With less than three weeks to go before the 2016 NBA Draft, and many roster changes on the horizon, one thing is a virtual certainty: the Phoenix Suns will draft a player in the Top 4 of the NBA draft for the first time in nearly 30 years.
And with no power forwards under contract, the Suns should be focusing solely on a big man with the 4th overall pick. And those names should be Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss.
Forget for a moment that this NBA Draft is considered weak, and that the players closest to "sure thing" status will be gone in the first two picks with Ben Simmons likely going to Philadelphia and Brandon Ingram going to the Lakers.
What's left is a handful of players a tier below in prospect status where at least half of them will struggle to beat out solid veterans for a starting spot at any point in their career, let alone as a rookie. Sure, most of the early-to-mid lottery picks will get a chance to play a lot of minutes as rookies considering only Boston (picking 3rd, thanks to the Nets) looks like a playoff contender.
Jaylen Brown has an NBA body and solid maturity at the young age of 19, but will have to develop a jumper to become an impact player in the NBA. One could envision Brown playing a role similar to Stanley Johnson and Justice Winslow had as rookies. Johnson and Winslow earned roles as defensive impact players for playoff-bound teams despite not shooting well. But for any of these players to have a serious NBA impact, they will need to refine their offensive games.
Kris Dunn will earn rookie minutes as an athletic, hard-driving guard who sets up his teammates for scores and takes big shots, but also doesn't make nearly enough of those shots and won't be a difference-maker unless he can consistently drain jumpers to keep defenses honest. Dunn's physical profile puts him next to John Wall and Russell Westbrook, but he's not nearly as good a player. Think more like Elfrid Payton than John Wall. Still, Dunn could be a contender for Rookie of the Year if he's drafted to a team with lots of open minutes at point guard.
Dunn reportedly doesn't even want to visit the Celtics or Suns, teams drafting 3rd and 4th already laden with ball-handling guards in competition for playing time. Both teams are more in need of front-court help than anything anyway, and could end of focusing on big men leaving Minnesota a chance to take him to share PG time with Ricky Rubio.
Assuming no trades, the Celtics and Suns are likely set up quite well to take the big men with the highest ceilings on the board after Simmons and Ingram.
Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, two of the draft's youngest players, are full of untapped potential as versatile big men who can do a little of everything and have a chance to emerge from this draft class as the best of them all.
Chriss profiles as a potentially devastating athlete at the four who can stretch the floor with his shooting. He doesn't rebound in traffic, though, so he'd have to be paired with a great rebounder on the front line to hide that weakness. The Suns have just the thing in Alex Len and Tyson Chandler at the center position. Chriss could have an impact like Myles Turner for the Pacers, or Trey Lyles for the Jazz last year. He could also be the next Tyrus Thomas, so buyer beware.
Dragan Bender is oozing talent and reportedly has a great work ethic and a full-max motor on the floor. At his best, Bender looks like a Toni Kukoc player who can pass, rebound, shoot and run the floor well while rotating into any of the front court positions. Kukoc helped the Bulls make a few Finals as a solid third option behind Jordan and Pippen. But right now Bender is skinny and might have trouble with a grind of an 82-game season after largely riding the pine in Europe behind veterans.
Sure, there are other guard prospects who might have great NBA careers, but with a Top 5 pick at shooting guard you're more likely to end up with a Randy Foye, Dion Waiters or Victor Oladipo type than a Bradley Beal, Brandon Roy or Andrew Wiggins.
By picking no higher than 13th or 14th the past several years, the Suns have missed out on some big men with real potential just before their pick. The Suns cannot afford to hope a high-ceiling power forward prospect is still on the board at 13. Skal Labissiere, Henry Ellenson and Deyonta Davis will probably all hear their names called before #13 overall because you can't teach size, just like Frank Kaminsky, Myles Turner and Trey Lyles a year ago. Even Domantas Sabonis might be gone by then.
None of those players has the ceiling of Bender and Chriss though, so the Suns should definitely focus on whichever of those two are still on the board after the Celtics pick 3rd. And then they are likely to have their pick of some nice talent on the wing after the remaining big man prospects are scooped up by lotto teams.