Every year, countless players slip through the cracks of the broader NBA community and end up either falling to the bottom of the draft or out of the draft entirely.
There are a number of reasons for this. Sometimes a player is too old; sometimes still too raw; sometimes they played at a small school or for a small country. Many times, however, these guys can actually play, and have a real shot at making a roster.
This is especially true and relevant for the Suns this season for two reasons.
First, the Suns possess the 54th pick in this year’s draft. Now, 57th picks are not usually known for turning into great players, but guys like Manu Ginobili and Isaiah Thomas are proof that great players can be found even that late in the draft.
Second, the NBA has instituted a new rule this season that allows teams to have up to two additional players on the roster under a new contract called a two-way contract. These players will split time between the newly re-christened G League and the NBA, depending upon the team’s needs.
These two factors mean finding diamonds in the rough at the end of the Draft and in free agency are even more important than historically.
In this piece I break down a few guys I find particularly intriguing, focusing primarily on players who I think could develop into rotation players as 3 and D wings, defensive minded points guards or centers.
First, lets start with the international guys.
Because of the perception that this year’s draft is heavy in the middle, many of the early entry foreign players we are used to seeing in the latter half of the draft dropped out. What we are left with is a bunch of guys who are automatically eligible due to their age.
At point guard, I like two guys: Ognjen Jaramaz out of Serbia and Mo Soluade out of England. Jaramaz is the better prospect out of the two; at 6’4 with a 6’5 wingspan, he has slightly above average size for the position, but limited athleticism. He has been playing with Mega Leks in recent years, a team loaded with NBA-caliber talent, and though he still needs to develop as a distributor, he has a chance to be a capable bench player. Soluade is a better physical prospect, at 6’5 with a 6’8 wingspan, and from film he looks to be the better athlete of the two. He has been playing in Spain over the last few seasons; he played in the Spanish second-tier last season, where he averaged 7 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds and a steal in 20 minutes per game, with 44/39/82% shooting splits. He projects most likely as a defensive stopper point guard, but with such limited film its hard to tell.
At forward I really like Lucas Dias Silva, a 6’10 perimeter player out of Brazil. Dias is a good player in the Brazilian league, where he averaged 13 points and 4.5 rebounds in 28 minutes per game, on 41/37/77% splits. NBADraft.net praises Dias’ versatility, perimeter offensive game and shooting mechanics, but is generally unimpressed by his athleticism. 6’10 pure shooters are rare to come by, however, and are usually worth a hard look.
Finally, I think there are two really interesting international centers that will be available. The first, and better prospect is Ismael Bako, a 6’11 player out of Belgium. Bako is kind of a sleeper to get drafted, but he really impressed at this year’s adidas EuroCamp; he received strong praise afterwards from DraftExpress’ Mike Schmitz and Jonathan Givony. Bako was the Belgian league rookie of the year last season, and has the potential to be a really interesting player given that he is so raw right now. The other interesting prospect is Michael Fusek, a 7’5, 213 pound center from Slovakia. Playing in the same Belgian league, Fusek averaged 4 points, 3 rebounds and a block per game on good shooting numbers. Fusek is a super project, but he’s also an incredibly rare prospect - he’s got very good mobility for someone his size, and many of his biggest weaknesses can be addressed through adding muscle to a frame that seems ready for it. If I’m the Suns, I take a flyer just because of the potential a mobile giant would provide (see Marjanovic, Boban).
Now, on to guys from the NCAA ranks.
At guard, I am really intrigued by Antonius Cleveland out of SE Missouri State. A four year starter, Cleveland has great size for a guard at 6’6. He’s an explosive athlete, with a multi-dimensional if rudimentary offensive game. He’s the quintessential microwave guy - he can come off the bench and rattle off a few points against a second unit.
At the wing, there are a number of guys I think could be interesting. First and foremost is Sindarius Thornwell, the forward out of South Carolina. Thornwell could go as high as the beginning of the second round, but my gut says he is still available in the 50s. Thornwell is not a great athlete, but he is one of those guys who just plays the game smartly, and I value that for a potential 3 and D guy. The second interesting prospect is Davon Reed out of Miami, who has already visited with the team twice. Reed has unbelievable size at 6’6 with a 7’0 wingspan, to go along with decent athleticism. Reed was really, really good with Miami the last few seasons, and I have to think part of his low appeal is how familiar scouts now are with his game. He has been consistently a great college player since 2014.
While I am sure Reed and Thornwell will be on a training camp roster next season, these next three guys are bigger projects. Ishmail Wainright is perhaps the biggest of all; a 6’5 defensive specialist with an astonishing 7’2 wingspan, Wainright is a jack of all trades, master of none player. With Baylor he averaged 6 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in 30 minutes per game. He is a project, but could be the rare player who can guard every position on the court given his frame and athleticism. Malcolm Hill is a point forward player out of Illinois who may be their best prospect since Deron Williams. Hill doesn’t do anything amazingly well, but has showed flashes of being just a generally good player - last season he averaged 17 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal on 43/35/78% shooting splits. He has decent size at 6’6 and decent athleticism; he’ll need to develop a more consistent jumper. Finally, Jalen Moore out of Utah State is also quite interesting. Moore has a toolkit similar to Hill’s, but he is probably a better shooter, hitting 42.5% in his senior season. He’s also got a better physical profile at 6’8, with a 6’11 wingspan and a 33.5” no step vertical. He projects as a better 3 and D prospect.
At the big positions, there are three players I am interested in. The first is Tim Kempton Jr., who worked out with the team early in the draft process. Beyond the familial ties, Kempton was a standout at Lehigh, a 4 year starter who averaged a double-double his senior year and had strong performances against power conference teams in recent years (15 points, 7 rebounds across 11 games). Luke Kornet out of Vanderbilt is a surprising player to be discussing here. At the beginning of the 2015-16 season, if you had told many professional scouts Kornet would be on the verge of going undrafted in 2017, they would have laughed. A pure 7 footer with the ability to shoot from 3 and not be an absolute albatross on the boards and the defensive end, teams should be really interested in Kornet. His stock fell due to injuries and misuse, but I have confidence he will get a shot at a roster spot next season. Finally, Derek Willis deserves a mention here. An exceedingly rare 4 year player at Kentucky, Willis was a role player with the team. At 6’9, with a 7’1 wingspan and really, really quick feet, Willis projects as a versatile small ball big with the ability to switch on to smaller players for short spurts. A career 40% three point shooter, he also has potential to stretch the floor. And his career at Kentucky overlapped with Booker and Ulis, which gives some added bonus to him in my book.
There you have it. These are some of the guys the Suns will be picking from in the latter part of the Draft and considering for Summer League and G League spots.