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Phoenix Suns GM McDonough dines with top picks, plus analysis on annual Draft Tiers

Players were spotted with GM Ryan McDonough yesterday in Phoenix. Where do Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss rank in the annual draft tiering system?

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

With the NBA Draft coming next week and a free agent bonanza the week after, the silly season has already begun. Yesterday, we found out via twitter that Phoenix Suns GM Ryan McDonough spent the day with two of the top talents in next week's NBA Draft.

Not quite as creepy dedicated as the Cleveland fans who used GPS to track Cavs owner Dan Gilbert's private plan between Cleveland and Miami to guess LeBron James' next career move in 2014, some lucky smart-phone toting Suns fans caught Suns McDonough with power forward prospects Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender separately.

First, it was an awful, but distinctive, photo of McDonough with Chriss at lunch.

Then Bender for dinner.

What does this mean?

Nothing more than McDonough doing his job. He's explained to us for years that when players come in for their predraft workouts, either he or an Assistant GM take every player out for a meal to get some one-on-one time. They work that meal around a training session with the TSM, an interview with the whole front office and coach, and of course the workout session itself with the coaching staff. This year, with so many agent-driven solo workouts, Ryan's had more than enough time to take every lottery talent out personally. And he's certainly going to do that with candidates for the #4 pick.

Bender is in town for a scheduled solo workout, just like most of the lottery picks have already done for the Suns. He is supposed to work out today, and I'm hoping we get summoned for a media session afterward. The Suns haven't had a post-workout media session in more than a week now.

It's the presence of Chriss in the Valley of the Sun that was a bit of a surprise. Chriss has stayed in California all month as his agency, CAA, has coordinated workouts with interested teams on their turf. Maybe the Suns actually got Chriss in for a full workout? More likely, they took what they could get and settled for the meet-and-greet portion. There's no injury concerns with Chriss, so an interview might be just fine.

Where do Chriss and Bender fit in ESPN's annual draft tiers?

Draft Tiers

I really want this concept to work, and in general I very much like it. According to Chad Ford, he surveys GMs and executives from teams all over the league to assemble players into draft tiers based on their likelihood to be an All-Star, starter or career role player. What I love about this concept is that it gives you a consensus of what team front offices think about the players ahead of the actual draft, irrespective of their team needs or likely pick.

Of course, this prediction model is just as flawed as any. Let's take a look at prior years. It seems to me that no matter how scouts ranked the players in the 2014 and 2015 drafts, it's too early to make any definitive statements on accuracy because the players just haven't had enough time to prove it.

But 2011 and 2012 outcomes should be something worth looking at.


The tier system in 2011 did not rank anyone from that draft as a sure-first multi-time All-Star, yet we've seen that Kyrie Irving quickly became an annual participant, and Jimmy Butler is not far behind. The tier system, which was validated in the actual draft, had Butler as a first round bubble guy and future NBA role player.

The draft itself played out almost exactly along the lines of Ford's tier system, which validates the honesty of this tiering system among teams since their actual actions matched the tier system nearly perfectly. Irving went #1 overall and was ranked highest among scouts for the draft, while Butler went 30th which is right where the tiering system thought he'd be.

But the scouts are never totally right. Sometimes they collectively whiff on guys. This time, it was Derrick Williams (potential All-Star?) and Jan Vesely (sure starter, maybe All-Star?) that all the scouts got wrong. Williams and Vesely went 2 and 6 that year though, so the tier system once again lined up with actual draft selections and was mostly right about the players.

On the other end, Butler, Chandler Parsons and Isaiah Thomas all ranked way too low now that we can look through the lens of hindsight.

The Suns' Markieff Morris ranked in Tier 5 (role player) while future Sun Brandon Knight ranked in Tier 3 (potential starter) but had this note on him in the article:

Some teams believe Knight, Kanter and Valanciunas could all end up as Tier 2, or even Tier 1, players over time.


Of course, they were right on Anthony Davis as a sure-fire All-Star. Hard to be wrong there.

But after Anthony Davis, they weren't quite accurate at the next level, when you look back at it. Chad's front office sources gave the likes of Harrison Barnes, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Thomas Robinson a better chance at stardom than Andre Drummond and Damian Lillard. They also had Draymond Green all the way down in Tier 6 as a first-round bubble candidate.

The Suns' Kendall Marshall showed up in Tier 3: potential starter, but not an All-Star.


Not one player ranked into Tier 1 or Tier 2 in 2013, meaning there was no player who NBA front offices thought belonged in the consideration for All-Star games. And they were right, weren't they?

They did, however, say there were a few starter-worthy players in 2013, including the Suns' Alex Len (taken 5th). But they said the same of Anthony Bennett and Otto Porter, who later went 1 and 3 overall.

In fact, several of the players ranked in Tier 4 - representing role players who could someday be a starter if they reached their potential - have had better NBA careers so far than the consensus Top-6 of the 2013 Draft. This should be a surprise to no one. Even the scouts didn't rank the top 6 very highly.

