With the Phoenix Suns season coming to an end, what better time than now to start looking ahead to the future? For the Suns, the conclusion of the 2014-15 NBA season is in less than two weeks. Afterward, you can expect an immediate shift to preparing for the draft, and we at Bright Side of the Sun will be taking a look at many players over the coming months.
Now that the off-season is quickly upon us, the NBA Draft Combine, and team workouts will be starting before you know it. Although it is still very early, there is already a solid indication of the players likely to be picked somewhere within the Suns' range of the 13th or 14th pick, most likely.
To start things off, we'll begin by focusing on the center position. In my opinion, this is a significant position of need for the Suns. Brandan Wright is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and will be free to sign with any team of his choosing. Alex Len, who has shown flashes of promising potential, has been hampered by injuries, and has yet to show that he can be relied upon to patrol the paint for a full season without suffering a setback.
Because of this, I believe the Suns will be looking closely at the big men in the coming draft, to see who they think could be the right fit, and provide some insurance for a less than stable position group.
Here are the players most likely to be selected if the Suns choose a center with their first pick in this year's draft.
7' 0", 240 lbs, 21 years old, Kentucky
Willie is likely the most talented prospect of the group, with the highest upside. As such, he is also a long shot to be available with the 13th or 14th pick, but it is still possible with many players destined to rise and fall in the coming months.
Cauley-Stein is a very athletic and agile center who runs the floor like a wide receiver, and moves his feet like a guard. He has very good quickness for a big man, and his agility allows him to cover even much shorter, faster players with little issue.
While he is best known for his defense, he also shows promise as a pick-and-roll option with his ability to quickly begin his roll and leap up high to catch lobs at the rim. His offensive game is still very raw, even for a center, and may not ever become more than average at best, but in a fast-tempo system like the one in Phoenix, he should have no problem contributing on the offensive end where he can get out and run in transition and utilize his strengths.
If Cauley-Stein slides in the draft, I'm sure the Suns would be very tempted to bring him aboard. Plus, he's from Kentucky...so he'd fit right in.
7' 0", 240 lbs, 19 years old, Texas
Myles Turner is one of the most intriguing and puzzling big men in the coming draft. Although he is 7' 0" tall, he actually projects to be more of a power forward in the NBA because of his skill and style of play (I'm sliding him into the center preview though because of the loaded power forward position).
His positives include his ability to shoot the ball with three-point range, his size & length, athleticism (more on that in a bit), his intelligence, and his shot-blocking ability. On the other hand, he plays passive for a big man, and often chooses to patrol the perimeter instead of taking it inside, where a player of his size and length should be able to dominate in college. He needs to add not only strength, but aggression as well, the latter of which being very difficult to change.
His passivity has led to inconsistencies in college, which will almost certainly be magnified in the NBA. However, his skill set is very intriguing and could develop into an all around threat. In fact, some have compared him to fellow Texas alum LaMarcus Aldridge, and while I think that would be an almost unattainable ceiling, he could certainly develop into a big time threat at the next level with the right training and development.
Another concern with Turner, aside from his lack of physicality, is the way he runs and moves. Although he does have good overall athleticism when it comes to his leaping ability, he does have an unusual gait when running, and plays a little stiff, at least from my perspective. He's not the most mobile big man when it comes to running the floor, and that could be a concern on a team like the Suns. Still, he has a lot to offer, and his skill set along with his I.Q. and size/length could be too much for the Suns to pass up if he's still available.
7' 0", 234 lbs, 21 years old, Wisconsin
Those of you who are Arizona fans are no doubt very familiar with Frank "The Tank" Kaminsky after he and his Badgers ended the Wildcats tournament run this past weekend (sorry Kellan). Frank is a senior who has improved with every season, and is now leading his team through an impressive NCAA Tournament run, as Wisconsin has now made it to the Final Four.
Kaminsky is the most offensively skilled center in this years draft, and it's not even close. He has great shot from mid-range all the way out to the three point line. In fact, he is shooting an impressive 41.5% from three this season at over two attempts per game. Although Frank is known mostly as a shooter, it's his footwork and touch around the rim that I find most impressive. He is a finesse scorer who uses his body and length to his advantage, and simply out maneuvers the defender.
The biggest knocks on Kaminsky are his lack of strength and athleticism. He is not a force down low who will bang his way to the basket or leap over his opponent. However, he knows what his strengths are and uses them extremely well. His NBA ceiling is a Pau Gasol type of player who can not only stretch the floor with his shooting ability, but score inside with his finesse and skill.
I believe Kaminsky is the most likely center to be drafted by the Suns because of his ability to space the floor, and his NBA readiness as a shooter and scorer who could likely contribute off the bench even as a rookie.
7' 0", 230 lbs, 19 years old, Utah
(Stats courtesy of Sports Reference)
Poeltl is the dark horse of the center position, but is likely to receive more attention as the NBA Draft Combine approaches and the bigs begin to rise up the ranks. Poeltl is a 7' 0" center from Utah who had a very solid, if not outstanding freshman season, helping the Utes make a run to the Sweet Sixteen, before beaing beaten by Duke.
Speaking of the Duke game, Poeltl likely raised some eyebrows with the success he had against likely top-three pick, Jahlil Okafor. Poeltl registered 10 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 1 assist, while holding Okafor to a career low 6 points...clearly outplaying him throughout the game.
Poeltl is still fairly raw offensively, but does show potential and promise as a low post scorer. He fits the mold of a more traditional center, so you won't see him opening up the floor with his jump shot, but he could become a very good scorer inside as he continues to progress.
One of the most exciting things about Poeltl, besides his effort on defense, is his offensive rebounding ability. Poeltl has decent athleticism and a 7' 3" wingspan, and uses them to his advantage, along with good positioning, to clean up many errant shot attempts by his teammates. This is something that the Suns are in desperate need of from their center position, and this, along with his potential as a defender and low-post scorer, could make him a major target for Phoenix in the coming draft.