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Prospects who could help Phoenix reach their vision of optimum perimeter versatility

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If Phoenix wants to reach their bright outlook, this area needs to be hit from all angles this summer.

NCAA Basketball: Southern Methodist at Wichita State Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

One area that the Phoenix Suns lack when comparing them to other hopeful title contenders around the league is in terms of overall team length. All of them are armed with versatile, lanky players who can bring more than one element to the floor.

The Golden State Warriors, who general manager Ryan McDonough has openly mentioned a few times when discussing how they have studied title contenders. During the pre-draft process before they ended up selecting Josh Jackson, McDonough complimented Golden State on how they built their roster around versatile wings who can bring two-way elements.

Phoenix is desperately lacking where they want their vision to go towards with versatility on both ends of the floor. Jackson was the first domino to fall alongside their first second-round selection in Davon Reed.

They want to build a roster that mimics the Golden State, Houston, Boston type of archetypes when examining just how unique the Warriors roster is, five of their wings or ball handlers have wingspans exceeding 5 inches or greater from their height.

Compare that to Phoenix and they only have one in Reed who stands at 6’5” with a 7’ wingspan. Meanwhile, Jackson stands at 6’8” with only an average 6’10” wingspan but makes up for it with his unique blend of two-way skills from playmaking and non-stop energy on the other end.

Expect this area to be addressed in a draft class littered with players who fit this profile on the perimeter. Not only is shooting it from deep important in today’s NBA but so is defending it at a high level consistently.

Phoenix’s Vice President of Basketball Operations, James Jones, also openly mentioned this in our hour-long discussion in January. This needs to be hit not only in the draft but from multiple angles via free agency and trades. If they want to compete next season and get ahead of the curve compared to other trying rosters, that would be a wise move.

When diving outside of the lottery — where the Suns are currently slated to have picks 15 and 16 from Milwaukee and Miami — many prospects actually fit the billing of helping achieve this team-wide goal. Whether it’s the mid-late first or early second round (Suns are currently slated at No. 32), they could find some hidden gems if they mold these prospects correctly on where they need it most.

After teams continuously have torched the Suns for 100+ almost every game this season, that might be more prioritized compared to more scoring with the steps Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, and now Jackson has taken.

Below, I compiled a list of prospects in my top 40 that could raise some eyebrows in Phoenix’s front office. After McDonough’s recent comments on Facebook Live about targeting more veteran prospects, there are above-average defensive stalwarts who could help flip the negative defensive culture this team has at the moment.

After filtering out some prospects based on what Phoenix needs (consistency from scoring and defense), here are 12 names to keep an eye on come June listed by the wingspan-to-height discrepancy.

Khyri Thomas, Wing, Creighton - 7”

Last week, Thomas collected his second consecutive Big East Defensive Player of the Year award and the lanky Bluejay has definitely deserved it. Standing at 6’3” with an outrageous 6’10” wingspan for a guard, Thomas has utilized his gifts to his full abilities through his first three seasons at Creighton.

One area that continues to impress me with Thomas is his shooting stroke. He’s a career 41.2% three-point shooter who has continued to pest guards around the country. Thomas continues to fly under the radar even after Doug McDermott’s departure two seasons prior, but he shouldn’t much longer.

Combined with freakish measurables alongside a veteran mentality, Thomas very well could be on the Suns’ radar with the Miami pick or Milwaukee if that ends up conveying.

Thomas checks many of the boxes Phoenix seems to be valued on their board, and alongside Booker could become a dangerous secondary ball handler. In 30 games so far this season, Thomas has racked up 3 or more steals over 30% of the time he’s out there.

If the Suns are looking for an immediate impact guard to add to their rotation who should earn 20+ minutes quickly, Thomas could be in their cards.

On my board, Thomas has substantially risen over the past 6 weeks. Right now, he sits in my mid-first round.

Keita Bates-Diop, Wing, Ohio State - 7”

Similar to Thomas, KBD has kept his head down and grinded to the point where new head coach Chris Holtmann has utilized him thus far to perfection. Bates-Diop has unique intangibles but has consistently struggled from the outside throughout his career at Ohio State.

If you are looking for a lottery prospect who grades out similar to this one is Kentucky’s Kevin Knox. Both are lanky 3-and-D types who have struggled to add the “3” to it.

As it relates to Bates-Diop, he’s been a late riser into the early 20’s due to how he’s improved his shot this season, averaging 35% from beyond the arc in conference play. With his 7’2” wingspan, there’s some sneaky value of him as a small-ball rim protector in very spot moments.

If McDonough is actually looking to add more seasoned prospects compared to hitting the one-and-done well again outside of their first pick that’s likely to end up in the top three, Bates-Diop has the tools on both ends that could be molded into a unique rotational piece alongside Davon Reed in the second unit.

