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Ball handlers who could pique the Suns’ interest on draft night

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If Phoenix selected a big with their first pick, here are seven names to keep an eye on in the 16-31 range.

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

At this stage of the predraft process, Phoenix still has ahold of three picks in the top 31 selections. Not only are the Suns set up to be flexible all throughout this summer, but especially when June 21 rolls around.

There’s a high possibility that Phoenix ends up controlling the draft, if they love the dearth of win-now prospects available throughout.

We know center and point guard will be aggressively attacked by general manager Ryan McDonough as he looks to improve their two weakest links on the fly. Depending on how the lottery balls fall, odds are it leads into a domino effect for how the rest of their picks play out.

If they land at No. 1, they have the luxury of choosing between Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic, but what if they get leapfrogged for a third consecutive year?

Lets say Phoenix prefers to roll with a big man at the top. Whether that is Ayton or Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marvin Bagley III behind him, who could be on Phoenix’s radar to fill that secondary ball handler role they so desperately desire? And it’s not only being a secondary piece, Phoenix needs consistent production from prospects they expect to make versatile two-way impacts.

When parsing through available point guards in my top 40, which ones stuck out to me from a Suns’ perspective? Well, I think the depth in this class allows Phoenix an opportunity to wait on selecting one at least up in the early lottery.

Sure, there are still three names to keep an eye in case of a trade up possibility — Trae Young (Oklahoma), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Kentucky), and Collin Sexton (Alabama) — but I’m going to hone in on others ranked below them in this exercise.

Here are seven names who could intrigue the Suns to a point of adding them to their young core 9 weeks from now.

De’Anthony Melton, Ball Handler, USC

If you are looking for a prospect who could be a snug fit long-term next to Devin Booker covering for his defensive deficiencies, Melton is 100% should be on your radar as a possible Sun come June. He could be considered an unknown by the general public because he had to sit out all season due to USC’s FBI probe, but he is someone who should easily go top 20 if he blows up the NBA Combine like I expect him to.

Not only is Melton an elite defender for his size, covered by an eye-popping 6’8” wingspan on top of a 6’3” frame that’s thickly built-out already, but one who can crash the boards if need be. He’s not on Russell Westbrook’s level in terms of explosiveness, but his tenacity on defense while making scrappy plays is something that will energize a roster like Phoenix.

I classified Melton as one of my six Super Sleepers earlier this season, and he will truly break through his preconceived ceiling if he’s able to show off an improved jumper. From what ESPN’s Mike Schmitz tweeted about recently, this development looks promising.

If he’s still there at No. 16, I will be pounding the table for Melton due to his all-around versatility, especially how he will be able to mask flaws in their current guard rotation. Even if they take Doncic, Melton should still be in play. He’s an absolutely perfect fit into this system I expect Phoenix to continue building off of.

Aaron Holiday, Ball Handler, UCLA

The last of the Holidays is finally ready to enter his name into the NBA. However, unlike his brothers Jrue and Justin, Aaron might be the best pure shooter at this stage. Spanning his entire three years in Westwood, Holiday ranked as ‘Excellent’ every season in catch-and-shoot situations, per Synergy.

2015-16: 60 possessions, 83 points = 1.38 points per possession (PPP)

2016-17: 72 possessions, 108 points = 1.50 PPP

2017-18: 85 possessions, 126 points = 1.48 PPP

When he’s fed the ball spotting up, Holiday has been converting nearly 75% of his shots the past two years. That falls right in line with what Phoenix is putting an emphasis on, which is adding dead-eye shooters.

After the experience they went through this year with little to no spacing at all outside of Devin Booker, they might not be afforded to take a risk on a non-shooter if they envision a longer developmental curve for said prospect.

Possessing an identical h-2-w discrepancy (height-to-wingspan) to Melton at 5”, Holiday has some untapped defensive potential that his older brother is showing off right now for New Orleans. He wasn’t advanced like Jrue was at this stage, but his shooting makes up for that.

When you add in he’s a plus passer who plays within the flow of the offense while also not being a sieve on the other end, Holiday might be an under the radar candidate to keep an eye with the Miami pick.

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony has slotted Holiday to Phoenix multiple times in mock drafts, way higher than most out there, so we could be onto something here.

Jalen Brunson, Ball Handler, Villanova

Even though it’s likely his head coach won’t follow him to a new challenge on the next level, Brunson has vast experience and proven production on his resume that might lead to some intrigue from Phoenix’s point of view.

According to Synergy, Brunson is actually similar to Booker in one aspect: Both are way above-average for guards in post-up situations. And it’s rare you see that, especially from a point guard standing at only 6’3”.

Brunson not only has won two championships with Villanova, but he was bred in a proven space where NBA success is likely. Having Jay Wright as his coach the past three years has likely helped Brunson out exponentially, and we saw plenty of reasons how during their March Madness run last month.

Wright deploys an NBA-like system, relying heavily on shooting. Brunson passed that test with flying colors early shooting 40.8% from downtown.

This isn’t talked about enough with their current roster construction, which could obviously change immensely this summer, but Brunson is an ideal fit into this team if they plan on keeping with inverted playmaking.

What do I mean by that? Well, with Booker’s savviness in the post, why not include Brunson alongside him while having floor-spacing bigs like Dragan Bender around them. On the surface, it makes sense, but the new coaching staff will play a major factor.

Even though he is limited athletically, Brunson reeks of someone who could allow the Suns to reach for him in the mid-first but have it pay off in spades. Brunson looks every bit the part of a guard who is around still in the 2020s with consistent stats to back it up.

