Over the last 5 or so years, the Suns have fairly consistently sought to maintain a stretch power forward on the roster. The team has rotated through Channing Frye, Luis Scola, Markieff Morris, Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic over the years, all of whom have a stretch element to their game, and have brought in numerous other guys to Summer League or Training Camp to test their mettle, including Alec Brown.
Petr Cornelie, a 7 foot, 220 pound power forward currently playing for Le Mans in France, represents the opportunity to draft and stash another future stretch forward. After shooting 39% in LNB-A play, and 42% in Eurocup play, Cornelie has been rising up draft boards, and is now firmly in the late first round discussion.
What makes Cornelie such an intriguing prospect? What are his weaknesses?
Many scouts believe that Cornelie is the best pure athlete of any of this year's many 7 footers. He possesses great fluidity and agility for such a large player, and moves much more gracefully than one might imagine.
Particularly notable for Cornelie is his very quick leaping ability. He gets off the ground explosively, rising above the rim quickly. This makes Cornelie a great target for lobs, and grants him the ability to get over opposing players for rebounds and put backs with regularity.
Also notable about Cornelie's athleticism is his great foot speed. This translates to a great first step, as well as to the ability to recover quickly from mistakes defensively.
This highlight video of Cornelie emphasizes many of his athletic strengths.
Offensive Upside and Versatility
While athleticism is great for a 7 footer, what really seems to be attracting scouts is Cornelie's ability to stretch the floor. Of the stretch forward prospects this year, he might have the most consistent and mechanically sound shot.
From the mid-range and the high post, Cornelie is efficient. He has a small repertoire of moves in face up situations that allow him to generate space for shots, particularly the fadeaways he seems to prefer. He also seems to strongly perform in the pick and pop game.
Beyond the arc scoring was Cornelie's greatest asset this year, however. As was already noted, he shot a strong percentage from beyond the arc in both domestic league and Eurocup play this season. He did this on a relatively large number of shots: approximately 2 attempts per game in both leagues.
Finally, Cornelie possesses a pretty good ability to get to the basket on penetration. He can take nearly all bigs with straight line drive attacks, even though his handle is pretty subpar. Finishing remains a concern, and I'll address that in a bit.
On defense, there is less to like about Cornelie's game as it currently stands, but much to like in the development potential he has.
Cornelie's defensive potential is deeply tied to his athleticism and build. He moves like a player 6 inches shorter, which gives him great potential as a wing defender. We see glimpses of this in his ability to recover from mistakes he regularly makes on switches.
Similarly, his length and quickness should allow him to both jump passing lanes for steals and get weak side help blocks. While to date Cornelie has not impressed much as a ball-hawk, he has shown some skills as a shot blocker. The hope is that this skill will further develop.
Concerns about Cornelie largely revolve around how much he can actually develop.
Strength and Toughness
Cornelie has undeniable athletic gifts. He has an almost graceful athleticism that allows him to at times do things that are remarkable.
A major problem is that, perhaps as a result of his athleticism, he plays with a certain lack of toughness. It is almost as if he plays mentally small. He struggles mightily against contact, both offensively and defensively. On the offensive side, he converted at just a 50% rate at the rim last season. His lack of success in converting at the rim at times seems to cause him to shy away from attacking the basket with vigor.
On the defensive end, his lack of size combines with his relative dislike of contact to make him easy pickings in the post. As Mike Schmitz noted in this fine breakdown video, Cornelie is regularly targeted for isolation post plays by opposing teams, and opposing centers, even when much smaller, tend to feast on him.
The toughness and strength concerns are even more pronounced in Cornelie's rebounding game. Despite being a quality offensive rebounder, he is very easily forced off of his spots on the defensive boards, even when he has box-out position.
It is possible Cornelie outgrows some of these issues. The mental issues in particular you would hope he could bypass. But physically, it is unclear how much weight Cornelie is going to be able to put on, and as such concerns about his strength are going to persist.
Plainly, Cornelie seems to still be figuring out the defensive side of the ball. While he has all the physical tools you could ask for from a player, he just doesn't know how to put everything together.
Cornelie regularly finds himself out of position on switches, or overstaying in help situations. He gets very easily caught in screens and unable to recover, leaving his team in exposed situations.
He has yet to grasp how to utilize his length advantages in one one one situations on defense, and cannot use them yet to compensate for a strength disadvantage in the way that, say, a Rudy Gobert can.
He lacks a great understanding of passing lanes and how he can disrupt them. He produced a pitifully small number of steals for a player with the speed and length he possesses, which means he was a) regularly out of position, b) unaware of where other players were on the court, or c) playing very passively. To be honest, all three were accurate at times.
Completeness of Offensive Game
While Cornelie has a great ability to score, other aspects of his game are far less polished, and could leave him as a major liability in an NBA offense.
First, Cornelie does not seem to have great court vision. He had only 15 assists in 50 games this season, compared to 56 turnovers. If he is going to be a stretch in the NBA, he needs to be able to see the open player and swing the ball to him with confidence, something it is unclear whether he can do at the moment.
Cornelie is also a substandard ball handler. Part of the reason he is unable to attack defenders with anything beyond a straight line drive approach is because his dribble begins to break down with much more than modest lateral movements. He possesses a very high dribbling form, and can be very loose with the ball, which means his ability to create for himself might be significantly limited against more skilled opponents.
Finally, Cornelie seems to lack almost entirely a low post game. This isn't terribly surprising, as many stretch 4's do not have a highly developed post game. But unlike many other strong post players, who at least at lower levels of competition played in the low post and had to develop the basic skills, Cornelie almost seems like he has never played in the low post with any consistency. This may make it difficult for him to adjust to NBA play, where bigs without at least a semblance of a post-game struggle to get playing time (here's looking at you, Luke Babbitt).
Fit with Suns
Cornelie is a high risk, high reward type of player. It is very likely that he never develops into the type of player scouts would hope to see. To fully realize his potential, he'll probably need a stable atmosphere and some serious mentoring to overcome some of his mental problems. Do the Suns provide that type of atmosphere? It is yet to be seen.
However, any major risk associated with Cornelie is offset by the fact that the Suns have so many picks. Striking out on Cornelie does not pose that big of a risk in this context. As such, he might still be a strong pick. While I would probably still pick Zhou Qi as a better fit with Alex Len and T.J. Warren, a Cornelie pick wouldn't necessarily be a mistake.