The players the scouts missed that year - ranking them too low - included Rudy Gobert and Giannis Antetokounmpo (both placed in Tier 5 as no better than role players at the NBA level).

The Suns' Alex Len ranked as a Tier 3 (potential starter) while Archie Goodwin got into Tier 5 (role player).


The scouts loved the 2014 draft, giving a whopping 9 players a chance to reach an All-Star game some day. Though it's too early to know, they appear to have gotten many of the guys right. However, Noah Vonleh (who later went 8th) has proven to be nothing more than a bench-rider, while injuries have derailed the early careers of a few others.

It's too early call any of the guys at the top busts, but you can already see that they had Gary Harris and Nik Stauskas a bit too high (Tier 3: probable NBA starter) and Nikola Jokic (Tier 6) a bit low.

The Suns' Tyler Ennis was ranked as a Tier 4 in 2015 (maybe starter but more likely high level role player) while T.J. Warren ranked in Tier 5 (career role player).


Okay, now this is way way too early to call, but it's clear once again that the tier system predicted the flow of the NBA draft properly.

The Suns's Devin Booker was ranked as Tier 4 in 2015: maybe starter but more likely high level role player.

What does this mean for the Suns?

First, let's recap that the tiering system has been 90+% right in prior years because it's so simple. All it does is rank players into groups based on a consensus of scouts on the player's potential as an All-Star, starter or role player in the NBA.

I am sad to tell you that, according to this tiering system, the Suns pick at #4 in the 2016 Draft projects as no better than Alex Len was projected in 2013: a Tier 3 prospect who will be likely a starter at the NBA level but never reach an All-Star game.

On a more neutral note, the #4 or #5 pick doesn't usually get you a potential All-Star in the eyes of scouts prior to the draft. In 2012, 2014 and 2015, you had a chance at an All-Star with the 4th selection, but in 2011, 2013 and now 2016 there just isn't enough high end talent available.

Even within those vaunted 2012, 2014 and 2015 drafts, the scouts were probably over-ranking half of the Tier 2s. Truly, each draft only produces a small handful of All-Stars and some of those were drafted outside the Top 10.

So you can be disappointed but not too disappointed that there's no sure-fire All-Star waiting for the Suns at #4 overall.

The Tier System in 2016 projects, no shocker here, that only Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram to reach All-Star status, while the next five players will likely top out at starters who aren't going to make any All-Star games.

Tier 3 consists of Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Jaylen Brown, Kris Dunn and Jamal Murray.

There's a few interesting developments from this year's tiering system:

  • Buddy Hield is NOT among the top 3 tiers according to a consensus of scouts, instead lumped with other mid-to-late lottery picks who will be sometime starters but more likely role players (along the lines of Booker, Warren, Ennis, Morris with the Suns).
  • Marquese Chriss is definitely a Tier 3 and considered one of the Top 7 talents in the draft by a consensus of scouts, something no one really considered until the last few weeks
  • In fact, among the Tier 3s, Chriss even got the most votes for Tier 2 (meaning he has All-Star potential). Ford says that three of the Tier 3s got some Tier 2 mention, but not enough to raise them up and that Chriss was mentioned "especially" in that light.
  • Also among the Tier 3s, Bender and Brown got Tier 4 mentions meaning there's more question marks on them than the others at this Tier. This is no surprise, with regard to Bender. He likely got as many Tier 2 mentions as Tier 4 mentions. We just don't have enough film on him.
  • The Suns should get a good player at #13 overall who will compare favorably to the talent they've always taken at 13 or 14: just like Morris, Marshall, Warren, Ennis and Booker, their #13 pick this year should be no worse than the Tier 4 group. Tier 4s are potential starters but more likely high level role players.
  • Joining Hield in Tier 4 are Henry Ellenson, Furkan Korkmaz, Skal Labissiere, Jakob Poeltl, Domantas Sabonis, and Dejounte Murray
  • Dejounte Murray, who had a solo workout with the Suns last week, is a surprise inclusion in the Tier 4 group. Previously ranked on a first round bubble level by sites like DX (ie. Tier 6), Murray is now rising up the boards of scouts will likely be gone by late lottery or late teens next week.
  • Wouldn't it be funny if the Suns end up with Chriss and D. Murray, two starters from a disappointing Washington Huskies team this past season?
  • Ranked surprisingly low, to some of us, might be Deyonta Davis (ranked in Tier 5 as role player potential, but not starter) who has routinely been mocked in the lottery.
  • Of the Tier 5 and Tier 6s, you can bet that at least one of them will turn out to be a better player than most anyone in this draft. The trick is figuring out which one.

Final Word

The Suns got lucky with Devin Booker last year. He was underrated coming out of college, and has the potential to be the best Suns draft pick since Amare Stoudemire as long as he doesn't regress.

Don't expect this year's picks, including the 4th overall, to exceed Booker's potential. Just be happy to a guy or two who could someday start next to him.

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