#Top5Protected Report will take a look at draft possibilities for the Phoenix Suns both with their own first-round pick and the Los Angeles Lakers first-round pick, which the Suns will own it falls outside of the top five. I'll be bringing you frequent posts on all of the players graded around this range of the draft and their fits in Phoenix.
A small announcement before we get going. The Lakers recent headfirst dive into the pit of the NBA standings has a lot of Suns fans concerned that #Top5Protected might turn into #Top3Protected (2016's protections). Kobe Bryant's injury didn't do the Suns any favors, but a favorable February schedule for the Lakers has some hope on the horizon.
Even if the Lakers keep losing, the Suns are alive on lottery night unless something really goes wrong in Los Angeles. The odds are certainly lower though, so I'll try to get through most of the higher prospects out of the way while the series still makes "sense" or whatever you want to call it.
C/PF, 6'11", 250 lbs, Freshman (20 in November)
19.6 MPG, 8.5 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 1.0 APG, 51.2 FG%, 76 FT%
The reason I didn't start this series off with Karl-Anthony Towns is because it's tough to get a read on the Kentucky team as a whole. The "platoon" substitution pattern was soon seen as a myth, but there's still a ton of variation in both the minutes and the quality of play from some of these players.
Towns is only averaging 20 minutes a game, but we've seen enough of him at this point to still warrant his possible top 5 selection. Towns has a combination of skill, touch, and intelligence that has many scouts seeing his NBA comp as Al Horford. That's a very high standard and while Towns would have to grow a ton to get to that level, there's a good amount of belief in him being able to get there.
Potential inside/outside game
Towns has the long arms and soft touch to excel with any shot around the key. His post game is elementary right now, but in a good way. He has his basic up and under moves along with the occasional spin and knows that his bread and butter is the touch on his hook shot.
In order for Towns to become a true weapon in the post he's going to need to get stronger and then he will add more to his repertoire. We will get to this in a bit, but there's a question amongst a lot of people (*raises hand) asking if that is Towns lack of strength or not having a natural body type for the block.
Towns uses that touch as a passer, as he's very useful on the elbow and can become a threat as an assist man whenever he has the ball. While he's not getting these off of double teams and things like that, he understands when a defense is sagging off and can catch you sleeping.
The part that completes the package for Towns is his shooting stroke. While it's not the prettiest shot in the world, it works and you can see what's there to build on. He can go from the midrange all the way out to the three-point line and you get the gist that he's going to keep improving every year as a shooter (he's not shooting the three this year at 0.3 attempts per game).
Rebounding and Shot Blocking
Towns has a knack and feel for both rebounding and shot blocking. He finds himself in the right position a ton on the glass and understands the way to be physical with it (he enjoys using his elbows). The key adjective for Towns on this end is "fluid", as you get no clunk or lack of mobility in the way he moves and bounces around the rim. It's really hard to describe, but my best effort is that he maximizes his steps and where he puts himself.
This extends to his shot blocking and this is where scouts start getting off their feet. His length and mobility package combined with natural instincts and great basketball IQ make him very good at being a member of the SWAT team. He gets the most out of getting vertical and that's important.
Athleticism and Toughness
Here's where we start to get nervous. Towns is an average NBA athlete both as a vertical leaper and moving laterally. He doesn't have much emphasis or power to his game and when he blocks shots it's not like a explosion of athleticism. What I mean by this is that he isn't out of the world when it comes to blocking those more sudden and quick opportunities. He does not move that well laterally either and that poses problems with our next issue.
The other problem for Towns is his toughness. He's active around the rim, but when it comes to latching onto a body and going to war it's not all there. Like Horford, is body has him stuck between power forward and center so he's going to have to use his IQ and overall ability to beat out some of the more true athletes. Like Horford, he could still get this done. It's just a possible limitation that he might need to learn to build around and Horford is the very rare case.
The problem here for Towns is while there's the promise he shows as a rebounder and shotblocker, you have to ask who he is going to guard and battle inside with in the NBA. A quicker power forward like Markieff Morris will use his first step, a bulkier Zach Randolph will just bully him, and Blake Griffin will do both. If he wants to go to center, can he really compete with this next evolution of athletes like Andre Drummond, DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gobert, Alex Len, and Jusuf Nurkic? I'm not sure.
Fit in Phoenix
While Towns could give the Suns some more shot blocking and rebounding, I think there are better fits all over the place. The athleticism and toughness concerns are exactly what I think the Suns need to grab in this draft and taking a guy with those two things as his main weaknesses doesn't make a ton of sense. I'd be much better off with guys more suited for the Suns recent surge in toughness like Stanley Johnson or Montrezl Harrell, who can both provide the rebounding and defense as well.
Even more of a concern is his growth on offense, as it appears the Suns might have to wait a little bit on his shooting and more versatility in the post if they took him. Could he be a good enough glue guy for the Suns while he continues to grow? I don't think so. Either way, I'd be shocked if Towns falls outside the top five so the Suns won't be able to get him unless they trade up.
Towns potential on both ends all over the floor is clear, but does that deserve to overshadow his first real responsibility in the post? The better question to ask here might be if that even needs to be a concern with the new pace and space NBA, which is precisely why Towns is such an alluring prospect. He's the first guy I have real concerns about, but it would not shock me at all to see him fill out his potential and certain elements of his game fall in line with what the Suns need.