If the Phoenix Suns initial pre-draft workouts are any indication, their selections in the June NBA Draft may have a common denominator: length.
A player’s length, or wingspan, is always a strong consideration for all 30 NBA teams. A player’s wingspan “must” be longer than his height or he’s considered “alligator armed” and his stock automatically drops in scouts’ eyes. Positionally, scouts look for point guards to have at least 6-7” wingspan, shooting guards at least 6-10” and all front court players would ideally all be 7-0”. If you can field that kind of length, your team is more likely to be good defensively.
But in recent years, the Suns have decidedly not made a player’s wingspan a high priority.
In 2014, the Suns drafted small forward T.J. Warren with the 14th pick. The scoring wizard was known for his uncanny abilities on the offensive end of the court, but was considered a defensive question mark. His 6-8” frame stretched out to just a 6-10” wingspan, making him work even harder to stay in front of his man defensively.
In some ways, Warren was a steal in that draft. Warren ranks higher than his 14th-pick status in several ways: 7th in FG%, 10th in PPG, 13th in RPG, 11th in Win Shares and 10th in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP).
But three years later, the Suns have what they thought they had in Warren. A very talented offensive player who can play quality man-on defense when properly engaged, but struggles to use his length to cut off passing lanes and provide help defense.
In that same draft, Clint Capela (7-4” wingspan) went 22nd to Houston and after a basically redshirt season he is now a key defensive cog in the middle of the Rockets playoff surge this season.
Wingspan isn’t everything, of course. Suns fan favorite Adriean Payne (19th overall) had a 7-4” wingspan, but has been a complete bust for other reasons in the league. James Young (25th) has a drooly 7-0” wingspan for a guard, but hasn’t amounted to anything in the league yet either.
The Suns’ best draft pick since Amare Stoudemire came with the 13th overall pick. Devin Booker has been an NBA revelation on the offensive juggernaut, but his mere 6-8” wingspan doesn’t help him control the other team’s guards either.
Pair Booker and Warren, and you’ve got a LOT of driving space for opposing guards to dive in from the perimeter and challenge the bigs at the rim.
The Suns got some front court length at the top of the draft in Dragan Bender (7-2” wingspan) and Marquese Chriss (7-0” wingspan), but even they aren’t the longest of long when it comes to rim protection and lateral perimeter defense.
Thon Maker (10th) has a 7-3” wingspan, which he used very well in the Milwaukee Bucks’ lineup right into the playoffs as a rookie. The Bucks are a great example of “length” being the backbone of stifling defense all along their lineup.
The Suns first two predraft workout are at least highlighting some longer players who might be able to supplement Booker on the wing or in the front court:
- SG Wesley Iwundu has a 7-1” wingspan on his 6-7” frame
- SF Johnathan Motley has a 7-4” wingspan on his 6-9” frame
- PF Kyle Kuzma has a 7-0” wingspan on his 6-10” frame
- C Jarrett Allen has a 7-5 1/4” wingspan on his 6-11” frame
Defensive prospect Seme Ojeleye (6-9” wingspan for a small forward) is not quite as long as some others, but has a reputation on the defensive end.
Other prospects with considerable length who might grace the stage of the Suns’ practice court for a workout, if their focus really is on length this year. These are all slotted near the Suns #4, #32 or #54 picks:
- SF/PF Jonathan Isaac (7-1 1/2” wingspan)
- PF D.J. Wilson (7-3” wingspan)
- PF/C Bam Adebayo (7-2 1/4” wingspan)
- C Thomas Bryant (7-6” wingspan)
- C Jonathan Jeanne (7-6 1/2” wingspan)
- PF Caleb Swanigan (7-3” wingspan)
- C Tony Bradley (7-5” wingspan)
- SG P.J. Dozier (6-11” wingspan)
Note: Other talents who could be taken with the Suns’ #4 overall pick are not overly lengthy. SF Jayson Tatum (6-11” wingspan), SF Josh Jackson (6-10” wingspan) and PG De’Aaron Fox (6-6” wingspan) all are great athletes, but won’t make the Suns noticeable “longer” on perimeter defense.
We don’t know what the Suns are thinking in the draft yet, but they have talked for years how they need to add more length to the rotation.
Maybe they accomplish it in this year’s draft.