I value KBD more than most, but if he somehow slipped to the early second round and Phoenix kept that selection they should run up the card for him to add to their versatility vision.

Lonnie Walker IV, Wing, Miami (FL)- 6.5”

Walker IV has floated in and out of my late lottery all season, and the reason why is due to consistency floating back-and-forth. However, in conference play, Walker has started to find a rhythm as a scoring dynamo.

Walker is averaging 13.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1 steal while shooting 36% from deep. A lot of that has helped due to Jim Larranaga finally switching him into the starting lineup, but there’s a lot of things to like when examining Walker’s profile a little further.

His stroke is silky smooth and he’s capable of going off any night for the Hurricanes. As far as a pro comparison goes, I keep coming back towards J.R. Smith, but with a brighter defensive outlook.

For a team in desperate need of adding scoring and length, Walker definitely fits into this category.

Shake Milton, Ball Handler, SMU - 6.5”

Milton has been battling the injury bug as of late, but he’s one of my favorite sleeper prospects throughout this season. I just hope that San Antonio doesn’t get their hands on him because if he’s placed into a winning culture, he seems destined for immediate impact.

Remember when Booker told me after practice a few months ago about his thoughts on Trae Young’s then historically hot start for Oklahoma? Well, when he told me about when they first met — at a Nike Elite camp on the West Coast — Booker and Milton were graded as the two best shooters.

Standing at 6’5” with a long-standing wingspan to help cover on defense, Milton could become an immediate impact off of Phoenix’s bench if he’s taken in the early second or with one of their picks in the mid-first.

Milton is a career 42.7% shooter from beyond the arc and has consistently thrived in high-pressure situations for the Mustangs.

As far as sleepers go, Milton is definitely one of my favorite prospects in the 20-40 range on my board.

Hamidou Diallo, Wing, Kentucky - 6.5”

Diallo tested the draft waters last season before ever playing a game for Kentucky, and he flashed big-time athleticism. Posting an NBA Combine record in terms of vertical jump, Diallo has the mouth-watering physical tools but the question is will it translate to a productive player on the basketball court?

So far this season, Diallo is averaging 10.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.3 assists while shooting only 32% from three and 61% from the line. That’s not good and it portrays a player who will have trouble finding his shooting on the pro level.

McDonough is known to roll the dice, so if Diallo is on the board in the second round why not take a gamble on this long Wildcat guard?

Trevon Duval, Ball Handler, Duke - 6.5”

Talk about a prospect who has fallen by the wayside since high school. Duval started his career as a top-five pick but has now seen his stock fall to the second round, at least on my board.

Much like Diallo, Duval can’t shoot. That’s not good, especially for a Suns team that needs to not add more non-shooters.

The appeal with Duval, though, is his blistering pace of play and whether his pro fit could be better outside of being a secondary piece at Duke alongside Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr.

For Phoenix, he could be appealing because he’s a seamless fit into their blistering pace of an offense. Duval would help push in transition, but he’s an even worse shooter than Elfrid Payton.

If he falls to the early second round, Duval could turn into the BPA and I wouldn’t blame Phoenix for capitalizing. However, you really need to feel comfortable in his defensive outlook before selecting him.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Ball Handler, Kentucky- 6”

I’ve been pushing the Gilgeous-Alexander train since early in the season. As of late, I’ve been wondering whether he should be placed in a similar tier to Alabama’s Collin Sexton. He’s surely not as explosive as Sexton, but his defensive tools and playmaking have enough of an argument to place him above the slumping Crimson Tide guard if a scout thought so.

If the Suns select one prospect in the mid-first, Gilgeous-Alexander is one of my top targets. He’s a longer guard who would complement Booker well.

His form on the shot is questionable, but he’s converting at a 39.5% clip on 3s while attempting about 1.5 on average. If he can hit the wide-open ones, that could open up more cutting lanes for the wings on the pro level.

For me, if Phoenix was able to walk out of draft night with a top three prospect plus Gilgeous-Alexander, you’re setting yourself up well to fit that vision I have outlined.

He wasn’t on my radar to start this season, but the debate is there for Gilgeous-Alexander to be the best pro prospect over his teammate Kevin Knox.

De’Andre Hunter, Wing, Virginia - 6”

Like Thomas of Creighton, Hunter has burst onto the draft scene over the past few months. He’s been utilized in a defensive utility role for Tony Bennett’s Virginia roster (Bennett is someone I’m high on as a possible head coach for Phoenix).

Per 36 minutes, Hunter is averaging 16.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.1 steals on 48.5/38/76.8 shooting splits.

