed both his junior and senior season of high school because of serious leg injuries.

That is a ton of time that he missed learning how to play basketball and he has struggled the most with basic basketball IQ things like defensive rotations and other things of that matter. Because of both of these factors, head coach Steve Fisher is slowly bringing him into the mix and as Cliff Alexander has (rather unfairly) found out at Kansas, college coaches will not tolerate small mistakes.

While he certainly is a good shot blocker and rebounder, those defensive mistakes are still coming and this is not a guy you can draft right away and expect him to play any good defense, let alone be a lockdown defender in the near future. With how raw he is offensively, that's a problem.

Before we go into the appeal of Pope it's important to understand how much his inexperience has been put on display. There have been a couple of games where it all came together, but he's had a ton of time on the floor when he has looked completely out of his element and clearly needs more time to develop.

The Appeal

So you should stay away from Pope right? Why is he all over draft boards then? To put it very simply, Pope is extremely special when his skills are all out there. Another reminder that this has come with its large share of inconsistencies, but here's the full package when you see it.

At the height of 6'10", Pope can move like a guard and has a good enough handle for that size given his inexperience. It seems like he's still figuring out how to use his body with his ridiculous athletic ability. He's fast, has serious hops, and still runs goofy at times because of how new this must be to him.

Pope reminds me of the Greek Freak in a way because you can clearly tell that he has skill and ability with the ball in his hands. However, he's still figuring out how exactly to pull it off with both basketball IQ and controlling his own body. The more time he spends with the ball in his hands the better he's going to get and that also goes along with being on the court in general.

At his absolute ceiling this isn't necessarily a guy you expect to consistently produce his own offense, but you see flashes of it possibly being in his repertoire. This is only comparing it from this instance, but it's a similar watching experience like Andrew Wiggins at Kansas last year in that when you see him do a move on offense you go "whoa! He has that already?"

The biggest thing for scouts right now though with Pope is that he's hitting his threes. He's shooing 42% from deep on 1.7 attempts a game and has a fluid release. At his peak this would make him an absolute nightmare at power forward, but that very much depends on how much strength he develops in the next couple of years.

SDSU is doing a ton of fun stuff with him to the point where you will see him hit a step back three, throw down a lob, and then hit a pick-and-pop jumper with ease. There's so much potential there, it just fluctuates on how you view the term.

Fit In Phoenix

As you can tell, Pope's draft outlook depends on how you view him growing. There is a ton of reliance on the word "if" with his overall growth offensively, getting smarter as a basketball player, staying healthy, continuing to hit his threes, understanding defense, and getting much stronger.

With that in mind, I have absolutely no idea where Pope will be drafted. He could go back to school and be a top five pick next year. He could explode in the NCAA tournament and go top 10 this year. He could declare either year and go in the second round because of how raw and inconsistent he is. Even the freaking combine could go either way, as he could rise on draft boards because of the way he looks there or he could get red flagged by medical and plummet.

I don't think he fits in Phoenix. I don't see management taking a risk on a guy like Pope unless they are in love with what they see. There will be more developed prospects available and the Suns are already developing another very raw prospect in Archie Goodwin. Pope is a better fit for teams who are desperate for that big time talent and I don't think the Suns are that team.

Either way, Pope has a serious chance to be "that guy" everyone passed on and regretted not taking. He could make a GM look really smart or really dumb. When a guy like Bruno Caboclo goes around this range, it doesn't really matter how raw a prospect is anymore. Pope should benefit from that whenever he does decide to go pro.