While the Phoenix Suns bumbled through an injury-plagued nightmare season in 2015/16 that saw them lose the most games in franchise history since their inaugural campaign, they might have emerged with a key building block in shooting guard Devin Booker.
Booker's savvy as a shooter and playmaker lead to high hopes for the Suns' offense for many years to come, but he struggled mightily on the defensive end due to a combination of a rookie learning curve and physical limitations, as he doesn't readily possess the speed or length to contain NBA guards on the perimeter.
There is reason to hope that his high IQ will eventually allow him to overcome his lack of physical tools, but in the meantime the Suns would do well to find a young player that will compensate defensively on the wing, especially as P.J. Tucker -- currently the closest thing to a stopper on the wing -- will be 31 years old by the time the 2016/17 season tips off.
Enter the one-and-done small forward from California, Jaylen Brown.
Size and Athleticism
Brown possesses almost ideal size for an NBA wing, listed on DraftExpress.com at 6' 7" and 222 lbs with a wingspan of 7' 0.5". He's already as filled out as one could reasonably expect from a 19-year-old, and his explosive leaping ability combines to make him perhaps the most physically impressive prospect in the entire draft.
His handles and general court awareness need work, but the vicious manner in which he attacks the rim when he has a clear path to the hoop brings to mind the likes of Russell Westbrook. Take a look at some of his savagery on display here against Richmond, and if you have any little ones in the room you might want to ask them to leave for a moment.
There isn't much polish to Brown's offensive repertoire yet, as his modus operandi at Cal was usually to use his size and quickness to simply bully his way toward the rim, resulting in 6.4 freethrows per game during his lone college season.
If he couldn't get it going in the paint, however, things got pretty ugly.
Brown shot 29.4% from the behind the college arc on a healthy 3 attempts per game, and committed more turnovers (3.1 per game) than assists (2.0). Furthermore, his poor shooting from deep and from the line (65.4%) equated to only a .518 TS%, which is a pretty low number for a potential top-5 pick. Perhaps his issues with scoring efficiency and turnovers were simply a case of having too big a workload on his shoulders -- as he led the PAC-12 with a bloated USG% of 31.2 -- or perhaps the issue was in the lineups that were used at Cal.
At times this season, Cal didn't exactly do a great job of surrounding Brown with the best players to take advantage of his skills. Part of this had to do with roster construction, as the Bears simply just had too many non-shooters on the roster in Wallace, Ivan Rabb, Kingsley Okoroh, Kameron Rooks, and Sam Singer. On the other hand though, Martin didn't exactly do the offense any favors by often playing with two big men as opposed to rolling out lineups of Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird together with Brown in order to space the floor. To Martin's credit, he used these type of lineups more often late in the season, and they unsurprisingly coincided with Brown taking a leap through the middle of conference season.
While Brown likely will be a demon in transition at any level (see below), there are valid concerns that he can be anything more than a liability in an NBA halfcourt offense.
The good news is, while his jumper is highly erratic it isn't broken by any means. It certainly isn't the quickest or cleanest release you'll see, but there's a decent enough template here to lend hope that he can at least be average from outside at some point.
While whichever team that selects Brown will be taking a gamble on his offensive game, he has a very high floor as a defender at the next level. His combination of size, length and foot speed make him perfectly suited to the switch-heavy defensive schemes so prevalent in today's NBA, as he is rangy enough to contain dribble penetration and bulky enough to drop down low.
While his 1.4 combined steals and blocks per game certainly seem low for an elite collegiate defender, once again this might be a result of the system he played in at Cal.
More from Vecenie:
[Brown's] playmaking numbers on this end aren't terrific, but that's a function of the defensive scheme than it is on Brown's ability to rise up and block shots or get into passing lanes. Martin more than most coaches emphasizes sitting down in a stance and rotating in order to keep teams out of the paint as opposed to gambling for turnovers and transition points. During each of [head coach Cuonzo] Martin's two years in charge at Cal, the team has finished in the bottom five nationally in terms of forced turnover rate, and over the last six years his teams have never finished in the top 250 nationally.
Brown's defensive tools immediately bring to mind Justise Winslow, who famously slid to the 10th pick in the draft last year and wasted no time in making his presence felt defensively as a rookie for the Heat. They both entered the draft listed at 6' 7" and 222 lbs, with Brown having an extra 2.25" on his wingspan.
As can be expected with Brown, Winslow shot an abysmal 26.6% from 3 during his rookie season on 1.5 attempts per game, but his defense made him a mainstay in the rotation all season long as he finished fourth among rookies with 28.2 minutes per game.
It also didn't hurt that Winslow rebounded well for a wing (5.1 RPG) another area in which Brown figures to contribute (5.4 RPG at Cal).
Fit in Phoenix
If the Suns are drafting in a spot where they won't have a shot at either Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram, Jaylen Brown should be considered heavily. With P.J. Tucker entering free agency in 2017, Brown could potentially form a formidable offense/defense duo with T.J. Warren at small forward next to the Suns' guard-heavy rotation.
His raw offensive game and tunnel-vision tendencies might be uncomfortably reminiscent of perpetual prospect Archie Goodwin, but there is a decent enough foundation there that might make his defensive potential impossible to pass up after the big 2 are off the board.