This redshirt freshman has yet to start a game for the Cavaliers, but in his role he thrives. I don’t know if this is an extreme comparison, but his build and disproportioned arms remind me of a San Diego State version of Kawhi Leonard.

Luckily for Kawhi, he landed with Pop in San Antonio while working on his shot to round out into a two-way monster. I’m not saying Hunter is that, but that ceiling is sleeping somewhere I feel like.

Hunter strikes me as a high ceiling, high floor prospect who probably is rated higher than most national writers. The Stepien is a site who has joined in on Hunter, and they are usually great at picking up on those trends before anyone else.

It would not surprise me at all if Hunter ends up as a lottery pick on my final big board but he’s stormed up into my early 20’s at the moment. Who knows, maybe Hunter and Bennett end up as a package deal to Phoenix.

Landry Shamet, Ball Handler, Wichita State - 6”

Like Gilgeous-Alexander, I’ve been higher on Shamet than most throughout this season. His advanced stats prove that he’s a proven offensive commodity who can space the floor and shoot from all three levels. For a guard, specifically a longer point, that’s a great weapon to use.

Shamet has a career 2.67 assist/turnover ratio, which is great. It’s dipped as Wichita State went into the American Athletic Conference, but Shamet’s offense hasn’t slipped. However, his defense has. That’s the concerning part of his game, which has caused a late slip but if he’s around in the early second round, Phoenix should run up the card if they still need to draft a point guard.

The Shockers’ guard also fits the criteria of a win-now prospect at age 21 who would not need much more developing to contribute. Outside of wherever their lottery pick lands, it’s time for the Suns to utilize their others on proven prospects.

Mikal Bridges, Wing, Villanova - 5.5”

Here’s my top idea if the Bucks pick conveys: package both of their mid-firsts and move up for Mikal. From everything McDonough and Jones have said, Bridges screams to me a prospect who ranks very high on their board.

Across the draft community, Bridges ranks anywhere from 7-10, but on a Suns-only board, he very well could be higher. His fit would be ideal alongside their trio of wings already. Bridges would fill a defensive sparkplug role in Phoenix, re-energizing a building with another top-flight defender alongside Jackson.

It’s easy to say, but if you continue to add these types of players, that mentality should shift after that gelling process.

I’ve covered Bridges all throughout the season on Lottery Big Board 1.0 and 2.0, specifically analyzing his elite versatile profile at length, but let's check out his Big East numbers below.

Bridges is posting 18.2 points, 5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.4 steals, and 0.9 blocks on 51.3/40.2/87.9 shooting splits.

The former national champion is well-deserving of being apart of the fray as far as this elite crop of prospects in the top seven goes. He sits right outside of it, but the Suns could have the perfect ingredients to move up and acquire this two-way stud.

De’Anthony Melton, Ball Handler, USC - 5”

Unfortunately, we have been unable to see Melton this entire season due to USC sitting him out for precaution of an FBI investigation. However, in his freshman season for the Trojans, Melton was the only player in the country to average 15 points, 9 rebounds, 5 steals, and 1 block per 40 minutes.

That’s an insane stat line, and Melton’s unique physical profile might give him a leg up on other prospects in line to be possible Suns in this draft range I have discussed.

Compared to a point guard like Payton, Melton knows how to use his length on defense to bother opponents often.

For people who have been unable to watch Melton, go check out his freshman highlights and full games in head coach Andy Enfield’s system at USC. When he bursts onto the scene at this year’s combine and makes late lottery noise, don’t be surprised.

Aaron Holiday, Ball Handler, UCLA - 5”

The younger brother of Jrue Holiday, Aaron has made a name for himself to be a unique role player on the next level. If developed further, he could turn into a long-term starter for a team down the road as their point.

During his junior season at UCLA, Holiday escaped the Lonzo Ball fiasco unscathed to significantly improve his stock. Right now, he sits in the late first round for me after being in the mid-second only a few months prior.

Holiday has been consistent from three throughout his college career and is posting a career-high 43.9% on 5.8 attempts on average.

With a unique blend of playmaking and defensive tools, Holiday could be a late riser on many boards. From a Phoenix perspective, he could form a unique, underrated tandem if they re-signed Payton to a long-term deal this summer once he hits restricted free agency.

I hope you all enjoyed this, and if you missed any of my draft pieces you can check them out below to view how my updates have been going.

Lottery Big Board 1.0

Lottery Big Board 2.0

Lottery Mock Draft 1.0

As March Madness is now only a week away, draft coverage will be ramping up. In what’s shaping up to be the most important offseason for the Suns in the McDonough era, it’s time to see action rather than constant chatter.

Addressing their obvious team need of adding more length on the perimeter could be flipped into a strength if they utilize the draft to their advantage this summer.