During the pre-draft process last year, the Phoenix Suns seemed to latch onto Davon Reed very early on. Reed, who was ranked in the 50s on most boards, was selected by Phoenix at No. 32 due to his plus shooting and defensive versatility he brought onto the floor.
This year, there are many names to monitor for the No. 31 pick — Shake Milton (SMU), Landry Shamet (Wichita State), Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech), Jalen Brunson (Villanova), Aaron Holiday (UCLA) and many more — but in this we will focus on the ones slipping through the proverbial cracks.
Jarred Vanderbilt, Wing, Kentucky (Big Board: No. 41)
I start off this list with one of the more underrated playmaking big archetypes in this draft class. Vanderbilt could still head back to Kentucky for his sophomore season after battling countless injuries, but his physical profile and high school tape show a prospect that could easily be molded into a consistent two-way presence.
Vanderbilt was plagued by a foot injury throughout his freshman year and deemed not medically clear to compete yet at the combine. However, at 6’8” with a 7’1” wingspan he’s a smaller version of the small-ball 5 Jordan Bell archetype this Suns roster needs eventually, but he has playmaking upside alongside elite rebounding percentages to make up for the poor shooting.
Speaking of those rebounds, Vanderbilt is already elite at grabbing those, which is why John Calipari threw the Dennis Rodman comparison his way early on. Vanderbilt’s rebound percentage of 25.7% ranks him ahead of the likes of Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III.
If Vanderbilt stays in, which at this point I would put under 50%, he would be able to hide his inefficiencies on offense if he is surrounded by plenty of shooters. Fit will matter with him to develop further into what could be how P.J. Tucker is utilized by the Rockets against Golden State right now.
Vanderbilt is a high upside swing at No. 31, but he checks a lot of the boxes general manager Ryan McDonough has spoken on before about positional versatility. It wouldn’t surprise me if Phoenix and many others teams had a first round grade on Vanderbilt with his high school production, but his health is a legitimate concern.
Jerome Robinson, Wing, Boston College (Big Board: No. 38)
Not once, but plenty of times Jerome Robinson absolutely went off for Boston College this season. His 46 point performance in South Bend against Notre Dame was one of the better ones I’ve seen when going back and watching more of these prospects.
When Robinson (20.7 points per game this season) gets going, he can hit from everywhere. His ability to drive inside and finish through contact with the knack for hitting at an above 40 percent clip from the perimeter should have a team like Phoenix high on his outlook.
Cut in a very similar cloth in terms of spot-up efficiency to Davon Reed, he’s a tough guard on spot-up opportunities. For Igor Kokoskov’s attacking offense, where ball movement will be predicated, Robinson could instantly fill the Troy Daniels role while supplying serviceable defense.
Robinson screams microwave scorer bench potential to me, and he is an ideal weapon to have when creating second unit lineups around T.J. Warren.
After three seasons with Boston College, Robinson will still need to fill out his frame more to guard 1s and 2s on the next level but his scoring potential could make him a better option over Daniels and even Reed himself if the latter can’t overcome his knee issues.
Robinson will be covered further in our scouting reports on all these prospects over the next month, but again, he checks all the boxes of how this roster is currently being built. A few years from now, Robinson could easily be a consistent rotation piece for the Suns.
Kevin Hervey, Wing, Texas Arlington (Big Board: No. 39)
While watching the NBA Draft Combine last week, Hervey was someone who immediately stood out as an on-court presence. He’s already built out well into 6’7.75” frame, which includes a huge +6.75” H2W (height-to-wingspan discrepancy) possessing his 7’3.5” wingspan.
However, Hervey’s medicals are even more of a red flag than Vanderbilt due to tearing his ACL twice in three years, once on the left and once on the right side. He produced in Chicago, but his medicals could still drop his stock like it did to Alec Peters, who Phoenix nabbed with their final selection.
Hervey not only has the athleticism to blow by bigger defenders playing the 4 but he can still hit from all angles of the floor. This past season Hervey averaged 20.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists on 44.6/33.9/80.7 shooting splits.
Outside of his tantalizing physical attributes, Hervey still has a ways to go to reach his potential as a post operator who can also create his shot from the outside. In the short term, he will be making his most in transition opportunities and playing possibly spot minutes as an Anthony Tolliver-like stretch 5 just to create problems for the defense.
Whether they go Deandre Ayton or Luka Doncic at the top, Hervey slides right in due to how valuable wings are becoming nowadays. With those types, you can be as scheme versatile as you want, creating mismatches all over.
Keita Bates-Diop, Wing, Ohio State (Big Board: No. 22)
Bates-Diop isn’t really flying under the radar, but if he sees a slide on draft night that’s the ideal target for a team like Phoenix. As you can see by his No. 22 ranking in the latest big board dropping this week, Bates-Diop plugs plenty of holes wherever he lands.
Bates-Diop also has the unique length at 7’3.25” to be a disruptor in plenty of switching scenarios. Also, it doesn’t hurt that he’s a proven product after winning Big Ten Player of the Year making a jump under new head coach Chris Holtmann.
His aforementioned length allows him to get his shots off with ease from all three levels while also having the proven perimeter production at 35.9%.
There are questions surrounding Bates-Diop and how he coasts through games sometimes, but if Kokoskov is able to tap into using his motor throughout the 82-game rigor then he has all the makings of a gem mined at the top of the second round.
I will explain more next week in my Bates-Diop scouting report / film study, but when watching full games you can tell he makes plenty of the little plays that matter. The big question is whether his lack of pop around the rim will be a hindrance to his production on the next level.
For the Suns, Bates-Diop could be someone who spot guards 1-3, while also checking 4s and 5s down the line. There’s a lot to like when looking deeper into his overall capabilities with Phoenix.
Justin Jackson, Wing, Maryland (Big Board: No. 45)
If you are someone who prioritizes unique physical tools, Jackson is that wing in this class. With an enormous H2W ratio of +7.25 standing at only 6’6.75”, Jackson fits the role of a small-ball 5 who can also take advantage of mismatches on slower-footed 4s.
Looking way down the line, but he could also be that thicker framed forward like Tucker who is deployed in ultra small-ball where shooting reigns supreme.
Jackson’s ability to switch inside and out without issue is something that will intrigue plenty of teams come draft night. His offense is still rather raw outside of using brute force trying to overpower people on drives and post-ups, but there is some shooting upside as he’s shown to make them when given some room. Jackson only attempted 40 3s this past season and hit only 25%. A labrum tear early into his sophomore campaign may have contributed to that low percentage (sound familiar with the medical red flags on this list?).
Pounding the fundamentals and overhauling his shot will be critical in helping Jackson become a viable two-way piece but there’s a long way to go for him to reach that. Luckily, the player development emphasis Kokoskov has had throughout his career may pay dividends for someone like Jackson.
If you can defend all five positions, you will be valued in today’s NBA. There’s no denying that fact anymore.
Odds are one of many prospects with higher grades will be available, but these names fit the criteria of what Phoenix might prioritize over others. Unlike being surprised by Reed, who carried a mid-late second round grade, keep an eye on these five as the Suns’ predraft workout circuit begins Friday.