Khyri Thomas, Ball Handler, Creighton

Cut in a similar cloth to Melton, but with an even more longer frame (7” h-2-w at 6’10”), Thomas fits the billing of someone who should be a high riser after this year’s NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. Even though he’s almost 22, Thomas might have some untapped value as a secondary ball handler in the perfect situation.

While shooting 41% on 3s this season alongside ever-improving passing vision and quick-twitch hands to get in lanes, Thomas might be a safe bet for a productive two-way archetype that could make the Suns salivate.

Thomas is at his best when he’s being aggressive pickpocketing and deflecting opportunities on the perimeter, which led to ample opportunities for Creighton to achieve extra, easy possessions on mismatches.

When diving into more film on Thomas, his frame just continues to stick out to me. He looks like someone who could easily switch sports and haul in 50+ catches in the NCAA this fall. He’s a presence on the floor, and he has advanced numbers in his profile that prove he could be a prospect that you want to hold onto and develop.

Even though he’s only 6’3”, Thomas’s length will allow him to cover 1-3 and his spot-up abilities show that he would be a smooth fit into whatever system is implemented in Phoenix.

Odds are one of Melton or Thomas is on the board at No. 16. And odds are I will be disappointed if they pass on both, unless a lottery prospect slips himself.

Landry Shamet, Ball Handler, Wichita State

If the main goal of this summer is to find and add ample shooters into the fold, Phoenix might have Shamet way higher on their own big board compared to most teams.

Shamet not only is a marksman, but already a way above-average one. Per Synergy, Shamet ranks in the 99th percentile in both spot-up and catch-and-shoot scenarios for all draft-eligible prospects (1.49 PPP, 1.53 PPP). That’s absurd, and shows the true hidden value Shamet might have, especially if it were from a Suns perspective.

Another area working in Shamet’s favor is his knack for not turning the ball over. He’s only coughing up the basketball to his opponent just 2.6 times per 40 minutes. That shows Shamet is also one with a high BBIQ who could easily adjust to whatever schemes thrown at him, including staying out of foul trouble often throughout his career at Wichita State.

The positives keep rolling in for Shamet, because not only can he shoot it effectively from the outside, but at the rim at similar efficiency. Shamet converted 70% of his shots close in, which is one of the best marks for any guard in this draft class.

With a reported wingspan near 7’ included with his 6’6” height, Shamet projects as someone with a high floor but also a huge ceiling. He may not ever be a starter, but if he turns into a longer and better shooting Fred VanVleet, that’s something Phoenix should pursue even if it’s at No. 16.

Shake Milton, Ball Handler, SMU

Similar to Shamet, Milton is also going to intrigue the Suns if they are solely trying to overhaul their low-percentage shooters littered throughout it.

Synergy mentions Milton in a similar area to Shamet, especially while spotting up all over the floor. Milton wound up in the 98th percentile in spot-up while in catch-and-shoot it dipped slightly into the 91st percentile. Those are still great numbers, and Milton is an underrated defender as well.

Compared to other ball handlers on this list, Milton has a size advantage standing at 6’6” but an official 6’11’ wingspan unlike Shamet. Also, Milton’s shooting chops are backed up over the past three seasons at SMU where he averaged 43% on 3s. That translates, especially with his height and length, into a valuable piece into any roster.

For a team in need of a third or fourth option who’s comfortable in that spot, Milton would easily fit and produce at a high level with his known shooting success and leadership skills he flashed for the Mustangs. When Milton went down with a season-ending injury, SMU stubbed toward the finish line, which ended with a quick exit in the NCAA Tournament.

While he has improved his court vision near par of his shooting ability, that’s an interesting roll of the dice in the mid-first. I’m higher than most on Milton, who will likely be available in the late first or early second round, but if he’s even there at the point, the Suns better run up the card as fast as possible.

Jevon Carter, Ball Handler, West Virginia

If you are looking to prioritize defensive intensity into next year’s roster for Phoenix, look no further than Carter if he’s still available at No. 31.

Carter’s profile at West Virginia was built primarily on his defense, but he was an ever-improving shooter he substantially improved his stock after testing the draft waters in 2017. Even though his size likely limits him to covering point guards, that should not deter from Phoenix if they are interested in him.

Even though it is early for this comparison, Carter seems destined to turn into a Patrick Beverly type of agitator on opposing ball handlers. All four years at West Virginia, Carter had a dFG% under 40%, which is outstanding. At one point this season, it was nearly about to dip below 30% in mid-January as he was swallowing up younger guards and making it a nightmare for them.

This season for the Mountaineers, Carter averaged 3 steals alongside shooting 39.3% from beyond the arc. Obviously, his steal numbers might be more inflated in their system, but his advanced metrics point to a prospect who is already way more refined in that area compared to all others in this loaded class of secondary creators.

While he is still lagging behind others in terms of potential running pro-style offenses, Carter projects as one who might be able to get by with better talent around him. West Virginia actually scored at a slightly higher level when Carter was placed into pick-and-roll situations, although he still lags behind more pass-first guards above him on my big board.

If the Suns are looking to become major disruptors, a bench unit where they could roll out Shaquille Harrison and Carter together would be so fun to watch.

If he’s there at the top of the second round, Carter should definitely be on their radar for what they have seemed to hone in on since last year’s important draft that landed them their second foundational piece with Josh Jackson.

What are your thoughts on how the Suns should attack arguably their most important draft in franchise history? Even outside of the lottery, it could help shape their roster into the versatile vision that seems to be ready to be put into motion this summer.